Long, long ago, in 1989 to be precise, as a kid of 25, I aspired to make a living creating comics. The only magazine in Chennai for children, then, that had comics, or rather, one comic page, was Junior Quest, run by Chandamama Publications. The Editor was the best ever Ed a kid's mag can get: Aditi De. Among her numerous virtues was her approachability, so I approached her. I took with me a single page comic titled 'Ganesh, the Royal Elephant.' The story was about Mahesh, Ganesh's mahout going for a swim in a lake on a hot day. He invites Ganesh to join him, and Ganesh gleefully leaps in, only to cause a big splash that flings Mahesh on to a nearby tree. Sounds familiar, folks?
Aditi liked the comic and showed it to Mr Balasubramanyam, the inhouse art-director, designer and super illustrator, who said nice things about my illustrations. My heart swelled up like a balloon that threatened to escape through my open mouth and soar to the high heavens. Though they loved my comic, Aditi regretfully confessed that they didn't have room for one more comic. My heart sank like an anchor. However, they were in need of more illustrators, so would I please illustrate a story for them? I right-hoed, and my heart returned to its right place. Thus began an illustrator's career but one that ended his comic dreams.
In my spare time, I redrew the comic, in a whole new style, to show to my Amma, who loved elephants. But I renamed my character. I thought there was no Indian name grander, and better befitting a big bumbling jumbo than Gajapati! Later, I learnt that Gajapati was the name of a royal dynasty of Kalinga, present day Odisha.
Amma loved my comic and the name, but my mom is my mom, and usually loves whatever I draw, and unconditionally loves elephants, so that was nothing to go by. Gajapati was forgotten for a decade.
I got married, had kids, and went to work for Tulika Publishers as art editor. Tulika had a bookstore, India's only bookstore exclusively for children, called Goodbooks. For use in their regular story-telling sessions, I wrote my elephant story. To better suit a read-aloud session, I deliberately used repetition, rhyme, alliteration and assonance. And Radhika Menon, head of Tulika, added more sounds to suit the slapstick action. A book with a sing-song narration and onomatopoeic words deserves a sound title, doesn't it? So I named the book and its hero, Gajapati Kulapati!
It was never intended to be published, but it was subsequently published, a decade and a half later, and every kiddy loved Gajapati Kulapati, his name and the story.
Note: 'Gajapati' literally is 'lord of elephants' in Sanskrit. 'Kulapati' literally means 'lord of a clan.'
Note2: Pusapati Ashok Gajapathi Raju is a former Union minister for Civil Aviation. And Bondapalli is a village in Andhra Pradesh located 3 km away from the town of Gajapathinagaram! Life’s full of coincidences and magic!