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Stock talk

`He fixes the atmosphere with those low-hanging ceiling-fans ... and everything else that communicates, predominantly, a sense of ennui.'

FOR 40 years, Sudhir Dar has given the newspaper cartoon reader (a reader who relies heavily on being served his share of stock talk every morning) a part of the extremely familiar world in a space filled with the everyday. The most interesting part is that it provides for immediate reactions because it recreates a known world — the real world minus delusions. Sudhir Dar has created cartoons for the Statesman, Hindustan Times, Pioneer and Delhi Times (a supplement of The Times of India). His cartoons have also appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post and Saturday Review.

In Classics, Dar draws out in ink and line, extracts from people's morning, afternoon and evening; from their interactions with police, press, wife, associate; from the whisperings and yelling of men in political party uniforms. He fixes the atmosphere with those low-hanging ceiling-fans that distribute the summer heat more than they dispel it, corridors with their clichéd arches, chandeliers, wooden desks, jeeps, flags, microphones and everything else that communicates, predominantly, a sense of ennui.

The location is very Delhi. Most panels have a left-aligned newspaper-headline-looking introduction to what is in store for the reader.

Some hilarious ones that work are:

Censor board members watching a film and cursing quite incorruptibly, looking to cut those scenes that show obscenity, horror and violence — and then, in the second panel, one grinning to the other and saying, "Shall we see it again?"

Three of a family sitting glued to the television watching Wimbledon. The mother, in keeping with the spirit, serving drinks to father and children with a tennis racket for a tray.

A young man at a card store before Valentine's Day reading from a card he has picked: " my darling valentine, my one and only love." Then saying jubilantly, "Perfect, give me ten of these!"

Two employees in a public sector bank, palms blackened from handling soiled notes, saying to their manager, "Sir, we need a soap allowance."

Good-natured passer-by to a beggar, "Here Baba, have a rupee" and the beggar gazing at the shining coin saying very knowledgeably, "This isn't a rupee — this is thirty-five rupees!! It's a Swiss franc!"

In "Cut staff, Govt. tells ministries", two servants bringing in one tray with one cup of tea in it for one lone minister. And the minister sitting at his huge desk bellowing into the phone, "Extra staff? What extra staff?"

A hawkish-looking couple scanning through IAS results in the newspaper, saying to their daughter, "Come and choose one my dear and we'll buy him!"

Two teachers crossing the school hall, one saying concernedly to the other: "Is it true they now want English taught in Hindi?"

In "Alcohol can cause cancer", a barman saying to a customer, "How would you like your cancer — with water or with soda?"

All these work because their humour rests on cleverness and a certain wordcraft. There are still no surprises, no slants.

The cartoons with children and young people in it are predictable. For instance in "Rahul Dravid weds..." a little girl writes crush letters at her desk. Mother says to Father, "She's writing to Sehwag now". There are other panels with embarrassed answers from parents to children at the unwatchables on TV; a 15-year-old saying to her mother that she can watch anything she wants to because now she is not a kid anymore, she's almost an adultress. Relying on techniques like these could be dangerous.

What won't work would be, for instance, in "Cigarettes costlier", X says to Y: "Would you like to smoke?" Y answers in the affirmative. X responds: "So would I". This is the kind of joke that did the rounds in schools and colleges. The severe lack of complexity makes it definitely unreadable.

The panels are mostly uninhabited and bare except for the foregrounding. Faces look unfriendly and there is a general harshness of gesture. But what works works and the collection speaks to a certain kind of reader.

Classics, Sudhir Dar, Penguin India, Rs. 200.


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