Don’t Read Amar Chitra Katha as an Adult

Amar Chitra Katha LogoSometime last year, I came across a beautiful hardbound box-set of the Mahabharata by Amar Chitra Katha.

Obviously, I melted into remembrances of things past.  Misspent youth, neighbourhood kids, gulli-danda, all of that.  Not that I even know what gulli-danda is, mind you, but it sounds more sentimental than Catch-Catch.  Anyway, we bought the set.

You probably shouldn’t.

Here’s why.  When you look at your sepia-toned childhood through rose-coloured glasses, what you end up with is a massive metaphorical hotch potch.  Which is what the Amar Chitra Katha feels like if you go back to it as an adult.

Close Encounters of the Dushyanta Kind

Ten pages in, Dushyanta has already put the moves on Shakuntala.  And ditched her in a forest with promises of sending his troops to pick her up later.  She raises their son as a single parent for one page until she finally decides enough is enough.  Off she goes to confront her truant husband who, surprise surprise, repudiates her.

Shakuntala and Dushyanta argue in Amar Chitra Katha

It’s a meaningful, timeless line, this.

When you deny what you know to be the truth, you deny yourself.

Of course, it also shares a panel with this delight.

Woman, I don’t know you.

Woman!

The problem with reading Amar Chitra Katha as an adult is that you have more context to work with.  My mind automatically supplies Dushyanta’s line with Samuel L Jackson’s voice from The Incredibles.  Which, as you’d expect, somewhat decreases one’s Mahabharata immersion.

Woman!

In any case, Shakuntala and Dushyanta spend a few more panels on the yesyoudid-noIdidn’t theme.  Finally, she gives up and decides to leave, declaiming…

Shakuntala in Amar Chitra Katha

Dun dun DUNNNNN!!!

Shakuntala in Amar Chitra Katha

Six years too late, my poor naive lady.

Heavenly Voices

As Shakuntala is about to exit stage left,  divinity enters the picture.

Shakuntala in Amar Chitra Katha

As a kid, I accepted this without question;  it was just the sort of thing that tends to happen to mythological types.  Voice from the heavens interrupting child custody arrangements?  Duh of course.

As an adult, though, my mind said Checkmate, Dushyanta!  How are you going to wriggle out of this one?

Quick thinking was how.

Dushyanta in Amar Chitra KathaDushyanta in Amar Chitra Katha

Eight year old Manasi read this and celebrated – Hooray!  Happy ending!

Significantly older Manasi read this and rolled her eyes – Very convenient excuse, Dushyanta.  What if the heavenly voice had a sore throat that day?

In any case, the episode concluded with this homily…

Dushyanta and Shakuntala in Amar Chitra Katha

Holy cats.  Your dearest?  After leaving her to flounder for six years in some godforsaken forest?  AND you’re going to just randomly rename the boy?  What?  GRBLGBGBRLRGRRRLG.

Moral of the Story

All mythology has inconsistencies, stuff that seems farcical when viewed through the modern lens.  That’s fine – it’s from another age.  The problem here isn’t the mythology or even Amar Chitra Katha.  In fact, the editors did a bang-up job of reducing a complicated story into something a child can parse.  Thank you for that, Uncle Pai.

The problem here is revisiting the simplification as an adult.  A psychologist named Jerome Singer said –

Mental life is a continuous effort at tracking sensory inputs, cognitively organising experiences, re-examining memories, and monitoring a continuous set of plans and anticipations and a variety of unfinished businesses which compete for our limited attentional capacities with the demands of steering our selves through a physical and social world.

Paraphrased, this boils down to a simple aphorism – Life is a continuous effort at scrambling your brains.

Once life has happened to you, you just can’t go home again.  And that’s the problem with rereading Amar Chitra Katha as an adult.  Your adult mind provides a much broader context within which to interpret the stories.

I still have a copy of Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree on my bookshelf.  I wonder whether I should pick that up.

Manasi
I'm the Manasi behind Majaama. I created this website on a whim and fell in love with it. It's my baby, my preciousssss.
Manasi

30 Responses to “Don’t Read Amar Chitra Katha as an Adult”

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  1. Devdas Bhagat says:

    Why not read all of Blyton again?

  2. Santosh hasabe says:

    Really Awasomeeeeeeeeeeeeee

  3. Ira says:

    Sorry, I disagree. I enjoy the stories even as an adult. But then again I don’t view everything with “feminist glasses” like you do. I enjoy them for the simplicity both of the stories and also of the simplistic vedic era where people did as they were told and still were happier as opposed to the people living today who make everything an ego issue and try to triumph on every situation but are still unhappier.

    • Akanskha says:

      I agree with Ira..if we see them in the right context, we can take the good things(values) from the stories and leave the rest.

      • Manasi says:

        Thank you for replying, Ira, Akanksha.

        I think most of us are actually on the same page so far as Amar Chitra Katha and the legends go. I mention in the last segment of this article: “The problem here isn’t the mythology or even Amar Chitra Katha. In fact, the editors did a bang-up job of reducing a complicated story into something a child can parse.”

