Affectionately called Uncle Pai, the Father of Indian Comics, Anant Pai was born on Sept 29, 1929 in Kakala, Karnataka. He lost his parents at the age of two and he was raised by his maternal grandfather. When Anant Pai was twelve, his grandfather passed away and he came to Mumbai with his cousin. Securing admission in good schools in Mumbai became difficult since he had studied in local Kannada schools and had did not understand English or Marathi. Finally he got admission at the Orient School, Mahim. The school did not have good infrastructure, but he found inspiring teachers there. He studied chemistry, physics and chemical technology. He is a double science graduate from University of Mumbai and speaks eight languages.
He developed a passion for writing and publishing and so in 1954 he launched ‘Manav’, a magazine dedicated to mental and spiritual health, and started a career in editing and publishing. ‘Manav’ was not a financial success. Anant Pai joined the ‘Times of India Books Division’ and in 1961, where he was involved in publishing ‘Indrajal Comics’. These comics featured reprints of popular American strip characters like the the Phantom, Mandrake the Magician, and later, native characters like Bahadur and Dara were added by Uncle Pai.
In 1967, he watched a quiz program on television and was very disappointed to see that children were not able to answer who the mother of Rama was but were able to answer questions on Greek Gods. Children were mesmerized by western stories and did not know of the rich treasure of stories that Indian mythology and folklores had in store for them. Anant Pai had a mission now. He vowed to get known to children, their rich cultural heritage through beautiful Indian stories, beautifully animated and presented.
He resigned from Times of India in the same year and joined India Book House and where he was put in-charge of the Classics Illustrated reprint programme. There, with the wholehearted support of Mr G.L. Mirchandani, Chairman of India Book House, Anant Pai embarked upon the challenge of bringing India’s stories to its children in an extremely simple and charming way. It took three years of dedicated work and the creative genius of Anant Pai to launch ‘ACK series’ in 1970. The first ACK to be published was ‘Krishna’. Soon the Ramayana and the Mahabharata was also published. These achieved unsubstantial success, and since then, there has been no looking back. Anant Pai went on to produce 436 comic books, each of which is dedicated to a person or event in Indian history, religion or mythology. He conceived, created and edited all of the books and written himself. The books were initially printed in English and Hindi and were soon made available in Bengali, Marathi, Assamese, Gujarati, Punjabi, Kannada, Telugu, Tamil Sanskrit and Urdu. Some titles were also translated into French, Spanish, German, Swahili, Fijian, Bahasa Indonesia, and Serbo-Croat.
In 1969, Anant Pai founded Rang Rekha Features, India's first comic and cartoon syndicate, which lasted till 1998. He also started ‘Tinkle’, a children's monthly magazine in 1981. Pai says that the magazine was named so because every time a meeting was held to decide on a a store house of witty and thought-provoking stories. Through characters of on the crow that came to his window sill at home, in Mumbai's Prabhadevi.
In association with Universal Music, he also brought out 4 volumes of an audio book story series for children titled, ‘Storytime With Uncle Pai’, in December 1991.
Presently he is actively involved in the Lalit Media & Education Ltd, a media publishing house that among other things produces 2-D flash animations and also recently released the VCD edition of his book 'Uncle Pai on the Secrets of Success'.
The ACK books continues to be his best so far and a huge international success.
Today, at 77, he is a satisfied and accomplished visionary, and lives in Mumbai with his wife, Lalita, still works 12 hours a day from his two offices and enjoys three simple home cooked meals a day.
His awards are:
• Karpoorchand Puraskar of Uttar Pradesh Bal Kalyan Sansthan (1994)
• Yudhvir Memorial Award in Hyderabad (1996)
• Maharashtra Rajya Hindi Sahitya Academy Award (1996)
• Dr. T. M. A. Pai Memorial Award in Manipal (1997)
• Millennium Konkani Sammelan Award, Illinois, U.S.A (2000)
• Raja Rammohan Roy Library Foundation's Award (2001)
• Priyadarshni Academy Award (2002)
• Vishwa Saraswat Sammaan (2003).
interviewed by Nandini Nayar
Anant Pai and ACK – the two are synonymous in
The first title in the series was
-ACK has shaped the sensibilities of several generations of Indians, given them an enjoyable introduction to the history and the culture of their country. The purpose behind the endeavor is clearly very noble. How did you decide on the comic book format? Comics are western in their concept and history. Comics are often treated as the lesser, form of literature by serious readers. In this context, how certain were you of your ability to use comics to narrate an entire culture to a generation that had no inkling of the depth and significance of their heritage?
