With play-station gradually replacing comic books, today’s children are more familiar with American Ben 10 than they are with Indian Akbar-Birbal. Although this is just one of the change that technology boom has brought to us, it remains the most detested change amongst the parents who have grown up on monthly dose of Supaandi, Kapish, Tantri the Mantri, Shambhu Shikari, and Butterfingers. A whole generation of school-going children would wait for the 1st of every month eagerly so that they can get their hands on the latest issue of Tinkle Comics created by their loving Uncle Pai.

After Chacha Nehru if there was any other uncle that India had loved with all its heart, it was Uncle Pai aka Anant Pai. The impact that Pai has had on India can be illustrated by the fact that he introduced a whole generation of Indians to the gems of traditional Indian wisdom, like Mahabharata, Ramayana, Panchatantra, Hitopdesh, Jataka Tales et cetera, for the first time through a series of ever popular Amar Chitra Katha. The importance of this series cannot be over-stated as it filled in the void created in the lives of children of growing number of nuclear families by the absence of grandparents and their bedtime stories – an integral part of age old oral traditions of knowledge transfer in India.

It was not by chance that Anant Pai took up this cause of promulgating the treasure of Indian traditional wisdom in the minds of young Indians. He made a conscious choice to bring a comic book for children that would educate them about Indian mythology and culture; the story of what inspired Pai to do so is rather fascinating.

Pai had seen some Indian children on a television quiz struggling to answer questions pertaining to Indian mythology which included a question as simple as “In Ramayana, who was the mother of Rama?” Ironically the very same children had comfortably answered questions about Greek myths. Left perplexed by this bizarre incident, next Sunday morning he threw few questions about mythology at the children in his own extended family; as expected children could not answer any of those questions while they knew everything about Archie comics. This shook Pai up and on that fateful Sunday he decided to begin a movement for acquainting Indian children with rich Indian heritage.

To begin this endeavor, he gave up his lucrative job at the Times of India book division, and started his journey towards bringing into being a comic book based on Indian myths and culture. Although a lot of leading publishing houses did not find it to make any business sense, but Pai got support from late G. L. Mirchandani of India Book House. With his support Pai brought out the first Amar Chitra Katha in 1967 and took on the role of writer, editor and publisher. Although Amar Chitra Katha and later Tinkle went on to become largest selling Indian comic books, the real success Pai attained was by the fact that he introduced grand old India to juvenile Indian minds.

At a ripe age of 81, on February 24, 2011 Anant Pai took his last breath in a Mumbai hospital. Following which this tweet from an Indian movie star represents the loss a generation of Indians felt “A tear and a prayer for the demise of the legendary Anant Pai. He is as much a part of my childhood as my education at school. RIP uncle Pai.” For Indian society, it is like the end of an era.

When the era of grandparents’ bedtime stories ended, we had Uncle Pai who ensured our access to traditional Indian wisdom; now that his era has come to an end, who will be there for today’s children? Not certainly Ben 10!

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