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Anant Pai (Uncle Pai)

The creator of ‘Indian comics’ and founder of Amar Chitra Katha on which generations of Indians grew up.

Anant Pai, (17 September 1929 – 24 February 2011) popularly known as Uncle Pai, was a renowned educationalist and creator of Indian comics, in particular the Amar Chitra Kathaseries in 1967, along with the India Book House publishers, and which retold traditional Indian folk tales, mythological stories, and biographies of historical characters. In 1980, he launchedTinkle, a children’s anthology, which was started under Rang Rekha Features, India’s first comic and cartoon syndicate, that lasted till 1998, with him as the Managing Director

Anant Pai suffered a massive heart attack and passed away on 24th Februay 2011 at 5 pm.

Today, Amar Chitra Katha, sells about three million comic books a year, in English and more than 20 Indian languages, and has sold about 100 million copies since it inception in 1967 by Anant Pai, and in 2007 was taken over by ACK Media.

Early life and education

Born in Karkala, Karnataka to Venkataraya and Susheela Pai, he lost his parents at the age of two. At the age of twelve, he came to Mumbai, where he studied in Orient School, Mahim. He studied chemistry, physics and chemical technology at the University of Bombay Department of Chemical Technology (UDCT now UICT) and was a dual degree holder from the University of Bombay.

Early career

Endowed with a passion for publishing and comics, his failed attempt at creating a children’s magazine (Manav, 1954) was followed by a career as a junior executive in the Times of India books division, putting him in the thick of affairs when Indrajal comics was launched by the Times Group.

The Amar Chitra Katha years

The idea behind starting a comicbook series devoted to Indian culture and history came to Pai from a quiz contest aired on Doordarshan in February 1967, in which participants could easily answer questions pertaining to Greek mythology, but were unable to reply to the question "In the Ramayana, who was Rama’s mother?".

He left his job and started Amar Chitra Katha the same year, with the help of late G. L. Mirchandani of India Book House, when most other publishers from Allied Publishers to Jaico had rejected the concept. Later, he took on the role of writer, editor and publisher. The series went on to become a publishing milestone for the Indian comic book scene, selling over 86 million copies of about 440 titles.

In 1969, Anant Pai founded Rang Rekha Features, India’s first comic and cartoon syndicate, and started the children’s magazine Tinkle in 1980. His involvement with the above, and the rapport he shared with his readers earned him the title "Uncle Pai".

Other works

Ramu and Shamu, Kapish, Little Raji, Rekha, Fact Fantasy, Funland and Funtime are some of the comic strips created by Pai, most of which continue to appear in newspapers and magazines. He has written and produced two video films, Ekam Sat (the Vedic Concept of God) and The Secret of Success, in English and Hindi.

Pai’s other works include a number of books on personality development for children and teenagers, ("How To Develop Self-confidence", "How to Achieve Success", "How To Develop A Super Memory", UBS Publishers) and a series of audio book versions of Amar Chitra Kathastories, "Storytime with Uncle Pai" (Universal Music India, Dec 2001), where he plays the role of narrator-storyteller.

Awards

  • Lifetime Achievement Award – at the First Indian Comic Convention, New Delhi (Feb 19, 2011 – just 6 days before his death) was given to him by Pran, Creator of Chacha Chaudhury
  • Karpoorchand Puraskar of Uttar Pradesh Bal Kalyan Sansthan (1994)
  • Yudhvir Memorial Award in Hyderabad (1996)
  • Maharashtra Rajya Hindi Sahitya Academy Award (1996)
  • Dr. T. M. A. Pai Memorial Award in Manipal (1997)
  • University of Bombay Department of Chemical Technology’s Distinguished Alumnus Award (1999)
  • Millennium Konkani Sammelan Award, Illinois, U.S.A (2000)
  • Raja Rammohan Roy Library Foundation’s Award (2001)
  • Priyadarshni Academy Award (2002)
  • Vishwa Saraswat Sammaan (2003)

Personal life

He was a resident of Prabhadevi, Mumbai. He died on February 24 2011.He is survived by his wife, Lalita Pai.

 

Amar Chitra Katha

Amar Chitra Katha (Hindi: अमर चित्र कथा, amar citra kathā ?, "Immortal Captivating (or Picture) Stories") (Amar Chitra Katha PL)is one of India‘s largest selling comic bookseries, with more than 90 million copies sold in 20 Indian languages. Founded in 1967, the imprint has more than 400 titles that retell stories from the great Indian epics, mythology, history, folklore, and fables in a comic book format. It was created by Anant Pai, and published by India Book House. In 2007, the imprint and all its titles were acquired by a new venture called ACK Media. On September 17, 2008, a new website by ACK-media was launched.

Creation and creators

The comic series was started by Anant Pai in an attempt to teach Indian children about their cultural heritage. He was shocked that Indian students could answer questions on Greek and Roman mythology, but were ignorant of their own history, mythology and folklore. It so happened that a quiz contest aired on Doordarshan in February 1967, in which participants could easily answer questions pertaining to Greek mythology, but were unable to reply to the question "In theRamayana, who was Rama‘s mother?".

