Thirty years ago, on Children’s Day, a young storyteller named Elaine D’Lima launched a magazine that would change the way Indian children read. Twelve-year-old D’Lima was chosen as the winner of a story contest organised by Anant Pai — who later became famous as Uncle Pai — and her participation in the launch of Tinkle, India’s most-loved magazine for children, cannot be overstated. Just as Tinkle began with celebrating one child’s love for telling stories, it continues to this day, in celebrating the stories spun by children. With a lot of editorial help, of course.
“From the beginning children would write in to us with their stories — we used to get up to 800 letters in a day at one point,” says Luis Fernandes, editor of Tinkle. “We made it a point to pick up a lot of these stories and put them in the magazine. It’s a special feeling when children see their stories in print.” Young readers still send in contributions. “Sometimes it is just a plot point that we pick up, sometimes there’s an entire narration,” explains Savio Mascarenhas, senior illustrator, “But there have also been cases where they send in the text, along with highly detailed illustrations. Children continue to surprise us to this day with their high level of creativity.” It should be mentioned though, that reader-generated content has not always worked and there was a time when older readers began to complain that the stories began to get to formulaic and repetitious. Following this, the policy of regularly incorporating stories sent in by children was reviewed.
Children have had a hand in more than just the storytelling. Young readers have also ended up joining the Tinkle staff, such as senior illustrator Mascarenhas, who’s been with Tinkle for 16 years, and freelance artist Abhijeet Kini, whose love for the magazine made him come to its office with his illustrations when he was in Class 12. They’ve also influenced the editorial changes that the magazine has seen over the past 30 years. Fernandes explains, “Our young readers are very aware of the world around them. They’ve been exposed to the great issues of our day like animal rights and environment protection. We’ve had to keep their changing views in mind to keep the magazine evolving.”
One of the biggest changes that Tinkle made was the phasing out of Kalia the Crow, the very first character to be introduced in the magazine. The series was based on clever Kalia foiling the machinations of the villainous fox Chamataka and his accomplice, Doob Doob the crocodile, as they plotted to kill and eat two rabbits, Keechu and Meechu and other creatures of the jungle. “Children began to write in complaining that its unfair on our part to let Kalia prevent Chamataka and Doob Doob from hunting. They’re carnivorous creatures and it’s natural for them to eat other animals and it’s wrong to portray that as evil. We bowed to their wisdom and have now practically dropped Kalia from the magazine,” says Fernandes.
It’s this formula — of constantly assimilating reader feedback — that has served Tinkle so well over the past three decades. As Amiy Roy, head of brands at ACK Media, which publishes Tinkle, points out, the magazine continues to be the number one children’s magazine in the country. “This is the only magazine in the country that does well simply on the basis of the cover price. We have no advertisements and we sell 2.5 lakh copies every month. It’s purely the content that keeps readers coming back for more,” he says.
The name of the magazine came to Uncle Pai when was informed of a call that came in for him and was asked to ‘tinkle’ the callers back.
Superhero stories were deliberately not included in Tinkle as that would mean using violence in at least some of the strips and the magazine has a strict non-violence policy.
The non-violence policy also led to Shikari Shambhu’s gun being left out of the magazine and turning him into less of a hunter and more of an explorer.