Indians Worldwide Fondly Remember 'Uncle Pai'

Amar Chitra Katha's adaptation of the Bhagavad Gita is one of its perennial best-sellers.
Amar Chitra Katha's adaptation of the Bhagavad Gita is one of its perennial best-sellers.

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MUMBAI, February 28, 2011 - Anant Pai, creator of India's hugely popular Amar Chitra Katha comics, passed away here on February 24, at the age of 81.

Known to many as "Uncle Pai," Pai introduced generations of Indians to the mythology, history, and folklore of India through the accessible medium of the comic book starting in 1967. As the story goes, Pai was disheartened by the lack of knowledge of Indian mythology amongst Indian youth, for whom names like Zeus and Hera were more familiar than Dashratha and Kausalya, and resolved to do something about it.

In an approximate translation, Amar Chitra Katha means "Immortal Picture Stories." Easily digestible insights into Indian history and mythology, the monthly comics have been translated into 20 different Indian languages, are estimated to have sold 100 million copies since 1967, and still sell about three million copies per year. They have been commended with increasing understanding of Indian culture and instilling a sense of nationalism and integration across the country.

More recently, Pai's line of comics have found lucrative new life as fodder for 21st-century media. An animated Amar Chitra Katha series appears on the Cartoon Network in India, and Vodafone markets Amar Chitra Katha ringtones and wallpapers.

Indians from all walks of life fondly eulogized the comics giant. Movie actor Siddarth noted on Twitter, "He is as much a part of my childhood as my education at school," while Omar Abdullah, Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, tweeted, "Sad to hear about Uncle Pai. Grew up on a steady diet of Amar Chitra Katha comics from Kashmir Bookshop."

Pai's work has had a lasting impression on young Indians, particularly finding its way into the diaspora voice. Indian American artist Chitra Ganesh appropriated the style of Amar Chitra Katha for an entire series of her work (Tales of Amnesia, Secrets), turning the often traditional values taught in the comics on their heads, asserting instead an overtly feminist viewpoint.

Another subversive reimagining of the traditional comic, ACK! Comic envisions two minor characters from the Mahabharata, Bhima and Dushasana, planted in New Jersey, humorously detailing their Vedic-informed reactions to everyday situations in modern-day America.

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Related link:
Official Amar Chitra Katha website