During my childhood, every summer vacation, on my way to Kolkata, I would drown myself in the world of Tinkle digests. Before every train journey, I’d rush to the book store or <i>thela wala</i>, who used to sell books at the platform and go through all the possible titles that were on display there. I would then pick up the ones that I wanted to add to my collection and then pay the forty rupees that my mother would count and give me (each digest would cost Rs 20 back then). Before the train journey even began, I would start reading them.
The Tinkle digests and the comics were edited by a shy, affectionate man called Anant Pai. He used to sign each editorial piece as ‘Uncle Pai’ and even though I didn’t personally know him, in my head, I knew he was someone who was extremely lovable. I used to go through the letters that readers would send to Uncle Pai and the affectionate replies that the editor used to write to his young friends and consequently get inspired to write one myself. Just the idea of getting a reply from Uncle Pai would excite me.
In fact, on one instance, I did send him a letter. But sadly never got a reply from Uncle Pai. My mother reasoned with the little me about how he had loads of letters to reply and he may have overlooked my letter in the pile which made me feel worse. Of course, there was always a possibility that it hadn’t reached him yet, I pointed out to my mother. And I waited for months for his reply, went through each letter that was published in the comic each month in the hope that he would reply to my letter. But, my turn never came.
Over the years, life became hectic and my love for Tinkle took a backseat because of other ‘serious’ books that I started reading on the train journeys. While, earlier I would buy only Tinkle digests for my journey, I started buying books and magazines as I grew up. And sometimes, just for old time’s sake, I would also grab a copy of Tinkle and relive my childhood with the favourite characters of Tinkle; Suppandi, Shikari Shambu and Kalia the crow.
The other day when I heard the news of Uncle Pai’s demise, I took out all my Tinkles and Amar Chitra Kathas, (I have a huge collection of both the comic strips) brushed through the old, pale yellow pages and fondly went through all the stories. In the first page of the digest it read ‘Editor: Anant Pai’.
The man who connected with millions of people through his body of work was perhaps the first one to introduce Indian mythology in a comic avatar. He made Indian mythology interesting and each character more alive. In all his letters, he was able to connect with his readers in a personal way. The advices he meted out seemed with a smile and one could actually imagine Uncle Pai smiling and writing those letters. Such was the magic of this man. And in those days (I feel old when I say it like this) there was not much access to the Internet, and most of the ardent fans of Uncle Pai hadn’t ever seen his picture. But in every mind, Uncle Pai’s image was etched as that of a smiling, lovable uncle who would always have amazing stories to tell.
I feel bad for kids of the 21st century sometimes. In the world of Facebook, Twitter and bbms they are missing out on the treasure of such comics that we loved to read. They will now also be deprived of Uncle Pai’s warm editorials and letters. They will never know who he was and what his contribution was to the genre of comics in India. But hopefully the legacy he has left behind will be loved and spread in more parts of the country and loved by more and more people.
But yes, the man who started it all will surely be missed.