For every Indian child, books would mean only one thing: Tinkle. My Grandma, cross at me reading 'comics' with small images and text that might harm my eyes, would scold me for reading Tinkle. And I would argue with her valiantly. Any criticism of Tinkle felt like a personal criticism. Excellent performance in exams, good behaviour would be rewarded with a special copy of Tinkle or Amar Chitra Katha. Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha made me fall in love with books and today, I cannot imagine life without books.
Uncle Pai, as he was known by every child and teenager (who wouldn't admit he/she still reads Tinkle but enjoyed it tremendously), is no more. After seeing that Indian children seemed to know more about Greek mythology than Indian mythology, Anant Pai launched Amar Chitra Katha, India's largest selling comic book series which told to a young India stories from its past. Mythology, history, fables, epics, the colourful pages of Amar Chitra Katha were the Indian child's guide to understanding India and her rich, vibrant past.
One of the most vivid images I have of my childhood is of lounging on my bed and seeking refuge from the searing heat during summer holidays, through the way I knew best: flipping through the pages of Tinkle Summer Special. Anant Pai's Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha came to define many of our childhoods. A friend recalls how fashionable and important it was to possess a copy of the latest edition of Tinkle digest.
Long-winding train journeys with noisy kids would usually be a nightmare for parents. But a copy of Tinkle, bought hurriedly at the railway book stall, would reduce tension for a couple of hours at the least. So addictive were these books that before every exam, my mother would confiscate my copies of the books. Only to discover more hidden editions of Tinkle every day. Tinkle was smuggled into school bags and kept between the pages of text books and stealthily read while a particularly boring Biology teacher droned on and on.
A big hug and a copy of Tinkle was the best way to say sorry to me. My head was always immersed in a copy of Tinkle, leading my Grandma to scold my parents for spoiling the child by always getting her these comics. For all my love of Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha, I never really knew or read about the man who created these books. 'Uncle Pai' was just a name, a friendly name. I was more interested in reading the actual books.
Of course, at one point, it became 'fashionable' for me to read non-Indian authors. As I grew older, Enid Blyton and Carolyn Keene captivated me and my huge collection of Tinkle books was left forlorn. But no beautiful building exists without a strong foundation. Anant Pai's books were the firm foundation of my love for reading. I would have never really become a bookworm if not for Mr.Pai.
To every Indian child who grew up reading his books, his death will be a personal loss. For several hours of glorious reading, for the unadulterated joy of running to the neighbourhood newspaper shop and getting the latest edition of Tinkle, for memories that were born out of reading Amar Chitra Katha, for the nostalgia-tinted thrill that sighting a rack of Tinkle books brings to me even now, I cannot thank Anant Pai enough. I am forever indebted to you, Uncle Pai, for lighting the spark of reading in me. Your books remain with us all, bound to be gifted from generation to generation of Indians. You shall always remain 'Uncle' Pai to me, the friendly uncle who helped a child discover books. May you rest in peace.