More than five generations, and I’m putting it casually, have been part of Tinkle’s world for decades. Ever since news executive Anant Pai (who passed away last year) brought the Amar Chitra Katha series to life (published in 1967 and onwards) we’ve been party to unforgettable tales brimming with Indian mythology, bios and many a folk story that taught us more than we’d expected. Facts, contests, quizzes and more add to the ‘magazine’ appeal of this children-oriented comic book.
When this country’s first ever English-language comic series came out, introduced as “Tinkle” in April of 1980 by Anant “Uncle” Pai himself, children across India took to it in a jiffy. Beloved stories like Shikari Shambu and Suppandi (who has lately taken on the avatar of Super Suppandi) and Kalia the Crow include three of the amazing characters Tinkle has created in its forges of masterful story-telling.
When with a heavy heart Amar Chitra Katha relinquished rights to Tinkle’s publication over to two entrepreneurs, they knew they were passing it into capable hands. Tinkle went for a joy-ride when the entrepreneurs sold a majority stake to The Future Group.
About four years ago, a bright mind educated in journalism, psychology and animation entered Tinkle’s gilded doors. Her name is Rajani Thindiath, current editor and captain of the ship SS Tinkle that’s made a steady journey into its 600th issue (printed last month).
Let’s delve into a Q&A with the woman at the helm of a legend.
1. There are so many people out there who were once part of Tinkle’s radiant wonders most of whom have stopped reading for reasons unknown. What would you say to them that will encourage them to turn Tinkle’s pages again?
It’s been over 30 years and gradually Tinkle has become immersed in the very fibre of our childhood memories. It has quite justly become a part of the youthful memories of our country. The magic that made Tinkle is still alive—the innocence, the idyllic world, the fun ways in which a lot of life lessons are conveyed. I would tell them: Come back to Tinkle if you miss your childhood. It’s all still here.
2. We’re getting to be a media oriented society. Is Tinkle going to remain a comic-magazine or is it going to make its debut into the world of cartoons as an animated version?
Tinkle has always been about children, for children. So the medium doesn’t matter, the stories do. Perhaps we would have been on papyrus in the ages of old. If there were holographic technology available, we would be there too. Tinkle’s beloved characters Suppandi and Shambu have already appeared in their animated avatars—one on Cartoon Network and the other as a short film.
3. How well did you know Mr. Pai and what did he teach you as a person?
I remember my time with Mr Pai in snapshots.
There was a comedy of errors when I came for my interview seven years ago. I was to meet the then Editor of Tinkle, Mr Luis Fernandes. But since I was there early, I ended up meeting Mr Pai (Editor Emeritus of Tinkle and Editor of Amar Chitra Katha). We had a long and lovely chat which ended with Mr Pai trying to convince me to join him as research editor for Amar Chitra Katha. It was only when Luis arrived that he clarified to Mr Pai that I was there for Tinkle.
What did I learn from him? I learnt from his example. He always listened keenly to children, interacted with them, replied to their letters and enjoyed being with them. How else can you make a comic-magazine for children if you don’t retain your childhood?
4. Why ‘Tinkle’? Why that particular name and nothing else? It’s a curiosity question many a Tinkle fan would love to know from the editor herself no less.
Mr Pai, Mr Subba Rao (the assistant editor of Amar Chitra Katha and the person who had proposed the idea of Tinkle to Mr Pai) and some others were brainstorming over the name for the new comic-magazine for children. Mr Pai wanted a musical name. Just then a call interrupted the meeting. Mr Rao told the caller he was busy and would ‘give a tinkle [call back] later in the day’. As soon as he kept the phone down, Mr Rao suggested ‘Tinkle’ as the name for the new magazine. Mr Pai liked the name and Tinkle was born.
5. This is a curiosity question as well… How does your psychology degree and diplomas in animation and journalism help you when working at Tinkle? I’m certain this will shed fresh light on those who have degrees and diplomas they feel aren’t suited to a dream-job they’re targeting. How do you make it work?
I believe there are a very few people who know instinctively what they want to do in life and go about doing it. If you are one of them, good for you. For the rest of us, life is an adventure. We knock about, try different things, some things click, others don’t and we muddle our way into doing what we choose as our life’s vocation.
That journey teaches you a lot of fun, and often it’s good fun. Everything I studied, whether psychology, animation or journalism, was something that interested me at the time. But I had not found my passion. Now I am a believer in doing what you love. Doing something I wouldn’t consider as work was very important to me.
Despite being a bookworm all my life, it never occurred to me that I could write fiction or that I would love it. It opened up worlds for me and everything I learnt came together beautifully. Psychology gave me perception, an insight into the child’s mind, into a character’s mind. Animation taught me storyboarding and visualization, essential parts of writing comics scripts. As for journalism it taught me to convey my ideas simply and clearly, a tool that is essential in writing for children.
6.Has Tinkle gone through any ‘issues’ or ‘challenges’?