        They’re fantastic, incredibly fun stories, and I agree they should be required reading for every Hindu kiddo out there. There’s everything to gain and nothing to lose by exposing them to literature.

    • Hardeep Kaur says:

      What’s the point of growing up when you don’t put the glasses of perspective? In today’s day and age, it’s absolutely critical to question things we were asked to absorb as good. They couldn’t all be correct or we’d have no problems!

  4. Uma says:

    I have started reading the ACK stories to my daughter. I have to read it once before to simplify it further. I find myself cringing in some of the places (where why did Rama send Sita to the forest because some random person chucked his wife out of his house) and gloss over some (why did Rama refuse to still take Sita back at the end of the story, and why did the earth split). But overall, I think the pictures help the children understand the story better.

    I have a 5 year old nephew who had the following conversation with his mother when she was telling him the story of Karna:

    Nephew: Why did Kunti leave Karna in the river
    Mum: Because she was not married and he did not have a father.
    Nephew: But he must have had a father…
    Mum: Yes !!! But his father was not with them … (Thinking that she had smoothed over the rough patch)
    Nephew: But appa is not with us now… he is in India… So why could Kunti not have managed like you are doing now? (His dad was in India and the family was going to shift back to India soon)

    Am looking forward to such conversations with my daughter soon… :-)

    • Manasi says:

      Haha… that’s adorable!

      It sounds like your daughter is pretty young, Uma. When she’s around 11-12, you might want to consider getting her RK Narayan’s Mahabharata and Ramayana. They are masterful narrations, as all his books are.

      Good luck answering her questions! :)

  5. Akanskha says:

    It is good that the questions are arising in our minds and the minds of our children. I would suggest and also assure that we read our scriptures for once. All answers are available there.

  6. Nomita says:

    Hey Majaama Manasi, I find interesting your take on the myth. Though, your views are more to do with th myth than with ACK. ACK is much more than Mahabharat and Ramayan. There are few who have agreed to the questionable conduct of those times. It is understandable. It may not be easy to fathom the social and moral structures and values of those ages. And it was definitely far more powerful and empowering than it is today. It is natural to cry “abuse” at the “injustice” mete out to women. Obviously cause we dont really know how powerful and potent woman was then and still is today. Coming back to the point.. I do read ACK till date at 44, a habit of last 35 years. And no i did not feel the way you did. The questions children ask are valid. And they can be answered as per their level of understanding. Isnt that what parenting is about? However in today’s time the art and creativity involved in parenting itself is getting shallowed. Uncle Pai’s effort is much more than commendable in simplifying and moving forward those precious values of those times.
    Dont get me wrong Manasi, your thoughts are in perfect order. It reflects the mental fabric that has been woven by our education system and society these days.

  7. Nomita says:

    Keep Questioning and Doubting … It is very good and necessary, and like Akanksha suggested, reading those old texts is a good idea… wondering why they hold sway till date… What is there in that gibberish that has this staying power.
    Thank you Majaama. Keep ’em coming. I am subscribed to you :)

    • Manasi says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, Nomita, and another thank you for subscribing. Look forward to hearing from you again in the future. In the meantime, stay majaama. :)

  8. HK says:

    Anant Pai made reading and learning such fun. There would hardly be a literate child in India who hasnt read one or more of the ACK series. If there wasnt any ACK or such series, only a handful would really know more about various mythology stories.

    I have been a convent school student and I remember that there wasnt much of Hindu mythology taught or discussed in the school. My grandma and mum used to relate these awesome mythology stories. And I also remember that in the early to mid 60s, I used to pore through “Chandamama” magazine. It was so absorbing since it was replete with stories from Mahabharata, Akbar-Birbal, et al.

    And then came ACK. The cartoon and colour and imagery of each frame in ACK is keenly observed by the child. I remember Manasi reading her ACKs over and over again till the pages were dog eared! And in each repeat reading, a child learns and finds something new.

    And over the years with more education and logic building up in one’s brain, when one reads the same stories, while we do accept them as mythology, but one does tend to question and evaluate the values and belief system of the mythological ages. So I wont be surprised that in today’s age with more awareness built-in, the kids of today’s generation may pose tons of questions compared to the previous generations.

    Majaama… that sure is interesting reading and great feedback here! Keep up the good work!

    • Manasi says:

      My favouritest HK, you of all people need to blog… about networking, relationships, etc etc. Want me to set up a nice jhakas website for you? :)

  9. Bharti says:

    Very few kids these days know much about our myths, they are hooked to pogo, nick, hungama which show very little about Indian myths or legends except a few. Not only did ACK help us know our myths, legends, heroes, and kings and queens, with its nice pictures and easy interesting stories, it initiated us into the reading habit at a very young age.. ..I think if you are reading them now as an adult one should just forget the broader context and feel nostalgic and think back at your childhood and the wonderful memories of an innocent simpler life :) and remembering mummy or papa buying a few copies of ACK and ourselves immediately lying back on bed to read them… :) and not to forget the other favorite….. Tinkle :)

  10. Gopal says:

    “Woman I don’t know you” *with the Samuel L Jackson voiceover* but you have the best sense of humor i’ve seen in a female chauvinist :D I feel it would be wonderful to have a conversation with you (if your not married or committed or seeing someone..):P ;) but yea brilliant blog..love the witticisms..keep em coming..

