What’s summer without A.C.K.s, roasted corn on the cob and mangoes! Amar Chitra Katha or ACK for short are a favorite staple for many kids growing up in India. It’s an illustrated book series, and the title literally translates to immortal picture stories. The stories are both precious and timeless!
There are about 440 books in this series in five categories – Epics and Mythology, Fables and Humor, Visionaries, Indian Classics, and Bravehearts, all of them equally heartwarming for both kids and adults alike. Over ninety million copies have been sold in twenty Indian languages and of course, in English.
I got myself the entire set on a recent trip to India and its simply awesome reading them all over again. The best part about reading them as an adult is reliving memories of what fun it was to read them as a child. The next best part is to really analyze the stories from Epics and Mythology and see how I see the story differently as an adult. Take for example, as I read the story of a princess who asks a sage ‘Oh sage, you know what I want’ with wide eyes and standing all curvy, I am thinking – Goodness – that’s adult content – I had no idea that’s what she was asking for when I read the book as a kid. And then there’s the scale of things. Agastya drinks the whole ocean so that the devas (Gods, the good guys) can fight the asuras (demons, the bad guys) hiding on the ocean floor. People and objects go from nanosize to a ginormous size in a matter of seconds. Lord Hanuman (the Hindu monkey God) grows bigger than a mountain so he can lift it on the palm of his hand and carry it over to where Laxman, Rama’s brother, is dead so that Sanjeevani plant can be given to him in order to bring him back to life. And then there’s the churning of the ocean and there are penances and curses and strong thoughts that travel across the three worlds. Nothing is off limits and the stories and characters morph into anything and everything at will. The only limits are the limits of human imagination. There are sages, devas, asuras, animals that have feelings and talk, women who are strong and docile at the same time, and of course, brave strong men. Each complicated story stripped down to basic pictures, narrative and dialogue and told in its entirety within 30 pages!
The stories from Indian Classics like Meghadootam (The Cloud Messenger, a Sanskrit poem written by Kalidasa in 375 CE about a king who convinces a cloud to carry a message of love to his wife who is awaiting his return) and the stories of Visionaries like Vivekananda or Rabindranath Tagore, and the stories of Bravehearts like Rani Lakshmibai who fought the British in 1857 are truly inspiring. As for Fables and Humor, they are priceless. When my aunt read to my little niece the story of a raven that dropped stones into a deep jug with a low water level, so that the water rose and the raven could drink it, my niece asked why the raven couldn’t use a straw instead!
The initial idea for the series came from a Bangalore book salesman called G.K. Ananthram, but it was Anant Pai who built a wonderful team and a great brand. Their big idea was to bring these stories to children growing up in the modern era when these stories didn’t necessarily pass down generations through storytelling by grandparents and other family members. I did not know that besides comics, ‘Uncle Pai’ was also a specialist in personality development. He founded the Partha Institute of Personality Development in August 1978, which conducted personality development classes through correspondence for children and teenagers. He was given a lifetime achievement award at the first Indian Comic Convention in 2011 a few days before his death.
There were days when I used to derive pleasure from overanalyzing and criticizing some of the stories, but now, I simply enjoy them!