Dr Mrinal Chatterjee
On 24 October in 1921 a baby was born in Mysore- who would create the most popular cartoon character in India- ‘the common man’, a slightly bald moustachedman in mid-fifties with a bulbous nose wearing a checked coat and dhoti- who never uttered a word throughout his life span of over 50 years.
The baby, RasipuramKrishnaswamyIyer (R.K.) Laxmangrew to be one of the finest and most well known cartoonists of India. He is often called ‘Shakespeare of Indian cartoons’. He is best known for his creation, ‘the common man’ and for his daily cartoon titled ‘You Said It’, which appeared in The Times of India from 1951 and continued for over five decades. It enjoyed a cult status.
Laxman drew cartoons in Times of India, did illustrations for several publications including his brother novelist R.K.Narayan’s books, wrote fiction, painted crows for over half a century before crippling disease made him bed ridden.
Laxman was the youngest of six sons. His father was a headmaster. Laxman was interested in drawing and illustration from childhood. As he notes in his autobiography, The Tunnel of Time: “I drew objects that caught my eye outside the window of my room – the dry twigs, leaves and lizard-like creatures crawling about, the servant chopping firewood and, of course, and number of crows in various postures on the rooftops of the buildings opposite”
Laxman’s idyllic childhood was shaken for a while when his father suffered a paralytic stroke and died around a year later, but the elders at home bore most of the increased responsibility, while Laxman continued with his schooling.
After high school, Laxman applied to the J. J. School of Art, Bombay. He was refused admission as the dean of the school felt his drawings lacked, “the kind of talent to qualify for enrolment in our institution as a student”. Laxmangraduated with a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Mysore.
While still at the Maharaja College of Mysore, he began to illustrate his elder brother R K Narayan’s stories in The Hindu, and he drew political cartoons for the local newspapers and for the Swatantra. Laxman also drew cartoons, for the Kannada humour magazine, Koravanji.
His first full-time job was as a political cartoonist for the The Free Press Journal in Mumbai. Laxman later joined The Times of India, beginning a career that has spanned for over fifty years.
In his long and illustrious career, Laxmanhas played with every shade of humour — wit, satire, irony, slapstick, buffoonery, tragicomedy, but has never hit anyone below the belt. And that makes him India’s most beloved cartoonist.
Among his other works, Laxman is known for his distinctive illustrations in several books, most notably for the Malgudistories written by his elder brother R.K. Narayan, which was later made as a serial directed by Shankar Marg. He also created a popular mascot for the Asian Paints group called Gattu.
Among his published books are: Brushing Up the Years, (2008), Collected Writings (2003), Distorted Mirror (2004), Hotel Riviera (India) (1989), Laugh With Laxman (1999), Laughter Lines (2002), The Messenger (1993), Servants of India (2000), Tunnel of Time (1998) and Vote for Laughter (2003).
Awards and Honours
He has been conferred the Padma Bhusan and the Padma Vibhusan, the second highest civilian award in India. He won Ramon Magsaysay award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts in 1984. The Indian Express Group conferred B.D. Goenka Award and Hindustan Times conferred DurgaRatan Gold Medal.
He was first married to Bharatanatyam dancer and movie actress Kamala Laxman (also known before marriage as Baby Kamala and Kumari Kamala). After a divorce, he married again and his second wife’s name was also Kamala. She is a children’s book writer.
Laxman breathed his last on 26 January 2015.
For R K Laxman’s cartoons, visit: http://www.4bubbles.com/10-best-r-k-laxman-cartoons/
About the Author:
Dr.MrinalChatterjee is a journalist turned media academician. Presently he heads the Eastern India campus of Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) located at Dhenkanal, Odisha. Besides writing on media and communication, he writes fiction and columns in English and Odia.