Tinkle’s Uncle Pai, teller of fun stories, dead

He was a simple writer and illustrator who loved telling fun stories. Yet, he was unarguably the most-loved 'Uncle' for lakhs of young Indians who could read English and were born after the passing of 'Chacha Nehru'. Few knew him by his real name — Anant Pai. He was just 'Uncle Pai' for several generations who grew up on the beautifully illustrated and simply narrated stories in Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle.

So when news came on Thursday evening that Uncle Pai had passed away at the age of 81, nostalgia came mixed with more than a tinge of sadness for scores of adults across the country. Pai was admitted to hospital last week after falling from a staircase and suffering a fracture. He died after a massive heart attack around 5 pm today. He is survived by his wife Lalitha — the couple had no children.

Pai reintroduced India to young Indians and taught them about their roots and culture in a fun, non-preachy way that became an essential part of their growing-up years. As playwright Anuvab Pal pointed out, there was no way of not being enamoured of Tinkle, with its colourful cast of characters such as Shikari Shambhu, Kaalia the Crow, Suppandi and Tantri the Mantri, if one grew up in India during the 1980s and 1990s.

"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," tweeted South Indian actor Siddharth. Tweets from other fans expressed similar anguish.

Writer Omkar Sane says he owes his whole writing career to Pai. "I was in fifth standard and was an extremely timid boy, when I participated in a Kaalia the Crow national story completion competition." Sane won and that victory pushed him into his chosen career path.

Born in the Western Ghats town of Karkala in Karnataka, the young Pai had dreamed of being a writer, but was pushed into studying the sciences. He once tried and failed to launch a children's magazine called Manav. Subsequently, he joined The Times of India's books division and became intrumental in the launch of Indrajal Comics, which published stories from Lee Falk's Phantom and Mandrake series and Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon, and later Indian characters such as Bahadur and Dara.

This was followed by the Amar Chitra Katha series, which published tales from Indian history and mythology for children. And there's a story behind why Pai decided to venture in this direction: he was at a quiz contest in Delhi where one of the questions was, 'Who was Lord Rama's mother'. To Pai's dismay, hardly anyone knew the answer. Pai decided that it was time Indian children were acquainted with the history and myths of their own country and launched Amar Chitra Katha in 1967.

As for Tinkle, it was a magazine not only for the children, but also by them. It was launched by a 12-year-old girl, Elaine D'Lime, who had won a nationwide contest organised by Pai, and to this day, it continues to be influenced by its young readers. In fact, many of its readers eventually grew up to join the staff of the magazine, such as senior illustrator Savio Mascarenhas, who has been with the magazine for 16 years. Pai himself interacted with his young fans by answering their letters, meeting them in their schools and even taking calls from them.

Today, the magazines Pai started form a behemoth in the Indian comic industry, known as ACK Media, which recently even ventured into producing television shows. Pai himself had very little day to day involvement, although he would try and turn up at his office for an hour or two everyday.

Over the course of the years, he won many accolades. Perhaps the award he would've cherished the most would've been the Lifetime Achievement Award presented to him by comic book fans at India's first ever Comic Con on February 19. It was the least his millions of fans could've done for the man who brought the magic of storytelling into their lives.

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