To S.K. Ramanujam cartoons are a powerful medium of expression that demand out-of-the-box thinking

I watch in wonder as my squiggly doodle is transformed into a haughty man with a beard, looking rather miffed. “I ask children to scribble on the pages and transform them into a picture,” says cartoonist S.K. Ramanujam, popular as Rahnu. And at his Research Trust and Training Institute in Mylapore, the artist is happy doing what he does best — sketching.

A diploma holder from the College of Arts, Rahnu says: “I've been drawing since I was a child, and wanted to develop it. When I passed out of P.S. Senior School, I went to college and began to specialise in cartoons.”

Rahnu hasn't stopped with just drawing cartoons, but has also done extensive research on the topic. “When people say cartoons, we immediately think of Walt Disney. Why doesn't it evoke any Indian image? We've had cartoons since ancient times, in religion; the faces we draw on pumpkins placed at entrances (kept to ward off evil eye) or even the village scarecrows,” he says.

Travelling for research

The artist who has travelled all over the State to pursue his research defines cartoons as “an exaggerated, funny type of creative”. “If we go to a temple, we see horses the gods ride on. Their eyes are big and look menacing. The horse's features have been exaggerated, which is basically a form of cartoon. In India, we limit cartoons as either ‘sirpasastram' or ‘chitrasastram'. Abroad, they constantly innovate. However, now cartoons are being looked at from a different point of view here. We need to think out-of-the-box,” he says.

Rahnu began teaching drawing on Doordarshan in 1975 (“Ranuvin Cartoon Neram”) and has been a regular on TV since. “I've done ‘easy ways to draw' shows on TV channels and have crossed 4,500 shows. My style is a mix of Indian and Western. I classify cartoons into two types; cartoons for the hour and cartoons forever. Political cartoons are very topical, and hence are cartoons for the hour. What I do is forever,” he says.

He was an art master at Santhome Higher Secondary School until 1991, when he took voluntary retirement to teach art. He is also the creator of the ‘Kutti and Kundu comics' for kids and has done cartoons for Aavin and the city's Police Department. “I went to Singapore and Malaysia to teach them the art of drawing cartoons. People still call me there, but I don't go because I want to teach our children. I conduct summer camps twice a year. My training institute (set up over a decade ago) sees children coming from all over the State.”

Rahnu has identified 11 basic aspects that can help one draw anything — straight line, slanted line, curve…. “It took me about 10 years to research and come up with these. If you perfect them, you can draw almost anything. My dream is to start an animation studio. Animation is really popular and can provide a lot of talented people with jobs,” he says.

Rahnu hopes to spread the traditional art of cartoons through his students. “Right now, 100-odd regulars learn from me. Cartoons are a powerful medium and have, for me, become a way of life. I want to inspire more people to become like me.”