I Miss You, Uncle Pai

on Friday, September 16, 2011

We do miss you.
The Google doodle today, i.e. 17th September, bears an imprint of perhaps the most intrinsic part of my childhood. I have no memory when I got introduced to Tinkle comics, I just know I used to have a huge collection of them; every single comic prized. Like many other children who grew up with me, I too was into the habit of calling the remarkable creator of these comics as "Uncle Pai", and had a secret resolve that some day, when I am worthy enough, I will have Uncle Pai pat my back. Unfortunately, earlier this year, this enterprising and affable educationist, formally recognized as Anant Pai, passed away. My secret, innocent childhood resolve, struck my mind again, as did the thought that the resolve was best forgotten. Uncle Pai, who had guided me through numerous science projects, given me witty stories to reproduce in class and connected me to many more readers my age via their personal stories, is gone. I always wanted to, but never wrote to him. May be today I should, however silly it seems.

Dear Uncle Pai,
A very happy birthday to you. 
I have been one of your greatest admirers. When I was little, I never understood the manner in which you were enriching my life. Today, I do. In February, when I heard of your demise, I opened the neglected and dust ridden trove of my childhood books, only to glance back at the wonderful comics you made. Those comics did not even adhere to the definition of comics. They were educative, and yet, very interesting. For the most precious years of my young life, I have remained hooked to them.
Wasn't he the cutest?
I had a December ritual of rereading all the issues published during the year in just about a week. It was as if, I did not want any single story to be erased from my mind, so I kept on revising them. This much of dedication I never showed to my class texts- this loyalty was reserved for Shikari Shambhi, Kalia the Crow, Suppandi and Tantri the Mantri exclusively.
In my early days, I never enjoyed Anu Club. I needed to grow up to appreciate the effortless knowledge which came my way even through a very cursory reading of his experiments. My Science Projects, one I definitely remember on Sea Creatures, has been simply copy pasted from the informative features which were sine qua non of these path-breaking and endearing comics.
There was this feature, "It Happened To Me", which regularly appeared in Tinkle. Every interesting incident that took place in my life is carefully recorded in my journal, with me each time imagining as if I am writing it to Tinkle and young readers are gasping and laughing at my stories. You, Uncle Pai, made me pursue my diary writing habit with fondness, something of which, I am very proud. However, if today, I were to tell you a story for you to publish in the same column, then I would perhaps tell you of my very old friend, whose name is hazy on the pages of my memory, but whose face I distinctly remember. Some ten years back, he had come to Delhi from Nagaland to pursue the better quality of studies on offer in Delhi. My class teacher made his sit with me, but he never would talk to me. In a week I realized that he was very sad, and lonely; for he acutely missed his family, his friends, his toys. I was sad, and tried to be really good friends with him, but after school, he had nothing to do. No one to talk to, given that he was an introvert. So, I decided that every weekend, I would him give some copies of Tinkle to read- what better friends could there be for a lonely introvert. And this trend became the happiest memory of my bond with him. When he left school, he thanked me profusely, not for my friendship- but for sharing those comics. The excitement in those pre-teen eyes for getting some new copies of Tinkle to read still warms my heart.
The letter is long, but it won't end without me expressing remorse, and giving you a promise. The famous Amar Chitra Katha series you published- I could never lay my hands on it. I did, however, hear about the uniqueness of those books at introducing nascent minds to the royal mythology of our country which spreads much beyond just the staple epics- Ramayana and Mahabharata. I feel sorry for myself, as I had to take more circuitous routes, read more arduous texts to understand the same mythical stories which you told so simply through your inimitable story telling skills. I do, however, promise, that when I have children, the first books I would introduce to them would be your books.I hope my copies of Tinkle survive by then. And I earnestly hope that Amar Chitra Katha is still sold then by benevolent bookseller who are already facing competition from the electronic world. 
Uncle Pai, I hope your legend lives on.
I sign off as a little member of this huge extended family you created.
Vasavadattas story- in Uncle Pai's peerless style