If you didnt catch up with Part 1 of this three part series, you can read it here. This one is all about Amar Chitra Katha. Like me, most of you who grew up in India would have grown up with Anant Pai’s master creation, Amar Chitra Katha. For the uninitiated, see Anant’s bio and also the ACK wikipedia entry for more about the past, present and future of the comic series.
Amar Chitra Katha gave faces to all the mythological and historical heroes we wanted to emulate and the asuras and villains we wanted to vanquish. Uncle Pai gave a human face to the characters in stories told and retold over generations by parents and grandparents. These stories were an integral part of my childhood and probably that of millions more in and from India.
Fast forward to my current conundrum. I would like to initiate my son to these wonderful stories. He is 3 years old and a voracious consumer of books and stories, albeit told. Thomas, the tank engine and Curious George have become a part of his life so much so he lives in their world, dreams in that world and occasionally drops into the one where his parents and friends live. While Thomas and George are perfect stories for his age, having him know of his roots would be nice too. Enter, Amar Chitra Katha.
When we bought our first house, I started collecting the bound Amar Chitra Katha stories so we could relive them and also pass it to our kid whenever we had one. With the thought of starting off with a simple story, I opened one of my collections. I was greeted with snakes, blood, spears, and a discus that chops off heads. The quintessential kids tale of Krishna came with lots of blood, especially considering it chronicles the life of a young Krishna. So I decided to give it a pass for the time being.
Shiva was not much better either- this came with crushing Asuras with his feet, tossing his wife out of his life and what not. Too much at 3. The Jataka tales, which are like Aesop’s fables were a tad better but they arent mythology as much as travellers tales. And then there is the big problems of racism by color of skin.
Amar Chitra Katha has all good folks (as in the Devas), fair skinned and beautiful. The demons (Asuras) are predominantly dark and evil looking. The only exception is that Shiva (the dark one), Krishna (the blue one) and Rama (also blue) are not fair. But there are stories to fully back the reason for their color. How do I show comic after comic to my son where the good people are fair in color and the bad ones are dark. What am I teaching my son?. That good is white and bad is black. That doesnt sound right to me. I will not question the motivation for Anant Pai to choose this form of coloring but in today’s context, it is inappropriate to be color biased.
The other big thing is that God punishes bad people. We are trying to teach our son that everyone is good and nice and we must treat them the same. By showing him distinctly good and evil characterizations, are we changing his perspective for ever?. And the way the Gods punish the evil ones are not really pleasing to the eye. That doesnt help the cause much either.
So here we are. Stuck in first gear and unable to move forward. Thomas and George seem so much uncomplicated in comparison. Or maybe, as parents we are overthinking. Afterall, I was fed all these stories and I turned out fairly liberal and dont walk around wanting to spear the bad guys. Maybe a dose of reality isnt bad but that brings up a different problem of how “real” are Gods. How different are superhero comics which the little guy will eventually get into- he already knows of Batman and Spiderman without knowing about them. Superhero comics are akin to Amar Chitra Katha in very many ways although they have gotten to be politically correct as time has progressed. So maybe, it will all be OK if I just get started someday with something.
In the final post on this topic next week, I will share some alternate stuff I have discovered that might help me in this quest to introduce Indian mythology to my son.
Part 1 of this three part article is here.
Part 3 of this three part article is here.