Chitra Katha has shaped the sensibilities of several generations
of Indians, given them an enjoyable introduction to the history
and the culture of their country. The purpose behind the endeavor
is clearly very noble. How did you decide on the comic book
format? Comics are western in their concept and history. Comics
are often treated as the lesser, form of literature by serious
readers. In this context, how certain were you of your ability
to use comics to narrate an entire culture to a generation
that had no inkling of the depth and significance of their
I was not a comics buff. I had never read comics before I started
working on Amar Chitra Katha. Many ideas occurred. Among
them, comics seemed a very interesting way to introduce Indian
to their heritage. I noticed that my nephews and nieces were
very fond of reading comics. This convinced me that children
love to read comics. Therefore, I used this medium. When the
first few comics were produced I remember I was rebuked by a
few principals of schools for bringing out comics. I remember
Dadasaheb Rege of Bal Mohan Vidya Mandir, Mumbai, firmly telling
me, “I will not permit our students to read comics.”
I promised educationists that I would never use slang in Amar
Chitra Katha. I would not use colloquial expressions in the commentary
panels. These were permitted in the speech balloons. Thus I tried
to soften the objections to comics on the grounds that they spoiled
the language. We had many meetings with educations in Feb 1978.
A seminar was held on the role of Chitra Katha in school education,
on February 14, 1978.
Dr. Pratap Chandra Chunder, the Union Minister of education was
the chief guest at the seminar.
Shri Baldev Mahajan, Commissioner of the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan
presided over the seminar. Representatives of the NCERT, Directorate
of Education, Delhi participated in the seminar. I had read a
paper on Chitra Kathas in school education. All this slowly improved
the acceptability of the comics.
you had decided on the format of retelling, how did you go
about the actual process of adapting the stories? History-writing,
in the form of a documentary, is easier, since it is basically
a recital of facts that can be conveyed. But Indian mythology – or
any mythology – is really confusing, even to the people
who have known it for long. What form did the adaptation
take ? Was it a case of discarding certain things and highlighting
only the important ones or did you have a particular goal
when rewriting each story?
Yes, the task was difficult. There were many versions of the
incidents in different Puranas. However, the Ramayana (an epic
about the valiant King Rama) and the Mahabharata [the story
of the great war fought by the armies of the Kauravas and the
Pandavas] did not have major variants. Krithivasa Ramayana
of Bengali [the language spoken by the people in the state
of Bengal] differed in some ways.
I had laid down the following instructions for writing scripts
for Amar Chitra Katha.
Tell the Truth.
Tell what is pleasing to listen to.
The Unpleasant truth need not be told.
At the same time just
because it is
pleasing do not tell an untruth.
We used the editor’s privilege to add emphasis to or
to reduce gore from events and happenings. For example, the
headless body of Hemu was ordered to be displayed near the
reduce the unpleasant effect on young minds the scene was made
inconspicuous. When there were instances capable of promoting
national integration, we did emphasize them. For example, the
love and respect shown by the Muslim jailor to Lokamanya Tilak
was emphasized. In short we have taken a little liberty by
adding or reducing emphases on certain incidents.
illustrations are an important part of any book, more so
when it is a comic book. How did you go about providing
the illustrations for the comics? Did you have a certain
vision of how the characters were to be presented or did
you give a free rein to the artist? For instance, do we make
the human face martial and vigorous or delicate and sensitive?
Of course the most difficult part of the work in the editorial
department was to provide references to the artists. For example
it is easy to write a book on Swami Vivekananda. In the printed
book, we can print his speech at the parliament of Religious
in Chicago. “Dear brothers and sisters of America..."
In the Chitra Katha format the editorial department had to provide
references like the visuals of the audience, the visuals of the
people on the dais, the order in which they were seated or what
was in the background etc.
We had very little references even on history. We showed warriors
with well-built bodies. For example in our Amar Chitra Katha “Bahman
Shah” we have shown not only Bahman Shah but his immediate
circle of generals also as tall and strong.
leads on from my earlier question. The illustrations of gods
and goddesses in Amar Chitra Katha portray them as more human
than god like, while calendars in India portray them as cherubic
and angelic. Was this a conscious decision – in order
to convince children that the gods too are human??
