Tinkle started sometime in the 70s. It was the first, and for a long time the only, comic book you’d need. Yet now, many years after India opened itself to the world, the “teachings” of the book appear inadequate weapons for rough futures.
There was no doubt while reading Tinkle every fortnight that the start of a folk tale or an adapted story would be from something evil. By the end, good always triumphed. There was also never a doubt that even the evil were endearing thanks to people like Ram Waeerkar and V.B. Halbe, Tinkle’s chief illustrators for many years. These stories were always the best part of the comic and it was perhaps what moral science was meant to be. Even page-fillers like Kalia and Tantri the Mantri ended with unwritten morals. Yet, to think of it now, the comic just didn’t prepare you for life after 10th standard.
It’s easy to say nobody expects a fortnightly comic to shape a teenager’s future. But even if it didn’t have noble intentions (that it had in abundance), simply for it being read by people who were climbing up their impressionability curves, Tinkle carried immense clout. Edition after edition, Anant Pai and his staff churned out splendid stories. Indian folktales, foreign mythology, foreign folktales, Indian mythology, how was paper discovered, what is the Great Indian Bustard and why you shouldn’t step on stingrays were all in their radar. They also invited readers to write, and I can say from experience that it took them close to six months to reject a 300-word story (Uncle Pai would of course send you a consolation letter quoting Benjamin Franklin: Try try try…)
The biggest problem Tinkle faced was it said too many good things. In fact, it said only good things. Reading Tinkle, doing well in Maths and watching only Doordarshan was such a deadly combination for killing ambiguity that it could take years to understand that there were lots of things neither right nor wrong. This lack of perspective is a mountain you do not know you must climb.
The most significant of the comic’s achievements were not stories of good vs bad. The significant achievements were Tinkle and its lessons of goodness themselves. Behind the illustrations, apart from the stories, there was something genuinely warm about it. Ambiguity might just be an excuse for not being completely good or completely bad. And Tinkle was always completely good.
Note: The last Tinkle I read was maybe an year back when the illustrations looked terribly different. I thought this would be an article on the evolution of the comic, but I forgot getting the latest copy. So followed this rambling, dunno-what post. The next time I write about Tinkle, I almost promise that there would be a line on Suppandi.