Anant Pai: Father of Indian comics

Illustration of Anant Pai and characters from Amar Chitra Katha
Illustration: © Amar Chitra Katha

He was watching a quiz programme on Doordarshan. The children easily answered questions from Greek mythology but failed to answer questions from the Ramayana.

The young journalist wondered how he could make our children aware of Indian mythology. Anant Pai knew that children enjoyed reading comics. Why not then make the Indian legends into attractive comics?

Thus was born the great Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) series in 1967. Leaving his job with the Times of India, he started working on Amar Chitra Katha. But in the initial stages no publishing house was interested in his idea. Anant then persuaded G. L. Mirchandani of India Book House to try out the series with little investment. Parents, schools and bookshops refused to purchase the series in the beginning. But gradually kids were attracted to read the beautifully illustrated comic series.

Amar Chitra Katha has 439 titles of Indian mythology, folk tales and historical biographies and has sold more than 100 million copies. Even during this age of smartphones it sells more than three million copies annually.

Anant Pai was born on 17 September 1929 in Karkala, Karnataka, to a Konkani-speaking couple, Venkatarya and Susheela Pai. At the age of two, both his parents passed away, and Anant was brought up by his maternal grandfather. After the death of his grandfather in 1944, Anant moved to Mumbai and studied in Orient School, Mahim. Though he was interested in journalism, his elder brother discouraged him. To please him, Anant took up Science in college. With a passion for comics, Anant took up a career with the Times of India. There he got involved with Indrajal Comics, which published comic book series like Mandrake and The Phantom.

Two years after launching Amar Chitra Katha, Anant launched India’s first cartoon syndicate, Rang Rekha Features, containing interesting factoids and snippets for children. In 1980, Anant launched a super comic children’s magazine Tinkle which covered contemporary Indian history, illustrated biographies of national leaders, short stories, quizzes, jokes, contests and educational articles on history, science and geography. He answered children’s letters under his famous nickname ‘Uncle Pai’. Tinkle has gone into nearly 700 issues.

Once, the office of ACK Media caught fire and all the original copies of the comic series were destroyed. The devastated team appealed to the young readers of Tinkle to send any spare copies of the comic series to them. They got an overwhelming response!

Besides founding the Partha Institute of Personality Development which conducted personality development classes through correspondence for children and teenagers, in 1989, Anant launched Chimpu Comics, which did not have much success.

Anant also wrote and produced two video films Ekam Sat (the Vedic concept of God) and The Secret of Success, in both English and Hindi, and produced some audio books on certain titles of Amar Chitra Katha.

His works include a number of books on personality development for children and teenagers. Since he did not have children, Pai enjoyed sitting with kids reading his comic books. This he enjoyed until the end of his life. The 81-year-old Pai died on 24 February 2011 in Mumbai after a massive heart attack.

Six days before his death, Anant Pai was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the First Indian Comic Convention in New Delhi.

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F. M. Britto
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F. M. Britto

F. M. Britto is currently serving the marginalized people in a remote village in Chhattisgarh with education and development programmes. He is the author of six books including 99 Changemakers and Keys To Success And Happiness published by Better Yourself Books.