Ravi Varma had painted many pictures of Indian gods and
goddesses like Laxmi, Krishna dancing on the serpent Kalia,
Krishna holding up Goverdhan. He had also done paintings of
Nala and Damayanti, Bhagiratha bringing down Ganga from heaven
etc. He was living in Mumbai and clad his women in the traditional
Maharashtrian saris. He showed goddesses in choli (blouse).
When Draupadi was being seized by her hair by Dusshasana, she
pleads, “With only one garment on me, how can I attend
the sabha?” From this and many descriptions in the classics,
we learnt about costumes. We showed women wearing an “antariya” (lower
garment), an “uttariya” (upper garment), stanapatta
(covering the breasts) Prapata (which held in place the Uttariya),
etc. There are references to men as well as women wearing “Ushnesha” (covering
for the head). We did not follow the examples set by Ravi Varma
in costumes. We checked the references available in the classics
to ensure that the gods and goddesses were dressed in ways
similar to those present in ancient India.
target audience did you have in mind when you picked the
English comic book format? Do you see a divergence between
Amar Chitra Katha in English and in the regional language?
The target audience I had in mind was 8-14.
There are no differences between Amar Chitra Katha in English
and in regional languages.
the first title of the series. Was there any particular reason
for choosing this god, from the pantheon of Indian gods,
for the inaugural issue?
Krishna is a character close to my heart.
In my house, the pictures and statuettes of Krishna are to
be found all over the place. “Who at this point of
time is the most virtuous, the most brave, the knower of
from wrong, grateful to those who help him, truthful and
firm in his resolve? If there is such a person I want to
sing of him,” asks Valmiki. “Indeed there is
such a person – Rama of Ayodhya”. And Valmiki
writes the poems on Rama. Rama was a role model. Krishna
is not shown as a perfect person. He is like one of us.
is a question that comes from and within children’s
literature in general. Does one provide a ‘sterilized’ tale
for children, if at all? Mythology and history are always,
in all cultures, full of war bloodshed and violence. How
does one present such a tale to a child? Amar Chitra Katha
has not been above graphic representations of killings and
violence. The title ‘Prahlad’ springs to the
mind. The final panel, which shows the half-man half lion,
Narasimha, killing the proud Hiranyakashyapu, is truly gory,
with Narasimha tearing open the stomach and blood dripping
out. How do you handle such themes when deciding on what
goes into a book?
The scene of Narasimha killing is very gory. Here I had no
other alternative except to show this scene. Without this scene
there would have been no comic on Prahlad. While illustrating Amar
Chitra Katha, we have avoided showing grotesque and gory
scenes, as I have said earlier.
of the death of the printed word are constantly being reported
by the media, right alongside surveys that indicate falling ‘reading
habits’. In this context what do you see for Amar Chitra
Katha in the future?
I do not think that the rule of printed word is over. Exposing
children to cartoon films and video games has reduced the span
of attention of youngsters and they are also exposed to a lot
of violence in cartoon films from U.S.A. Even the Hollywood
film stars have realised the impact of TV on young minds. Many
of them have put restrictions on their children viewing TV
for more than 2-3 ours a day.
Stories have been an effective medium to inculcate values, throughout the history
of mankind. The parents who become aware of this will induce the children to
be away from TV for quite sometime. Please note whenever a new medium of communication
comes on the scene there has been a furore. When a touring talkies visited our
town a maid servant came to my grandma and said, “Give me one anna. I want
to buy a ticket for the cinema. I am told on a white screen people go round trees
singing songs and talking to each another. I want to see it."
My grandma gave her one anna. I watched this scene from behind the door. When
the maidservant made her exit, I made my entry and said, “I also want to
see people running around trees and singing songs.”
My grandma had then said, “Children from decent families do not see movies.”
When printing was first introduced many must have felt a threat to their positions.
Rowling’s Harry Potter has dazzled children around
the world Indian children too have suddenly started reading
books again. Your comments on this phenomenon.
Children have always been fascinated by superhuman actions.
Fairy tales and Tales of magic provide spurs to their imagination.
Children get over this phase. As for the reading habit, books
like Rowling’s can help in improving reading habits.
© 2005 ACHUKA