I was not a comics buff. I had never read comics before I started working on ACK. Many ideas occurred. Among them, comics seemed a very interesting way to introduce Indian children to their heritage. I noticed that my nephews and nieces were very fond of reading comics. This convinced me that children love to read comics. Therefore, I used this medium. When the first few comics were produced I remember I was rebuked by a few principals of schools for bringing out comics. I remember Dadasaheb Rege of Bal Mohan Vidya Mandir, Mumbai, firmly telling me, “I will not permit our students to read comics.”
I promised educationists that I would never use slang in ACK. I would not use colloquial expressions in the commentary panels. These were permitted in the speech balloons. Thus I tried to soften the objections to comics on the grounds that they spoiled thelanguage. We had many meetings with educations in Feb
Dr. Pratap Chandra Chunder, the Union Minister of education was the chief guest at the seminar.
Shri Baldev Mahajan, Commissioner of the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan presided over the seminar. Representatives of the NCERT, Directorate of Education,
-Once you had decided on the format of retelling, how did you go about the actual process of adapting the stories? History-writing, in the form of a documentary, is easier, since it is basically a recital of facts that can be conveyed. But Indian mythology – or any mythology – is really confusing, even to the people who have known it for long. What form did the adaptation take? Was it a case of discarding certain things and highlighting only the important ones or did you have a particular goal when rewriting each story?
Yes, the task was difficult. There were many versions of the incidents in different Puranas. However, the Ramayana (an epic about the valiant King Rama) and the Mahabharata [the story of the great war fought by the armies of the Kauravas and the Pandavas] did not have major variants. Krithivasa Ramayana of Bengali [the language spoken by the people in the state of
Tell the Truth. Tell what is pleasing to listen to. The Unpleasant truth need not be told. At the same time just because it is pleasing do not tell an untruth.
We used the editor’s privilege to add emphasis to or to reduce gore from events and happenings. For example, the headless body of Hemu was ordered to be displayed near the gate. To reduce the unpleasant effect on young minds the scene was made inconspicuous. When there were instances capable of promoting national integration, we did emphasize them. For example, the love and respect shown by the Muslim jailor to Lokamanya Tilak was emphasized. In short we have taken a little liberty by adding or reducing emphases on certain incidents.
-The illustrations are an important part of any book, more so when it is a comic book. How did you go about providing the illustrations for the comics? Did you have a certain vision of how the characters were to be presented or did you give a free rein to the artist? For instance, do we make the human face martial and vigorous or delicate and sensitive?
Of course the most difficult part of the work in the editorial department was to provide references to the artists. For example it is easy to write a book on Swami Vivekananda. In the printed book, we can print his speech at the parliament of Religious in
-This leads on from my earlier question. The illustrations of gods and goddesses in Amar Chitra Katha portray them as more human than god like, while calendars in
Ravi Varma had painted many pictures of Indian gods and goddesses like Laxmi, Krishna dancing on the serpent Kalia,
-What target audience did you have in mind when you picked the English comic book format? Do you see a divergence between ACK in English and in the regional language?
The target audience I had in mind was 8-14. There are no differences between ACK in English and in regional languages.
Krishna is a character close to my heart. In my house, the pictures and statuettes of
Rama of Ayodhya”. And Valmiki writes the poems on Rama. Rama was a role model.
-This is a question that comes from and within children’s literature in general. Does one provide a ‘sterilized’ tale for children, if at all? Mythology and history are always, in all cultures, full of war bloodshed and violence. How does one present such a tale to a child? ACK has not been above graphic representations of killings and violence. The title ‘Prahlad’ springs to the mind. The final panel, which shows the half-man half lion, Narasimha, killing the proud Hiranyakashyapu, is truly gory, with Narasimha tearing open the stomach and blood dripping out. How do you handle such themes when deciding on what goes into a book?
The scene of Narasimha killing is very gory. Here I had no other alternative except to show this scene. Without this scene there would have been no comic on Prahlad. While illustrating ACK, we have avoided showing grotesque and gory scenes, as I have said earlier.
-Reports of the death of the printed word are constantly being reported by the media, right alongside surveys that indicate falling ‘reading habits’. In this context what do you see for ACK in the future?
I do not think that the rule of printed word is over. Exposing children to cartoon films and video games has reduced the span of attention of youngsters and they are also exposed to a lot of violence in cartoon films from
My grandma gave her one anna. I watched this scene from behind the door. When the maidservant made her exit, I made my entry and said, “I also want to see people running around trees and singing songs.” My grandma had then said, “Children from decent families do not see movies.”
When printing was first introduced many must have felt a threat to their positions.
-JK Rowling’s Harry Potter has dazzled children around the world. Indian children too have suddenly started reading books again. Yourcomments on this phenomenon.
Children have always been fascinated by superhuman actions. Fairy tales and Tales of magic provide spurs to their imagination. Children get over this phase. As for the reading habit, books like Rowling’s can help in improving reading habits.
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