Uncle Pai

In the bedroom,  in the narrow space between the foot of the bed and the old wooden bookcase, was my own little corner. Growing up, I would squeeze in that narrow space, open the lower shelves (the ones near the ground) and bring out piles of Amar Chitra Katha and leaf through them, one by one.

It didnt matter that I had read them, like a thousand times before. Like a favorite song or a favorite person, Amar Chitra Kathas had repeat-value, you could discover and re-discover them, marveling only at how much you missed last time.

Mahabharata and the Ramayanas, historical and mythical figures, Gods and monsters, all came alive on its pages creating images of such movement and drama  that I can recollect them clearly even today—-Narasimha bursting out of a pillar, Harshavardhana moving at the head of a huge ocean of people renouncing all his worldly possessions, the Devas and Asuras churning the ocean, Drona looking on sadly as Aswathama is teased by other children.

With my writer’s hat on now, I can now appreciate how brilliantly concise yet expressive Amar Chitra Kathas were and how effectively pictures and words were used to create  narratives, compelling enough to hold the attention of the notoriously fickle young adult. But then, an young adult myself, Amar Chitra Katha was simply great fun, and more importantly fun that parents and grandparents approved of, unlike Mandrake and Phantom which were simply “comics”.

Which explained why I had hundreds of Amar Chitra Kathas and only two Mandrakes, which incidentally I remember only for the way Narda used to be drawn.

Uncle Pai the magician behind the Amar Chitra Katha and the Tinkle legacy, died recently. The great thing about being an artist is that one never really passes away. For those of us who grew up reading him, he is still very much a part of our lives, in ways we often do not realize. Whenever hair falls in front of my eyes I think “Shikari Shambhu” (his cap always obscured his eyes), or whenever I see shorts of a particular type, the name that comes to mind is Supandi. Many historic characters, like Asoka and Gautama Buddha, I visualize exactly as Uncle Pai sketched them. Much of what I know about history and mythology is based on what he wrote. And I dare say that in my generation I am not the only one like that.

So this time, when I go back to Kolkata, I have promised to go and open that lower shelf once again. The book-shelf has now mercifully moved, else I could have no longer fit into that gap without some serious plastic surgery. Once I open it, I shall take those dusty magazines out, spray away the mothballs that I know cover them, and once again take that journey into the past.

A past which has kings, queens, angels, demons, crows, crocodiles and down below, squeezed into a little corner between the bed and the shelf pouring over reams of color, little old me.

Only when I have done this, can I have truly paid tribute to Uncle Pai.

The man who drew our imagination.

55 thoughts on “Uncle Pai

  1. First 🙂

  2. I sent in a story to Tinkle once, and what I remember is that I got back a handwritten reply from Uncle Pai. God bless the man. I doubt half of us would know anything of India’s heritage if not for him

  3. How true. Uncle Pai, you shall be missed.

  4. I was going to write a memorial as well, but I couldn’t have done better than this.
    My favourite ACK has to be Dasha Avatar. And of course, Tinkle ftw! Despite being 17, I still read Brave Rajputs from time to time, marvelling at the wonderous illustrations.

  5. RIP Uncle Pai.

  6. Haven’t read too many of his creations and this tribute still strikes a chord. Wonderful writing, GB.

  7. Suppandi is one of my all time favorites,as are Kalia and Shikari Shambhu. I remember smuggling piles of Tinkles with me in the bathroom,to read in peace,when I was supposed to be studying for an exam the day after.Priceless stuff.

  8. A man who educated more people than all the Indian school history books put together.

    May his soul achieve Moksha.

  9. Crime Master Go-Go March 1, 2011 — 4:53 am

    woh kaagaz ki kashti woh baarish ka paani….

    Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle will always be immortal for us the children of 70s..nothing can recreate that magic. The characters, the simplicity, the illustrations, the honesty, the clean fun, the generous dose of value,culture,history was all what made the repeat-value of these comics. I know though I used to chase the next edition of tinkle, it was my dad and uncles whom I used to catch reading once I was done with. I knew they were wishing they had such comics to grow up with.

    GB, excellent writeup for a great personality.

  10. I had the honor of meeting him- at a Tinkle event – it was quite a lot of fun!

    And till this date, I love reading his comic books. Luckily for us, my Mom would make us carefully preserve all comics and give it for binding (a pack of 12-15 in each one) – and they have survived very well over the years.

    The stories have had so many interesting anecdotes , from Anu Club to Suppandi – from Hodja to Tantri the Mantri!

    Glad that you did a post on him!

  11. Nice post. Reminded me of my own bookshelf behind the sofa. It’s awesome that a lot of people still have their Tinkle collection! Sadly I lost mine in a white-ant attack in ’92.

