Anant Pai, popularly known as Uncle Pai, was an Indian educationalist and a pioneer in Indian comics.
He is most famous as the creator of two comic book series viz. Amar Chitra Katha, which retold traditional Indian folk tales, mythological stories, and biographies of historical characters; and Tinkle, a children’s anthology.
Pai was born in Karkala, in what was the erstwhile Madras Presidency of British India on 17 September 1929 to a Konkani-speaking couple, Venkataraya and Susheela Pai. He lost both his parents at the age of two. He was then brought up by his maternal grandfather.
He pursued his higher education in chemistry, physics and chemical technology at the University of Bombay Department of Chemical Technology (UDCT now UICT) and was a dual degree holder from the University of Bombay.
Endowed with a passion for publishing and comics, his failed attempt at creating a children’s magazine (Manav, 1954) was followed by a career as a junior executive in The Times of India books division, putting him in the thick of affairs when Indrajal Comics, which was famous for publishing comic book series like Mandrake and The Phantom, was launched by the Times Group.
Pained at the alarming cultural illiteracy exhibited by students in a television quiz show on Doordarshan in 1967 and also impressed by the way imported comics with Western themes like ‘The Phantom’ were winning the hearts of Indian children, Anant Pai left his job at Times of India and launched ‘Amar Chitra Katha’ (ACK) in 1969. He took on the role of writer, editor and publisher.
The series went on to become a publishing milestone for the Indian comic book scene, selling over 86 million copies of about 440 titles.
Amar Chitra Katha, a comic-book series that retold traditional Indian folk tales, Hindu mythology and biographies of historical persons. ‘The only comic books which are allowed inside the schools’ – was one of the many phrases that defined the Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) series. Today,they form an encyclopedia of Indian culture and history.
In 1969, Pai founded Rang Rekha Features, India’s first comic and cartoon syndicate.
In November 1980, he started Tinkle under this syndicate. It is a children’s anthology of short stories, jokes and educational articles in comic-book format. Tinkle too replicated the success of Amar Chitra Katha.
In 1989, again through this syndicate, Pai launched Chimpu Comics, which included his own works like Ramu and Shamu, Kapish, Little Raji and Fact Fantasy. This venture failed to repeat the success of Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle and eventually its publication was stopped.
Besides comics, Pai was also a specialist in personality development. He founded the Partha Institute of Personality Development in August 1978, which conducted personality development classes through correspondence for children and teenagers. He has also written books like How To Develop Self-confidence How to Achieve Success, How To Develop A Super Memory.
Pai has written and produced two video films, Ekam Sat (the Vedic Concept of God) and The Secret of Success, in both English and Hindi.
The Amar Chitra Katha is also available in audio book format. In Storytime with Uncle Pai, he plays the role of narrator-storyteller.
Awards and recognitions
- Lifetime Achievement Award – at the First Indian Comic Convention, New Delhi on 19 Feb 2011 (six days before his death) was given by Pran, Creator of Chacha Chaudhury
- 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)
- University of Bombay Department of Chemical Technology’s Distinguished Alumnus Award (1999)
- Millennium Konkani Sammelan Award, Illinois, USA (2000)
- Raja Rammohan Roy Library Foundation’s Award (2001)
- Priyadarshni Academy Award (2002)
- Vishwa Saraswat Sammaan (2003)
On 18 February 2012, ACK Media, a Mumbai-based edutainment company which had been managing Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle since 2007, released an Amar Chitra Katha title on Anant Pai, which was scripted by Gayathri Chandrasekaran, assistant editor of Tinkle, and illustrated by Dilip Kadam, who had illustrated many of Amar Chitra Katha’s most famous titles.
The father of Indian comics, Anant Pai died of a massive heart attack on the evening of 24 February 2011. He had been recovering from hip surgery which was necessitated following his falling down from the stairs a week prior to his death.