One of the giants of the Indian comic industry, Anant Pai, died on 24th February 2011. As would be expected this made news all over India and abroad and fans all over were deeply saddened. I too did the obligatory RIP tweet. However the news seemed to have affected me only at a superficial level. Just the sad feeling one has when any well known and well liked personality passes on. I wondered why this was? After all for a comic buff like me Uncle Pai’s journey was nothing short of a labour of love, surely worthy of a stronger reaction. From setting up the iconic framework of Amar Chitra Katha to being the beloved uncle of ‘Uncle Pai says’ in Tinkle he had put forth a visible body of work which could, but be, respected, revered even. Still I seemed to have got jaded, world-weary.
One reason could be that in the recent past I had started finding faults in a lot of his/ACK’s approach. I guess it is like a child growing up and learning that his father is not really the Superman he thought he was. For one in the Amar Chitra Katha stories pertaining to the political arena the stories, on hindsight, were not always that balanced. To make it palatable to young minds assumptions and choices were made which I did not completely agree too. Then there was the aspect that the graphic medium had moved ahead abroad but Amar Chitra Katha seemed to still be stuck in a time wrap. And so on and so forth.
Whatever be the reasons the result was that I just did not feel the impact of the news of his death. Did not
feel it, that is, until I chanced upon this wonderful tribute to Uncle Pai by Manoj Vijayan.
What a beautiful panel, a fitting tribute indeed. Just one glance at this picture and the dams broke in my mind. I missed the great man, I really did. I have never met him, would most probably would never have, but he shaped me in more ways than one. He taught me through stories, stories of good and bad, of religion, of myth and fantasy. And he did it in a very balanced manner. One did not learn religious intolerance from his books, only a glimpse into the richness present in every religion.
One did not always learn depths of a tale while reading his books, but it did give a starting point for your curiosity. Even in the political stories that I was deriding, he was more balanced than I gave him credit for. I knew about Rash Behari Bose and Jayprakash Narayan from his books alone. Never saw those names in my history books. Many has been a time when I have showed off my knowledge gleaned from his stories. Of particular fiendish fun has been the incidents when I have defeated some older orthodox pain-in-the-ass relatives over points about Indian mythology. All these incidents and experiences came back to me in a flash on seeing the picture. Thank you Uncle Pai. A lot of what I am is thanks to you.
A heartfelt thanks to Manoj too, for reminding me of my debt to Uncle Pai. As so beautifully rendered by Manoj, I am sure the gods are happy they have their storyteller back. I guess it is power of the medium that a simple picture could be such a powerful stimulus for me. Very befitting the man who leveraged this medium so successfully to spread knowledge of our tales, our past.
Many Thanks Uncle Pai, Rest In Peace.