Saturday, August 15, 2009


A cursory channel-surf on the T.V showed that almost all the movie channels were telecasting patriotic films like GANDHI, BORDER, and such like. With celebrations for Independence Day round the corner, we are getting our annual audio-visual dose of patriotism – a heady mix of some-facts, some-jingoism, more-rhetoric and a lot of stirring sentiments.

When we were young, Doordarshan used to air such appropriately heart-swelling films to celebrate 15th August. A big favourite was Chetan Anand’s HAQUEEQAT, which never failed to bring a lump to the throat everytime it was shown on our grainy Black-and-White T.V set, especially everytime they telecast the song on the dying-freezing soldiers:

Kar chale hum fida jaan o tan saathiyon,
Ab tumhare hawale waton saathiyon

(Sacrificing body and soul for the motherland,
Friends, now I leave the nation in your hand
.) (incompetent translation by me).

But a far more potent and long-lasting source of nationalistic fervour were the Amar Chitra Katha (literally – Immortal Stories in Pictures) comics which I read and hoarded. Extremely affordable and easily available, these thin books retold history and legend in a colourful graphic form. And India, with its hoary action-packed and multi-layered past, supplied a vast storehouse of subjects.

Be it the Jallianwala Bag massacre, or the lives of Jawaharlal Nehru or the Rani of Jhansi, or the valiant deeds of pre-British-rule heroes like Shivaji or Rana Pratap, or the mythical romances of Amrapali and Nala-Damayanti, or the wit and wisdom of the Panchatantra, Jataka and the Birbal tales…the list is endless. Whenever I had accumulated the requisite sum of five rupees, I would run down to the para (neighbourhood) book shop, where a few Amar Chitra Kathas would be displayed by hanging them with clothes-pegs from a wire (in the manner of clothes drying). Flipping through a few, I would take my time choosing a new addition to my collection. And then the impatient rush home, and the losing myself in the colourful pictures, easy narration and crisp dialogues which made history come alive and which made myths appear believable.

I liked the Amar Chitra Kathas which retold the history of our freedom struggle, be it through biographies like that of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, or through incidents like the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. The school history books gave us the bare facts; my Amar Chitra Kathas infused those facts with colour, vigour and voice. These books could make me gnash my teeth in rage against the evil colonial masters; they could make me cry at the courageous deeds and deaths of the freedom-fighters.

But my most-est favourites were two mythical stories – Surya [the legend of the Sun God and how the love of Sanjana and her alter-ego Chhaya (shadow) mellowed him] and Samudra Manthan [The Churning of the Ocean - how the devatas (gods) tricked the asuras (demons) by using their strength to churn the ocean (with the help of the Mandara mountain and the snake Vasuki) to get the amrita (nectar of immortality) for themselves, without giving any to them].

Thank you, Uncle Pai (Anant Pai, whose brain child the Amar Chitra Kathas were), for all the knowledge - culled from history, religion, folklore, mythology - which you fed us so pleasantly. Thankfully, these wonderful graphic stories are still available and flourishing in bookstores all over India, for generations of children (and adults) to read and cherish.



Nona said...

Interesting that you bring this up. Recently, I was reading about the Amar Chitra Katha somewhere(not sure if it was a newspaper or website).

Uncle Pai had to convince the publisher and also put together a team of illustrators. Waeerkar was one of them. I loved the way he sketched.

Anonymous said...

Very Interesting! I used to use these to read stories that were not part of our curriculum though. Even the thought of Text Books used to spoil the reading mood. :)

We never used to get to buy them back in Dubai, back when I was growing up. So I used to buy as fresh stock every vacation. I still so for my kids. Though they hardly find time now to read them. I am planning to spend some quality reading time with them when I get back home. That reminds me, I have to add them to my shopping list today!!!!!

seana said...

Although I don't think we had quite the equivalent, I very fondly remember a series of comic books that were based on classic stories and fairytales. I think one of the Bremen Town Musicians probably even helped me learn to read.

Comics are such a great way to help anyone struggling with pure text, and I don't mean just kids or dyslexics. I think when we're learning something new, having visual aids are great ways to help boost comprehension.

Here in the U.S., they've made Shakespeare comic books these last few years. The text is not dumbed down, it's just that the comic book form makes it all look less intimidating. A play is the same thing in a way--visual plus words, but the difference with a comic is that it slows it down in an enjoyable way.

Ugich Konitari said...


Am just back from attending a nephew's wedding in the US. 30 years ago, my son , this nephew and a niece, all in the same age group, would snuggle up with my Dad when they were little and listen avidly to the stories from Amar Chitra Katha, as my Dad showed the pictures and recounted the tales, expressions and all.

My son recently presented this cousin of his, with an entire boxed collection of Amar Chitra Kathas , in honor of his wedding. Needless to say, this topped the popularity charts. The nephew grew up in the US, but still swears by Amar Chitra Katha. The gift is now a sort of a heirloom collection. :-)

Kavi said...

Amar Chitra Kathas were an important part of the wonder years. They shaped thought and memory.

And brought a perspective to history like none other. And did you know they are planning a animated version of the same !

It would be some heirloom collection indeed !

Hemal Shah said...

I like the thought of visiting back to childhood. For that very reason, I gifted one of my friend a Twinkle Digest.

Nazish Rahman said...

Oh ya DD used to show all these...i rem DD showing Gandhi every Independence it became my favorite movie that now i have its DVD n now m not supposed to wait a yr to watch it.
Well reading comics is really fun n interesting...u made me remember my school days of reading Archies,Twinkle n Tintin comics...i was mad for these!! Thanks for taking me to my schooldays!!!

U hav a nice blog...n thanks for visiting my visit again!!

Rajesh said...

This has been my favorite book during the school days. The pictures and narration were easy to understand and remember. Even now one can see them in the stands covering wide area of historical topics.

Another favorite book was "Chandamama"

Ms. Neha Gandhi said...

wow...thats a nice post...
i've never read the comics u mentioned and the only readings related to our freedom struggle are my history textbooks...alth i have done a lot of readings on Mahatma Gandhis' books

Shaswati said...

heh heh - recently at crosswords I saw the whole bunch of ACKs being sold - and sadly the kids these days don't even take a look at those - it's still people of our age who were peering at those...

Pradip Biswas said...

I read Amar Chitra katha at a elderly stage because I liked the lucid presentations. I gave that series of books to many of my nephews and nieces as their bithday gift.

Aleta said...

I like reading the passion that you write with regarding your memories. It's inspiring!

You asked about memories of Patriotism.... Paul Revere ~ I recently wrote about him on my blog. The risks that he took to warn the colonist of an attack from the British.. mostly based on "knowing something was wrong" but not knowing exactly what it was... he followed that feeling, didn't ignore it and took the chance of being caught. He was a member of a society that wanted independence and freedom and brought together this country. Going on this last vacation to Boston, it has rekindled that admiration and appreciation all over again.

Miss M said...

Amar chitra katha all the way! :D

I have sooo many of them back home!

radha said...

We had Chandamama - but not in English as it is published these days - the Hindi version and I had to struggle to read the stories. And we had no TV those days, so no Doordarshan, but we had the documentaries/newsreel that were shown before the movies started in the theatre. And not a soul stirred when the national anthem was played at the end of the movie.
( came by via a comment that you made on another blog)

Sucharita Sarkar said...

Thanks, everybody for all these graphic memories.