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.