  12. Read somwhere tat Uncle Pai was once conducting a quiz competition where none of the participants were able to answer :”who is Lord Ram’s mother ?”
    this incident inspired him to start ACK, to rekindle interest in our glorious tradition. Long live his creations. RIP Uncle Pai- a true legend.

    btw: The mother is Kousalya, for those who r still wondering 🙂

  13. I sent in a story to Tinkle, one of the stories that my Grandma used to tell me.. He sent me the sweetest letter apologising for not being able to publish it.
    A month later he wrote another letter saying he was using parts of my story in the next issue. He also asked me to visit his office sometime, as i stayed nearby.

    RIP Uncle Pai.

    Arnab, thanks for writing a wonderful post about him

  14. i have grown up on ACK… never read the asterix/tin tin or any other comics… only and only ACK…

    truly a wonderful idea to connect our history with the kids…

    may the good man’s soul rest in peace

  15. Not many Indian papers gave such prominent coverage, if at all –

    We also get a sketch of this amazing person.

  16. Uncle Pai was the only man who published my story in Tinkle. Uncle Pai gave us that universe of imagination that we can still relate to.

  17. He was Raja Ravi Varma for our generation. We remember our myth and historical stories as drawn by him and his team.

  18. Spot on.I amsure Uncle Pai will smile when he reads this.

    “Asoka and Gautama Buddha, I visualize exactly as Uncle Pai sketched them….. The man who drew our imagination….. “

  19. OMG…uncle pai is a colossus…he created an awareness which will live far beyond his own life…god bless him , (this coming from a drunk atheist)….i hope i someday get an opportunity to thank him for the connection he provided to my past and my culture…a real gem…bye uncle hope to see you someday

  20. and greetings to all my gen X’rs who lived through his works

  21. Brilliant!!! An apt homage to a legend!

    For me, Tinkle was associated with mangoes, summer and train journeys back to grand parents for the vacation! Every one of those started with a new Tinkle bought with painstakingly saved up pocket money from the book stall on the railway platform, and ended with an entire pack 🙂

  22. The tribute to Uncle Pai is beautifully penned. The article brings back memories of yet another era, hard to re-create, almost impossible to emulate.

  23. Amar Chitra Katha laid the foundation of indian culture, history and mythology in young minds and Tinkle carried it forward to a marked extent, besides publishing other exciting and informative stories and snippets. Anu’s Club was such a brilliant concept of introducing science to youngsters through a different medium. Shikari Shambhu and Suppandi are legends now. Thanks for the memories Uncle Pai. Rest in Peace.

    @GB – Loved the post as usual, minus the comment on Mandrake comics. Indrajal Comics were too good and have their own legacy and fan following. Why demean by comments on Narda ??

  24. i loved Uncle Pai & the magical world he weaved…Creators never die ! Uncle Pai, will live !…. forever 🙂

  25. How I loved Tinkle. I still have a certificate I for my entry in the say it yourself competition ages ago. Tantri the Mantri, Anu Club, Tell me why. The sheer scale of Tinkle was enormous. My history projects were generally entirely drawn from ACK (with some inputs from the textbooks), including my ICSE project.

    I still remember when Uncle Pai came to our school and spoke to us on the mysteries of the universe. We were all enthralled. And he gave away Tinkle digests to all those who asked him questions. He had brought a suitcase full of them.

    I remember feeling very “adult” when I used to get my Tinkle by post (the only mail I used to get) every fortnight, then later every month, and really appreciated the ACK that was sent on my birthday. The wonderfully colourful Tinkle writing pads (exchanged with coupons within the comics) are still with me.

    If there is one “celebrity” whose passing I have mourned, it is his.

  26. beautifully written…Tinkle was such a huge part of growing up….

  27. I wasn’t an avid ACK reader, being more a Tintin and Indrajal comics fan, but nonetheless, having grown up in the 80’s and early 90’s, feel really sad for this generation growing up now, bombarded as they are with stupid and useless television channels, video games on computers and laptops and an overall environment where values and ethics have been reduced to a laughable matter! They are losing their innocence and childhood without ever understanding what it means to curl up on the bed on a rainy afternoon with your favorite comics, or run around and play bare-foot football on the green grounds, indeed everything that makes you understand and appreciate the small pleasures of life. Life is needlessly complicated today, and noone is spared-not even kids and adolescents. Sad!

  28. ahh a lot of tinkle stories were pretty absurd and hilarious .. it’s always fun to re-read them .. RIP anant pai ..

  29. CM Vitankar was my personal favorite

  30. After I read this post, I got nostalgic. Thanks GB.

    I just ordered the entire Amar Chitra Katha collection for my children. They’re going to love it !!


  31. i was introduced to it when i was 7 years old ,now i m 19 n still read tinkle

  32. Well said. I used to wait for Tinkle digest 🙂

  33. We will miss Mr. Pai. I read his works when I was a teenager. Good old days.

    On the other side of this story, there is this moron who thinks that Pai was a racist. You folks think that an artist who cater to juvenile readers and teach them our traditional stories would deserve some respect after his death. Well, not in our media. I guess he forgot to pay some journos before he died.

  34. Arnab da, I have been reading your posts for sometime now. Some of your posts, specially on movie reviews, are so hilarious. I enjoy reading these.