Challenges posed by the multiple media with which we now compete, for our reader’s attention. Another interesting challenge is the ‘new age’ child who knows so much more thanks to the internet and improved technology. This same child also demands genres such as horror and superheroes.
7. How do you feel Tinkle is going to change India? How does Tinkle plan on promoting this noble cause, especially now that it’s standing strong at 600 solid issues?
It is such a simple thing but we rarely see it. Children love stories. Tell them a story or show them one and they will sit and listen or watch for hours. But ask a child to pick a book and read, and you would hear tantrums of epic scales.
Why this instinctive wince about reading? If we look at books from a child’s perspective, we will see text-heavy tomes that they’ve to struggle with, no matter how small or thin the ‘book’. Now if we were to introduce a child gently to books through comics, which have attractive images with text, their first step to reading stories takes a more fluid lane.
And Tinkle, which is the only all-comic magazine in the country (according to the Limca Book of Records) is best placed to connect with children and make learning fun for them.
We use it to great effect. We talk to children, listen to them and tweak our content around their wishes. So, our stories never preach; however, they do include life lessons wherever the storyline calls for it. Our non-fiction features help improve vocabulary and serve as great reference material, but they are designed to look like fun games such as Word Play and Name-Place-Animal-Thing.
8. Speaking of best-selling novels like Harry Potter… Are you planning to convert some of the more adored stories in Tinkle into full-length novels? That way, children could benefit from yet another literary angle while staying true to the core idea of Tinkle in all its splendor.
The idea is great and perhaps we might look into that as well. Currently there is no such plan. However, we have come out with a series of 48-page graphic novels, Tinkle Tall Tales, on our most popular toons—Shikari Shambu, Defective Detectives and Butterfingers. And yes, the Defective Detectives are my favourite though our newer series—Dental Diaries, SuperWeirdos and School’s In – also come close.
9. Yet another curiosity question for you… Are there going to be any new characters for Tinkle, ones that will carry on the torch of more beloved characters and expand Tinkle’s wealth of ideas? If so, Lifestylerr will much appreciate being the first blog to even mention them.
Apart from our classic toons—Suppandi, Shikari Shambu, Tantri the Mantri and Kalia the Crow – we’ve recently introduced many new series and gotten great feedback.
Dental Diaries is a comic-horror series about Billy the Vampire who has lost his fangs. SuperWeirdos turns the idea of Superheroes on its head and is about Aisha, a girl who wishes for superpowers but discovers she can sense SuperWeird powers instead. School’s In is all about life at school—its petty rivalries, jealousies, bullying and small infatuations. PsyMage, our first superhero series, is about Maya’s quest to save her father with the help of a super device called Psy.
Something interesting we are very excited about is our upcoming Anniversary Special in November. This time we have chosen Make a Tinkle Wish as the theme. It is about our readers sending us their wishes for their favourite characters and the pure magic of wishes.
10. What have you personally gathered from your experiences at Tinkle? Let’s hear a personal quote from Ms. Thindiath that we can share with everyone we meet.
Writing and editing stories, well, life is rather fun, but it is also a part of our routine. The only moment we feel the wonder of what we are doing is when we receive mail and feedback from our readers. That is when we understand the reach of our stories and their impact.
As for a quote, this is all I can say: There are worlds in our heads. And worlds that we create. There is a madness to them and a sense of the ridiculous. That is the joy of stories.
11. Tinkle’s Laugh-a-Thon Campaign… Your comic-magazine is making headway with this one. What’s it about and how will it promote positive change?
The campaign was created to celebrate our 600th issue in August 2012. It was about spreading the joy and laughter of Tinkle to make the longest laughter chain and we did it, as the Limca Book of Records will prove. Tinkle is about fun. Tinkle is about keeping the joy of childhood alive, which is why it appeals to children and adults alike. It is about reaching the child that resides in every heart.
12. Tinkle’s 600th issue! Is there anything special in it that sets it apart from the ones that came before? What are the plans for Tinkle in the next five years?
Tinkle 600 was one of our greatest joys. So many people came together to make it a collector’s edition. We had renowned writers— Samit Basu, Samhita Arni, Roopa Pai, Vishwajyoti Ghosh, Anushka Ravishankar, and Priya Kuriyan—writing for us.
An interview with Nandita Das, actor-director and then chairperson of the Children’s Film Society, India, featured in our Spotlight segment. We had nearly all our popular toons featuring in this special. Celebrated personalities from diverse fields—author Ruskin Bond, mountaineer Bachendri Pal, singer Shaan, animal activist-politician Maneka Gandhi, director Imtiaz Ali, former hockey captain Viren Rasquinha, music director Shankar Mahadevan—shared their Tinkle experiences on our pages.
Speaking about the next five years, the idea is to stay connected with children, to figure out what they want and remain relevant with changing times.
Tinkle has changed people’s lives in the simplest of ways. Thank you for bringing knowledge, memorable characters and laughter, let’s not forget that, into our lives.