Writers like Kamala Chandrakant, Margie Sastry, Subba Rao, Debrani Mitra and C.R Sharma joined the creative team of Amar Chitra Katha, with Anant Pai taking on the role of editor and co-writer on most scripts. The notable illustrators, other than Ram Waeerkar, wereDilip Kadam, Sanjeev Waeerkar, Souren Roy, C.D Rane, Geoffrey Fowler and Pratap Mullick.

The comics

The original printings of Amar Chitra were not in full colour—because of budgetary constraints, the panels were printed using yellow, blue and green. Subsequent issues, however, changed to full colour. All Amar Chitra Katha books stuck to a monthly (later fortnightly) 30-page format, with emphasis on lucid, entertaining storylines. In addition to the ‘singles’ format the stories are also available as hardcover 3-in-1 and 5-in-1 bundles. There are special editions of the epics like the Mahabharata which is available in a 3 volume 1300+ pages set.

Occasionally there were "bumper" issues with 90 pages, most collecting stories of a similar type from individual issues( Example: Monkey Stories From The Hitopadesha, Tales of Birbal and some being longer stories The Story of Rama). As the epic stories became more popular, the team began to publish stories based on Indian history, of men and women belonging to different regions and religions and also on stories based on Sanskrit as well as regional classics. The continuous popularity of the comics led to reprints being issued frequently, which ensured that the back-issues remained in print throughout the seventies and the eighties. At the height of its popularity, in the mid-eighties, it had been translated into Bengali, Marathi, Assamese, Gujarati, Punjabi, Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, Sanskrit and Urdu and selling half a million copies a month. Some titles were also translated into French, Spanish, German, Swahili, Fijian, Indonesian, and Serbo-Croat.

Towards the mid-nineties, the original comics were reprinted in sleeker and more durable editions, with thick cardstock covers and better colour separations. Today, Amar Chitra Katha has a national footprint across all major book retailers, hundreds of small bookstores, and tens of thousands of vendors. It is the best-selling children’s publication in most large format stores.

In 2007, the publisher created a new online store that offers all the titles with shipping worldwide. The titles are divided in following categories

  1. Fables & Folktales (e.g. Panchatantra)
  2. Mythology (e.g. The Ramayana)
  3. The Epics (e.g. The Ramayana)
  4. Humour & wit
  5. Biographies (e.g. Mahatma Gandhi)
  6. Literary Classics
  7. 3 in 1 Titles
  8. 5 in 1 Titles
  9. Special Issues

Cultural significance

Amar Chitra Katha was launched at a time when Indian society was slowly moving away from the traditional joint family system, because of (among other things) socio-economic constraints and urbanization. In a joint family system, grandparents would regale the children of the household with tales from folklore and the epics, and the Amar Chitra Katha series served to fill the void left by grandparents in the smaller nuclear families in urban areas. The choice of English as the primary language led it to reach the majority of children who studied in English medium schools.

Later, when the comic added historical topics, it proved very helpful to students. For most, Indian history, a jumble of names and dates, came alive as stories. The detailed research of architecture, costumes, regional flavours and facts ensured that the comics were widely accepted into the mainstream, both parents and teachers using them as educational aids. To an extent, these books, with their homogenized and unbiased character descriptions went a long way in promoting national integration and increasing inter-provincial awareness throughout the country.

It should be mentioned that the series steered clear of controversy, taming down content and violence and adhering to strict self-censorship.

In popular culture

In the film Gulaal, a major character, Rananjay Singh express his disapproval of traditional patriarchal rajput machoism by saying that he does not want to live in Amar Chitra Katha but real world.

Modernisation

Amar Chitra Katha has evolved over times. Now it is available as a digital media in more means from online access to mobile phones. ACK-Media has recently partnered with iRemedi Corp of Atlanta, GA to deliver Amar Chitra Katha comics on the iPhone platform. Popular Amar Chitra Katha Comics were launched on the iPhone platform by iRemedi and Apple on 5th December, 2009. Amar Chitra Katha comics have been adapted for the iPhone platform for readers to enjoy panel by panel reading experience on the iPhones and iPod touches on iRemedi’s ETHER MEDIA viewer solution. More information can be found at iRemedi’s website.

Popular ACK Titles may be found directly in Apple’s iTunes Appstore.

Criticism

The stories are often simplistic and sometimes rely on authentic but singular sources for the script. This has led to the criticism that they should not be considered as "history". The illustrations in Amar Chitra Katha created a generation of Indians who could visualize historical and mythological characters only through these. These were often not very thoroughly researched and true picturisations, but were later emulated in TV series like ‘Mahabharata’ and ‘Ramayana’. A lot of these were derivatives of artist Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings and depictions. The simplistic portrayal of characters as villains and heroes (much like the ones in mainstream Hindi movies) betrayed an association with certain ethnic stereotypes. For example, all demons were portrayed with dark complexion.

Though some of these criticisms held valid in some comic series, many of the critics themselves are often politically motivated by the ideologies of their religion or academic institution; prejudice itself frequently forms the basis of some criticisms.

 

Courtesy: Wikipedia and various sources on Internet

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