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Lines of laughter on the wall

Thirteen City cartoonists came together on April 13, at Max Mueller Bhavan, to paint their thoughts on the `Bangalore Wall'.

Cartoonists at work. — Photo: K. Gopinathan

CARTOON, CARTOON, on the wall, can you predict the future of Bangalore for all?

THE LINE came to mind as we watched 13 City cartoonists at work on the "Bangalore Wall" at the local Max Mueller Bhavan (MMB) on April 13. Away from the desk-bound ink and pen that are their staple tools, away from the isolation that most professionals of their ilk work in, away from political satire by consensus, popular cartoonist N. Ponnappa and his peers in visual satire came up with cheerful, colourful perspectives on the former "village of boiled beans.''

The Bangalore Wall in weatherproof emulsion, a tribute to the late Maya Kamath, sorely missed by readers and fellow cartoonists alike, was sparked by an initiative from MMB director

Juliane Stegner, who says, "The idea, which came out of a discussion with Mr. Ponnappa, was to hold an event that was entirely different from MMB's cartoon workshops of the past. We wanted to bring the City's cartoonists together to work, to create a platform for the art.'' She adds with a laugh: "To Germans, thinking about a wall is very easy.''

Ponnappa, who coordinated the creative group effort, says, "Ms. Stegner offered me the wall and asked: Would you like to paint on it? I replied: I'd love to, but may I bring my friends along.'' Many of his friends have blossomed from a cartoon workshop he held at the Alliance Francaise in 1997, which spawned a young breed unafraid to be themselves Raghava K. K., Samita Rathor, Balaraj K. N., and Rasheed Kappan among them.

Their collaboration, a far cry from the political symbolism of the Berlin Wall, is a celebration of social Bangalore. It cartoons local norms and fads, traditions, and futuristic trends, with panache and plurality. How do individualistic minds approach it? In Raghava's panel, allocated by drawing lots, boards proclaiming "New brandy-laced coffee'' and "New coffee-flavoured beer'' jostle with Caf and Pub signs, as a sari-clad Maami clutching a bunch of fresh greens negotiates her way past a cycle-borne vendor of coffee. His scene is everyday lore rendered for all time, with a chuckle.

P. Mahmud paints an internet kiosk, boasting a "Rs. 10 per hour'' sign askew, alongside a pavement dweller with a cell phone to his ear, while his colleague is immersed in a sunny computer perched on his bony knees. The "laptop'' redefined? A few panels away, Samita Rathor depicts two dogs trailing a bald-headed toddler, while a floppy-eared canine peers over a panel that proclaims, "Beware of dog!'' It brings alive shades of morning walks, whether at Cubbon Park or Kumara Park.

Whether captured as Ponnappa's urchin girl on tiptoe who follows the surge of the painted rainbow on a wall into the real thing in the sky beyond billboards, or B. G. Gujjarappa's suave city man and country bumpkin who find common ground through a broken wall, or Prakash Babu's donkeys who tilt at a solid wall of apathy, of antipathy, (of arrogance?), the cartoon seems alive and kicking in our city.

What did the unusual exercise mean to the participants? "We decided right at the beginning that the wall was not going to be about politics or garbage,'' confesses Ponnappa, brushing aside staple cartoon fare. "This wall was done in the spirit of fun. Competition never came into it.''

The group spent the whole morning sketching out their ideas to ensure non-overlapping concepts. Achieving that, they rolled up their metaphorical shirtsleeves to grapple with the wall from the afternoon onwards.

As Balaraj and Vasantha Hosabettu, Ananth Shankar, and V. G. Narendra filled in the blank wall with a riot of colours, their interpretations of the cityscape proved as personalised as the skies of blue they rendered. Gujjarappa notes: "It is a great idea. There is such diversity of style and idea, with no repetitions. It is probably the first time cartoonists have come together to work collectively.'' Samita adds, "In a sense, we have made a new beginning, away from editorial dictates. And we have tried to keep words to a minimum.''

With an eye to the future, Ms Stegner says: "Perhaps we will invite cartoonists from neighbouring countries to a similar interchange next year. We are planning to put the cartoonists on our website and invite other practitioners in for a chat.''

The reproduction of Maya Kamath's KSRTC bus, with its multiple faces at the windows and legs for mobility, which introduces the wall, is both poignant and apt. For the Bangalore Wall takes us on a zany, unpredictable journey, through which viewers claimed the space for the public domain.

The Indian cartoon moved out of the editorial space with courage and confidence with this innovative exercise staking a claim to be viewed as social commentary, proclaiming its burgeoning talent to the global village. And perhaps provoking thought towards a Bangalore Wall redefined annually.

No doubt the City will find the idea irresistible. The Bangalore Wall will be on permanent display for a year.


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