Role of ACK in defining an Indian in post-colonial times

In his latest Endpaper column Pradeep Sebastian writes about a scholarly book on Amar Chitra Katha, which looks like a great read:

What McLain repeatedly heard from ACK readers is that the comic books seemed to almost radiate a spiritual force. In many households, other comics were seen as a waste of time and discarded, but ACK was preserved carefully. Grandmothers covered them with those brown wrappers used to cover school textbooks to keep them clean. Nieces and nephews inherited bound volumes from uncles and aunts. Some even confessed to seeing the images of the gods and goddesses as pictured in the comics when they closed their eyes to worship.

She celebrates the comic for its force and power and for how it can charm and entertain but is careful to interpret its influence also as defining and constructing an upper caste Hindu identity. One young reader she interviewed was furious at the suggestion that the comics could have had a religious agenda, while another made it crystal clear that he felt it was “damm Hindutva propaganda to brainwash children”. The villains in many of the comics, when they were not British officers, were Mughal generals.

McLain’s interest in the project is to look at these comics as “a unique opportunity for the study of the definition and negotiation of a modern middle class Indian identity… They also draw upon Indian visual and literary culture. In mixing mythology and history they create a national canon of heroes — where Bose and Rama are side by side.”

She observes that they go some way in defining an Indian in post-colonial times, and so have a power and significance that other comic books from other cultures don’t possess.

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