It was nearly eight years ago that I first discovered the Amar Chitra Katha stories. I was in the 6th std and was recently sent to a boarding school in Panchgani. I was far away from home and at a place where I was going to spend quite a few Diwalis, New years and other holidays in the coming years. It was the perfect new place for a kid who loved the mountains and rivers, instead of the plains and the summer where she was brought up.
My first few months were spent roaming the huge campus and just getting the hang of taking care of myself. And so after settling in and taking in the new place with all its glories, the library became one of my most frequented places. I loved sitting there and it was ideal for when it got too rainy (which was most of the time) to go outside, unless, of course, a person was not scared of centipedes, worms, baboons, monkeys, snakes and the like.
I loved the library room, it seemed so grown up and sophisticated and it offered a wonderful view of the Chikli valley, but not only that they also had COMICS, I discovered Tintin and Captain Haddock there, and spent hours just poring over them one after another. I had always noticed ACK but never really bothered to go through them based on presumed judgement that ‘Dude, they are AMAR CHITRA KATHA’, in my defence, at that time I also thought that Backstreet Boys were cool, anyway, there they were the lot of them taking up the whole row by themselves.
But soon, I had finished reading Tintin and after that Asterix and Obelix, so finally, with only one option left, I reluctantly turned my attention to ACK. And I can’t believe the stupidity and the pretentiousness due to which I ignored them in the first place. The idea of a world different from ours, extraordinary people and their stories, has always fascinated me, so here they were a whole row of them just waiting for me to pick them up. I can’t believe I had wasted so much time over those damn Goosebumps, these were amazing. I remember reading them and re-reading them over and over in my first year. For a girl, who never really got the hang of “making friends” those at the time had served as wonderful alternatives.
I still remember bits and pieces of the stories about Asoka, Krishna, Birbal or Shiva who had then become my favourite God if I’m to say so because of them. And for a kid where anything as fat as school textbooks was a no go zone, they were perfect and colourful enough to capture my attention.
I know now they were not perfect representatives of the people in the stories or the history, but which history is ever perfect. It all varies from who is telling the tale. So now, I do know the shortcomings that those comics have and I could analyse the stories, the representation of women, depictions or language or whatever else in the world. But for me then as a kid they were just extraordinary stories of times, places and people completely different from what I had ever heard or read about. It’s the story that counts, doesn’t it, even now, when I read fiction, it does not matter that much to me if the book represents perfectly the time it was written in or the society or other such stuff, what makes it a good book for me is the story; the simple weaving together of lives, events, people and their world.
So this is my thank you to Anant Pai, who I was reminded of by Google on his birthday. It is not a thank you because he taught me or informed me about my culture, history or gods; it is a thank you for the wonderful stories he told me and in a language which I could understand.