  11. Sumit Guha says:

    Grow up buddy – guess you dont believe what you are told in epics but yes you have to digest it with some pinch of salt. Here if you read between lines it is very clear Dusyanta remembered everything but he could not accept a wife (whom he has married secretly) without his country men’s approval. She has to get the respect of being the queen of the kingdom – hence such drama. The divine voice is nothing but public’s voice – who after hearing everything accepted Shakuntala as their Queen. (Ram was not so lucky as his men wanted agni pariksha of Sita) Its similar to penancing for 1000 years – It means worshipping for a long long time. And there were talking no hanumans or nagas or garuda – they were all backward tribes who used totems of monkey, snake or bird for identity

  12. Hahaha insane. Some ACK stories are also incredibly Kvlt – with random, sudden and violent endings. “The Heron payed for his foolishness with his life – as the Jackal ate him for dinner”, or some such.

  13. Dilip says:

    I happened to come across this blog which I shud say is a difference in thoughts.
    I should disagree the initiator for the thoughts all change because of setting wrong expectations.
    People would say put on the shoes of the other to know how it feels to them.
    Similarly set your expectations to that of a child when reading these picture stories to enjoy them full, for remember you have enjoyed it once.

    The same applies when you are reading a high end sophisticated novel. Children would not love it for they don’t expect it to be at par with their thoughts.
    I always say, set the expectations right before you work on something. There won’t be anything to fuss about then.

    Anyways, Manasi, your topic was an interesting one. I enjoyed it for I set the expectation right ;) Just kidding :)

  14. What you observed is quite interesting. In fact this is applicable not just in Hindu mythology but all mythologies. Greek, Roman and other mythologies will also be at odds in the context of what we know as humans in the modern world. Nevertheless they are fascinating and transform us to a different world. Also such tales reflect a cultural cross section of an era.

    In this instance when on one hand it was an accepted norm for a King to get away with such acts, it appears that the author wants the public of the then period to question such behavior through the traumatic experience portrayed through the victim Shakunthala which is the reason it became a classic. Narrating the relative revolutionary spirit of that era to the child will be one way to help the child of today’s era to connect with the tale.

    Amar Chitra Katha is totally awesome. ACK has done a fabulous job of finding both popular and not so well known ancient tales and painting them in beautiful color. Thanks to Uncle Pai for his vision of bringing unknown details of such fantastic fables to common people in a simple and colorful way.

    We ourselves at iRemedi partnered with ETHER*MEDIA back in 2009 to bring 200+ wonderful ACK jewels to the iPads, iPhones and iPod Touches in 90+ countries all over the world. Many of our customers are indeed adults and believe it or not, they thoroughly enjoy ACK comics to the effect that some our ardent fans wind up buying our entire ACK collection in their iPad! Some of these like the Birbal, Panchatantra, Buddhist tales collections are wonderful entertainment or motivational learning for adults. If you like you can download our free India comics app in the Appstore, read free previews or collect the ones you like :)

  15. anuroop says:

    GO ACK GO
    well i still like ack. After the hindus ack haS published books for others also AND THEY are also producing animated CDs. For all those who love ack can buy books and much more for them and their children from http://www.amarchitrakatha.com. You CAN BUY THEM in your regional language in a book store near you or online.

  16. Ash says:

    Manasi, the Amar Chitra Katha you quoted is based on the version of the Shakuntala story given in the Vyaasa Mahabharata. If you are skeptical of Dushyanta’s motive, that is because his motive is ambiguous in the original version of the story. Kalidasa presented a far more honey-coloured picture of the character by making him the victim of a curse. The Mahabharata is disarmingly frank about the situation: Dushyanta desired Shakuntala, they underwent “Gandharva” marriage, and he then left. He had no intention of taking her back and only did so to save face after the heavenly voice announced the truth of Bharata’s paternity. As for the statement, “When you deny what you know to be the truth, you deny yourself,” it is also part of what Shakuntala tells Dushyanta in the Mahabharata. The meaning is quite basic: integrity makes you what you are and if you insist on what you know to be untrue, you lose yourself. In my personal experience, rereading Amar Chitra Katha as an adult makes me appreciate the artistic process that the writers of the instalment have to go through – they have to read through the original work and select what is appropriate for children to know and retain that accordingly. I haven’t lost my love for Amar Chitra Katha after re-reading them.

    • Manasi says:

      This is officially my favourite comment here. Balanced and calm.

      In my personal experience, rereading Amar Chitra Katha as an adult makes me appreciate the artistic process that the writers of the instalment have to go through – they have to read through the original work and select what is appropriate for children to know and retain that accordingly.

      Well put. I tried to convey this in the last section of my post (“In fact, the editors did a bang-up job of reducing a complicated story into something a child can parse.”) but you said it so, so much better. Touché, Pussy Cat!

  17. Cap'n boomerang says:

    Effin brilliant 😂 😂 😂 i randomly stumbled upon this and I’ve read this like three times already… And absolutely do pick up faraway tree, the land of Topsy turvy thing was definitely dodgy

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