dna’s cartoonist takes to the pen to pay homage to his idol, recounting how he went from being indifferent to Laxman’s work to making a pilgrimage to his workplace
There is no Ram in the Ramayan of Indian cartooning. The story revolves only around Laxman. Better known as Rasipuram Krishnaswamy Laxman or RK Laxman to the common man.
In the early days of my career as a cartoonist, a local intellectual once tried to convince me that Laxman was the best cartoonist in India. I debated with him for three or four hours, as I liked another cartoonist and not Laxman. Moreover, I could not readily access Laxman’s work in those pre-internet days.
After I got my first job as a political cartoonist in a city that had a Times of India edition, I started looking at his work regularly. Every morning Laxman’s cartoon reminded me of that debate. Every morning I felt like a fool.
After I joined dna in Mumbai, where I still work, I visited the ToI office to meet my ex-editor. There I saw a room with a nameplate– R K LAXMAN, Cartoonist. My ex-editor was kind enough to get the room unlocked and let me go in for a few minutes. Years ago, Laxman had stopped using that room because he had shifted to Pune. But when I tried to film the room with my cellphone, my ex-editor stopped me. It was as if Laxman was present in the room even in his absence.
Laxman was the uncrowned king of Indian cartooning. When he joined Times of India group in 1947 as an illustrator, he had to wait a while before the paper started carrying his political cartoons. And a few years after his political cartoons had appeared, his iconic pocket cartoon column ‘You Said It’ made its debut on the front page of the ToI. After that, he never looked back.
Laxman began cartooning after getting inspired by the work of a legendary British cartoonist, Sir David Low. Laxman’s lines might be inspired by Low’s, but his sense of humour was purely Indian. He had an ability to spot the anomalies of any situation and convey them to the readers instantly and effortlessly, after coating it with his sense of humour. Perhaps he is the only cartoonist who had a pan-Indian appeal and was appreciated by all sections of society.
People often ask what makes RK Laxman the greatest cartoonist we have ever had. I think it is because he knew the pulse of the common people and addressed every issue on their behalf. He gave a face to the Indian common man, who was there in his every drawing, helplessly observing every situation but making the reader smile. Also, he never hit anyone below the belt.
Laxman stopped drawing cartoons due to ill-health just before social media had captured people’s imagination. Many social media celebrities should thank their stars. Had Laxman been drawing and posting his wit on the internet, there would have been only one star.
Laxman illustrated, sketched, caricatured, painted, wrote books and travelled almost everywhere. Along with that he also produced at least 10 cartoons every week. After working more than half a century with the same publication, Laxman breathed his last on Republic Day in a Pune hospital. But the Laxman Raj in Indian cartooning will never end.