    It is so true that “Uncle Pai is still very much a part of our lives, in ways we often do not realize”. After reading your post, I have decided that this time when I visit my home town in India, I will read ‘Amar Chitra Katha’ and ‘Tinkle’ again. I remember we got the comics bound in the form of thick books so that they are kept at one place and we do not lose those. As you said, even if we have read it thousand times, the stories seem to be as interesting as before.

    Uncle Pai, we will miss you. Rest in Peace.


  35. Definitely one of the men who framed my childhood. More than Amar Chitra Katha it was Tinkle that went a long way to nurture my brain in the pre-internet days.

    This is something I had written nine months back, out of sheer emotion and nostalgia: http://ovshake.blogspot.com/2010/05/tinkle.html

  36. Not only history and mythology, I even learnt to draw human figures copying ACK. And I am happy to say that I am still buying them for my 9 year old daughter who loves them equally. It seems ACKs have survived the threat of Pogo and CN.

  37. GB – Wrong facts here. Uncle Pai was the founder and a story writer (sometimes) not the illustrator.The credit for the illustrations should go to Ram Waeerkar primarily.

  38. http://www.tehelka.com/story_main40.asp?filename=hub230808SLIPSBETWEENTHE.asp

    And here is what Nisha Susan has to say about her. Did I hear who is she? Remember Pink Panties?

    From Tehelka (independent, fearles etc etc) archives

  39. Question: Do Indian Muslims/Christians read Amar Chitra Katha?

  40. Answer to rahu b: Yes, in my experience. My friend Riyaz and I had borrowed a lot of Amar Chitra Kathas from our friend Melvin’s huge collection.

  41. Hey one of your finest articles in recent times. How wonderfully expressed!
    You I knew about the history of India mainly because of the sublime mythological Telugu movies of the 50s and mid 60s & recapping the same at a slightly elder age with Amar Chitra Katha. I always owe my sometimes naturally correct English though I never did any Grammar lessons only to ACK, the simplicity and clarity of the dialogues exchanged between it’s Characters.

    Years ago when I was interviewed by a HR I said I read the Sheldon stuff and ACK, she gave a very positive acknowledgment for the former but the mention of ACK made her frown a bit and ask me how can I put both of them in the same league when ACK is so very local.. I was just taken aback and couldn’t give a proper answer and like always in life, gave an appropriate reply when I was recapping the interview on the way back home.

    Other day it was my Wifey who said Uncle Pai passed away & honestly it was then I realized who the man was and what was his contribution.

    I always thought of going to a near by India Book House and order for 300-500 ACK, guess I will do it much sooner now.

  42. @ Rahu B, yes, haven’t you ever read the reader’s write column?

  43. I still watch the ACK show at pogo (maybe CN) every sunday at 11.30 with my son. true it still mesmerizes a 40 yr old & 7 yr one at the same time.

  44. @Reshma, Raj Chaudhuri
    Thanks, I was referring to the Hindu comics not Tinkle.

  45. Thanks for the lovely tribute. Our seven-year old son is hooked on to Tinkle digests. We bought a bunch of these books during our latest trip to India. May Uncle Pai’s soul rest in peace.

  46. offtopic !


  47. Hi greatbong,

    Your articles are great and gets one hooked – I spent one full day (of productive working hours reading them).

    But let me be honest and tell you something that prevents me from coming back to this blog – the images on top, they are so jarring – it gives watching-a-sleazy-movie-kind-of-uneasiness… I guess intentionally done this way to reflect the general mood of the blog but it makes me cringe, apparently not an issue for the numerous fans of yours. Why don’t you choose better pictures in each post? Improve the general aesthetics, I am not saying you paint it pink (and stand to lose any manliness!) Well, I suggest you take a few tips from your wife on this 😉

    One question, you are a wannabe politician – democrat or republican? 😛

  48. GB make an interface which will give readers an option to choose the template. Then they can read their favorite RTDM in whichever looks they please! And World Cup week 2 and 3 review please!

  49. I agree with you. I am glad that i read tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha during my childhood.

  50. I simply can not understand what is wrong with this interface. Can some people just stop riding the moral high horse while surfing the internet? It is his space after all, if he is trying to send an anti-pseudo-intellectual message, then I guess that is the way it is.

  51. beautifully written…Tinkle was such a huge part of growing up………

  52. We will always have a bit of Uncle Pai in our lives… He will continue to live through us in whatever good deeds we still do and whenever we think of our rich heritage.

  53. I am really saddened by this news. I too grew up on a constant diet of Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle. I join you in paying tribute to this great person, who enriched our childhood through uncountable stories!


  54. “… I can now appreciate how brilliantly concise yet expressive Amar Chitra Kathas were …” I concur wholeheartedly. I shall always remember the way Lakshmana responds to Sita’s exhortations: “That cannot be,” he says, “Rama is invincible.” I loved the way the verb “be” was used in the first sentence. Almost Hiedeggerian (if that is a word!) RIP Uncle Pai.

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