Sunday, February 27, 2011


The train leaves our small town station. Both of us seated adjacent to each window in the compartment eagerly glance at our parent’s watches, counting minutes for the next station, Rourkela to arrive. The journey from our town to Rourkela is only thirty minutes, but for us two, eight and nine year olds, the trains seems travelling at a snail’s pace. If we had the strength, we feel we could have pushed the train. We utter loudly each passing station’s name and as the train slows, we shriek with delight. Our eyes wander eagerly to locate the A.H.Wheeler book shop on the left side. “Daddy, Rourkela station has come” and we force him to get up from his seat even before the train comes to a halt. Both of us have been clutching our two precious, round, metallic coins of one rupee and twenty five paisa, the cost of one Amar Chitra Katha comic. The comic is our pastime till we reach our final destination, Vizag.

Our roving eyes eagerly scan all comics displayed and we quickly pick one comic each and hand over the tinkling coins to the shopkeeper. Each of us is allowed one comic for one journey. For both of us, train journey means Poppins, Amar Chitra Katha and roasted peanuts though not necessarily in that order. Each train journey adds to our individual treasure of comic collection. The deal is returning the copy in proper condition to the other party after reading. We both sisters jealously guard our little comic treasures.

Many a time, both of us have grabbed the same comic at the book shop and given dirty glances to each other. My sister would hate those moments when my dad would say ‘Let Chinni have it first, she is younger to you’. I would have a victorious smile on my lips for having the power to read the disputed comic first. We both would write our names the moment we got into the compartment. Sipping their matka chai, seeing us engrossed, my parents also would even wait for their turn to lay hands on these comics.

Each comic of Amar Chitra Katha with its colourful pictures and engrossing tales transported us into a world of its own. Amar Chitra Kathas were our first introduction to the world of Indian mythology, history and culture. I just loved reading stories of various characters of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Tenali Raman and Birbal were my all time favourite characters. Tales of Supandi, stories of Hitopadesha used to keep us kids in splits. They played an immense role in moulding our reading habits. I am positive that no Indian child born in late sixties and seventies can deny their influence as these were such easy reads.

I was fortunate to read them again after many years when I bought them for my daughter. Dasavathara and Ramayana were her preferred bed time reads. She used to rattle names of all the avatars next day morning. They still adorn her book shelf even today.

All of us have moved on in our journey of life, but these journeys would not have been so pleasurable without Uncle Pai. Watching a television quiz acted as trigger for Uncle Pai to launch the first Amar Chitra Katha comic. The kids in the quiz were able to answer questions on Greek mythology, but did not know Ram’s mother’s name.

The nation mourns the loss of Uncle Pai, who died last week in Mumbai. It is indeed a paradox, such immense contribution from a person who himself did not have any children.

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