Rajessh M Iyer: Uncle Pai’s legacy has shaped Indian society beyond literature & culture!

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Rajessh M Lyer

What inspired you to write about the life and work of Uncle Pai?

Actually, it was thanks to the idea mooted by my literary agent, Suhail Mathur of The Book Bakers, that I started it. I had initially dismissed it since I felt everything needed to be known about Uncle Pai is already available in the public domain.

How wrong was I? The more I spoke to his relatives and old colleagues, the more I started getting sucked into this incredible universe filled with amazing creations, most of which were integral parts of my childhood. The wonder world that Pai has created was the real inspiration behind this book.

Can you share some of the most significant contributions of Uncle Pai to the world of Indian comics and literature?

Immense and immeasurable are two adjectives that immediately come to mind when we think of Uncle Pai’s contribution. He is, without doubt, the father of the Indian comic book industry, having started Indrajal, Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle, three iconic comic books that at their peak held a majority of the market share in India and influenced millions of children over generations.

Another major contribution is that everyone in this country started taking comic books seriously, even as an instrument of education and not merely as a source of entertainment. It is all due to Pai’s efforts in reaching out to schools, organising quiz contents and making sure children turn to Amar Chitra Katha to learn about their culture, heritage and history.

Uncle Pai’s creations, like Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle, have had a profound impact on Indian storytelling. How do you think his work influenced the literary landscape of India?

Tremendously. The fact that even literary writers have been known to turn to Amar Chitra Katha to clarify some historical details in the pre-Google era speaks volumes about its contribution and influence. Likewise, the information provided in Tinkle has been extensively used by students for their school projects.

However, we must not limit our discussion to their impact on storytelling alone. What Amar Chitra Katha has contributed through its invaluable artworks is something that hasn’t been spoken about enough. So, the influence can be seen in both the literary and artistic landscapes of India.

Can you highlight some lesser-known aspects of Uncle Pai’s life that you discovered during your research?

The personal setbacks he faced early in life shaped him in ways people don’t realise. Also, his great marketing skills. He’d think on his feet and not miss an opportunity to reach out to his target readers, like he once did while traveling by train.

Finding children sitting nearby, he unlocked his briefcase filled with Amar Chitra Katha comics and placed it on the edge of the berth. When the briefcase fell due to the rocking of the train, it spilled all the comic books on the compartment floor. The impact of colourful comic books on children was both immediate and magical. A stroke of genius in building a set of life-long readers. 

Uncle Pai was known for his dedication in preserving and popularising Indian mythology and history. How did he go about achieving this through his writings and publications?

Meticulous research, captivating storytelling and aesthetically drawn illustrations contributed to achieving this. However, above all, it was his unflinching determination to make the new generations know the route to their roots. 

Could you share an anecdote or story from Uncle Pai’s life that particularly resonated with you during the process of writing your book?

There were some uncanny parallels that gave me goosebumps. Like the initial struggle of having to convince everyone around you of a vision that seems daunting to some and downright perilous to others. Trying to tell traditional stories (and religious ones too) through a non-traditional medium like comic books was unimaginable in India, especially in the 1950s and the 1960s. 

What do you think was Uncle Pai’s legacy, and how do you believe it continues to shape the literary and cultural scene in India today?

Why just the literary and cultural scene? His legacy has helped shape Indian society socially too. There’s no denying the renaissance of ancient Indian ethos that is now seen in everything from films to books to even how policies are formulated. More than a fair share of it is Uncle Pai’s legacy. 

Uncle Pai’s storytelling style and approach to education were unique. How did he manage to make historical and mythological content accessible and engaging for a wide audience?

That comes from a rare combination that made the man named Anant Pai. He was a visionary, a researcher, a writer and a marketer all rolled into one … and  par excellence in each discipline. 

Uncle Pai’s birthday was on September 17th. In your opinion, what are some meaningful ways people can celebrate his life?

Read the comic books he created, read my book, ‘Uncle Pai’ and try to imbibe some of his qualities like dogged determination, an eye for detail, and a never-say-die attitude.

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