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Window Seat: RK Laxman@100

24/10/2021 at 7:12 AM

R. K. (Rasipuram Krishnaswamy Iyer) Laxman, arguably the most well-known cartoonist of India was born on this day, 24 Oct. 1921 at Mysore. 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. So did the common man, who featured in it. Laxman’s common man, a bald moustached man in mid-fifties, wearing a dhoti and a cheque kurta, who never spoke a word- was famous all over the world.

Besides drawing cartoons Laxman did illustrations for several publications including his brother novelist R.K.Narayan’s books, 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”. Laxman graduated 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 drew political cartoons for the local newspapers. 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 spanned for over fifty years.

In his long and illustrious career, Laxman had played with every shade of humour — wit, satire, irony, slapstick, buffoonery, tragicomedy, but had never hit anyone below the belt. And that made him India’s most beloved cartoonist.

Laxman was also known for his distinctive illustrations in several books, most notably for the Malgudi stories written by his elder brother R.K. Narayan, which was later made as a serial directed by Shankar Nag. 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).

He was 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 Durga Ratan Gold Medal. He died on 26 January 2015.

Ganesh Shankar ‘Vidyarthi’

Ganesh Shankar “Vidyarthi” was just 40 years old when, on March 25, 1931, he was killed while trying to rescue people during a communal riot in Kanpur, his karmabhoomi. Mahatma Gandhi had described it as a “shaandar” (glorious) death, one he envied. “Writer, editor, publisher, activist, elected representative, friend to young revolutionaries and, ultimately, a man of his word – Vidyarthi represents”, as Annie Zaidi writes “both, an ideal and a dilemma for journalists.”

Ganesh Shankar was born on 26 October 1890 in Attarsuiya, Allahabad into a family of limited means. His father was a school teacher.  Ganesh Shankar  managed to clear his school leaving examination. He enrolled at the Kayastha Pathshala College but he couldn’t really afford to study further. He had to start working. However, he adopted the suffix Vidyarthi (student) for he was determined not to stop learning.

One of Vidyarthi’s first writing-editing jobs was at a literary magazine, Saraswati, but his heart lay in current affairs. He started writing for Karmyogi (founded by Pandit Sundarlal, himself a revolutionary Ghadarite) and worked for Abhyudoya (The Awakening, founded by Pandit Madan Mohan Malvya).  It so happened that he fell ill and had to leave for Kanpur from Allahabad on 23 September 1913. While he was in Kanpur, a discussion with his friends led to the idea of publishing a newspaper from Kanpur. With barely a month’s preparation Pratap was launched as  an weekly newspaper on November 9, 1913.

When Pratap was published Mahavir Prasad Dwivedy sent a couplet in Hindi as a form of blessings to him.  It read Jisko na nija Gourab tatha nij deshka aviman hay, woh nar nenhi nar pasu neera hay wo mrutak saman hay.  (One who does not have pride of his country and its excellence, he is not a human being. He is a beast and like a dead body.) In subsequent times this couplet was carried below the masthead of Pratap.

Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi was an activist-Journalist. He actively took part in satyagraha and political meetings and was active in mobilizing protest marches, coordinating protest and also in body politics. The office of Pratap became a meeting ground of revolutionaries and freedom fighters. He headed the Kanpur Mazdoor Sabha and contested elections as a Congress leader. But that didn’t stop him from taking a sympathetic view of young revolutionaries. He didn’t just shelter Bhagat Singh for a few months, allowing him space to write in the newspaper, he also facilitated a meeting between the young Jawaharlal Nehru and Chandrashekhar Azad.

Vidyarthi thought of communalism as an imperialist construct and blamed the British for creating a divisive view of India’s history. Ironically Vidyarthi died while he was trying to rescue people from communal violence on 25 March 1931.  Pratap continued even after his death but without Vidyarthi it lost its fire and gradually faded.

Tikku

R. K. Laxman is primarily known as the creator of the Common Man, he also created many characters that became famous and associated with him, for example, Gattu of Asian paints, Srinivas Wagle of the Wagle ki Duniya. Another name that often used to crop up in his drawings was Tikku.

The ‘You Said It’ pocket cartoon with an outdoor scene would invariably have this name scrawled somewhere- on bill boards or as a name of a shop. If you are wondering who was this Tikku- let me tell you- it was the nick name of his only son, whose official name is Srinivas Laxman. Srinivas also worked for a while with Times of India.

Tailpiece: Men, Women

Women are so difficult, they always change their minds

At 18, they want handsome men.

At 25, they want mature men.

At 30, they want successful men.

At 40, they want established men.

At 50, they want faithful men.

At 60, they want helpful men.

Men are very simple. They never change their taste for any changing condition in their lives.

At 18, they like pretty woman.

At 25, they like pretty woman.

At 30, they like pretty woman.

At 40, they like pretty woman.

At 50, they still like pretty woman                                                                

At 60, still they like pretty woman.

Even at 70 and 80 when they can barely move, they still like pretty woman. 

(Courtesy: Social Media)

About the Author:

Journalist turned media academician Mrinal Chatterjee lives in Dhenkanal, Odisha. He also writes fiction and plays.

He can be reached at mrinalchatterjeeiimc@gmail.com

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