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Anant Pai, 1929-2011
posted June 6, 2011

Anant Pai, a foundational figure in Indian comics whose readership extended into the millions, passed away on February 24 in a hospital in Mumbai. The cause of death was a heart attack. His age was given in most news reports as 81 years old, although other sources provide other dates.

imagePai was born in the town of Karkala in the southwestern sate of Karnataka. He studied chemistry at school, but ended up in publishing in 1954 at the Times Of India. Therefore he was at least in close proximity to the creation of the seminal Indian comics publication Inkrajal in 1964.

In the late 1960s, the writer and editor conceived of the series Amar Chitra Katha (translated as "Immortal Picture Stories") after watching children on a TV quiz show fail to answer questions about Hindu mythology to the extent they were able to respond to inquiries about Greek mythology. The series took on formal texts such as the Sanskrit epic Ramayana in addition to folk stories with a Hindu element, usually focusing on a single, identifiable figure. The stories were told in a formal English in order to help teach students how to use that language more effectively, and to facilitate their use in formal education. Most reports have a first issue appearing in 1967 but at least one has that delayed until 1970. It's generally agreed that Pai was an effective advocate for the work as well as their co-creator, traveling the country and speaking to teachers' groups about their value.

The success of the publication kick-started several careers and the basic structure of an industry to serve them. One writer claims here that series took up to four years to really hit its stride, but there's no one denying the publisher's claims that the series has sold over 100 million copies in its lifetime, and has enjoyed a readership derived from the targeted youthful demographic and among adults who one guesses may have missed out on the spotlighted stories in their own educational journeys. Pai created Rang Rekha Features as a comic and cartoon syndicate to help meet the demand his successful publication had instigated. Among the artists who illustrated the Pai-written stories were Ram Waeerkar, Souren Roy and Madhu Powle. The original publication continues to sell three million copies a year; you can access it and its satellite offerings here. As is the case with North American comics, the success of the book with children helped create the next generation of creators to work on it.

The series' success also raised Pai's profile to that of a kind of father-figure for many of his fans. He was known both as the father of Indian comics and more affectionately as "Uncle Pai."

In 1980, Pai created another series, Tinkle, which various obituaries have called the first Indian comic book set in modern times. The series was created as a complement to Amar Chitra Katha, engaging school subjects not covered in ancient texts in the same wholesome manner as Pai's first major creation. One of its major artists had come to Pai's attention by sending in fan work to Ama Chitra Katha as a child. Tinkle was a also a hit, and a seminal work for the 1980s generation of Indian children.

A portrait of Pai as an employer written by Janaki Viswanathan recalls as modest-living man focused to significant degree on the perceived needs of his readership.

The cartoonist apparently fell several days ago, injuring his foot to the point it needed surgery. The heart attack came a few days after surgery, his publisher said. He had planned to attend the country's first Comic-Con; he was given a lifetime achievement award by that group, many of whom as children discovered comics through his works.

The cartoonist was cremated the same day he passed in Mumbai. Pai is survived by a wife. He had no children.