Ananda Vikatan, the Tamil magazine, promoted cartoons in a big way, beginning with Mali's. None who watched Mali's lines could have escaped his influence on cartooning. Sridhar is no exception. His political insight and clarity of thought saw him grow in Vikatan, as a cartoonist, journalist, dramatist, and a writer of travelogues.
Sridhar has an innate ability to see through and bring out the satire in a situation with a twist, provoking a chuckle. There is no ambiguity in what he wants to say and his crisp captions reflected a nuanced use of Tamil idioms, the dilemmas faced in everyday life, and the popular films of the day. His visual symbols, flowing brush lines, laughable caricatures, and use of blacks remind us of David Low, the unsurpassed master in the art of cartooning.
This collection of Sridhar's cartoons has a good selection pertaining to the period, 1949-60, highlighting the raging issues of the time at the national and international levels — Kashmir, Goa, Portugal, Communism et al. Brilliant is the piece that features Rajaji as the Tamil bard, Tiruvalluvar, using the couplets to campaign against the imposition of Hindi. Sridhar is seen at his best while illustrating, for instance, India's economic and financial problems particularly during the time when T.T. Krishnamachari was Union Finance Minister.
A different artist
Vikatan's record of excellence in editorial cartooning continued in the 1970s and ‘80s, thanks to Madhan, another artist of exceptional talent. Madhan learnt the intricacies of political cartooning from Sridhar. Yet he was different and brought a refreshing change in outlook and representation of ideas. He drew inspiration from many, but evolved a style of his own; he consciously avoided the addictive style of R.K. Laxman. His was marked by careless-looking, spontaneous lines, and loaded with humour.
The success of Madhan (whose cartoons are presented in the other volume under review) was his ability to evoke instantaneous laughter. His strong visual ideas were etched in the memory of readers for long. His cartoon on the political vacuum created after Indira Gandhi's assassination is legendary. The one on the Bhopal gas tragedy — where a crocodile in a western suit (international institutions) is shown as shedding copious tears whilst dropping poisonous gas bombs on developing countries — is poignant.
Some cartoons just seem to ask, ‘are you kidding'? Here is a sample: A minister protected to the hilt by security guards, admonishes the common folk: “Oh! How cowardly you are! Shouldn't you have landed them a couple of punches in return?” — the context is a Naxalite attack.
Context: Minister P. Chidambaram expresses concern over Sri Lankan's military action against the Tamils. The visual shows a map of Sri Lanka in India's place and a small-sized India in Sri Lanka's place.
Some of the other telling cartoons are: Indira Gandhi playing video games/pulling a lever to dump ministers, a la James Bond (theme: Cabinet reshuffle); the United States inflating the balloon of the Zia regime and trying to prop it up; Bhutto buying arms from the U.S and France; U.S and China playing ping-pong on a long table across a chasm in the mountains; Mao Zedong's smile portrayed as a ‘Mao Lisa' smile; and India and China trying to shake hands from either side of the China wall. Corruption scandals, the rivalry between MGR and Karunanidhi, prohibition, the anti-Hindi campaign, and elections speeches by local politicians provide ample scope for Madhan's cartooning skills.
The compilations are the first part of the cartoons by Sridhar and Madhan. Surely, a publication of this type is a collector's item, which means the production has to be such as to last long. From this viewpoint, one feels the quality of paper used could have been much better. Vikatan has been home to a galaxy of political cartoonists — Mali, Gopulu, Raju, Silpi, Thanu, et al, besides Sridhar and Madhan. It is certain that the collections such as these of select gems from the handiwork of the two veterans will serve as a beacon for the upcoming cartoonists.