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Colossus of cartoons

Sensitivity to surroundings, sharp wit and sound judgement spur the creativity in celebrated cartoonist R.K. Laxman.

MAN OF HUMOUR: R.K. Lakshman. Photo: Satish H.

R.K. LAXMAN, a name to reckon with in the realm of Indian cartoons was in the twin cities recently for the Humour India-2002 (a national annual festival of humour and satire) jointly organised by the A.P Department of Culture and A.P Crowquill Academy. He was conferred the `Life-time achievement award' along with few others of his ilk.

In an exclusive tte--tte, Laxman exchanged his views on present day politics, newspapers, youth and the country in general. His sharp wit bears the unmistakable stamp of a dyed-in-the-wool humourist. His keen gaze takes in everything. The minutest movement cannot miss his eye; his sharp observations, as he watches - strangers strolling across the lobby of the hotel, or in animated conversation with each other, hostesses flitting across in a flurry, new arrivals checking in even as guests check out - are down-to-earth, with a serrated edge as the situation demands.

For, R.K. Laxman is no mean cartoonist who is out to etch funny figures for a living! There's no denying that he is a thorough professional. Yet, he cannot be framed within the narrow boundaries of his profession nor can he be dismissed of as just another humourist. Here is an intellectual whose keen interest in human nature has led him to decipher, delineate and describe the oddities in men and women placed in varied positions.

His receptive, razor sharp mind absorbs literally everything in his fellow-beings including their idiosyncrasies and the environment and recreates them at leisure into a cartoon that depicts man as the most ridiculous of Nature's creations. "I don't look at the world the way everyone does. I enjoy watching people go up and down the corridors of life from my corner wondering where streams and streams of human population is heading and for what. It makes me depict them the way I do," he says.

Laxman has no hassles about his own greatness nor a sense of superiority over others who are not able to see things as he sees them. He is already the recipient of four such life-time achievement awards. "What is a life time achievement? Drawing?" he chuckles. The conferring of titles makes no impression on a man of his calibre who has carved a niche for himself in the hearts of millions of readers of newspapers and magazines way back.

Attributing the origin of cartoon drawing as an art to Britain, Laxman says, "We acquired this art from the British during the Raj." On his own evolution as a cartoonist, he says, "As a child, I had a penchant for drawing and over the years perfected this skill. As a student in middle school I used to draw cartoons for a Kannada magazine called Koravanji and later for My India, an English periodical of those days. I've had no masters, no guidance, no training schools. I am a self-taught, self-made and shall I say a self-drawn man?"

An alumnus of the then famous Maharaja College, Mysore, Laxman graduated with philosophy, economics and politics, which perhaps gave him the right mixture of understanding, estimating and enlarging the peculiarities of human nature with his tongue in his cheek. On the future of cartoons, Laxman is candid. "Cartoon as an art is dying. There is no originality in the cartoons of today. They boil down to being rubber stamps with a caption. It doesn't tickle your sense of humour (if you have one) nor does it provide food for thought. It is the political events that dictate the punch in a cartoon. What passes off, as politics today is nothing but criminal activity. All that you get to read in newspapers is politically motivated murders, brutality and criminalisation of governance. Reporting is thriving on sensationalism and crime. Newspapers have lost their relevance devoid of punch in editorials and main articles. Cartoons have turned into mockery without sense," he comments having been in the field for ages now and a witness to the changing political scenario.

"No polarisation is healthy," he says on the communal cauldron that hangs like a Damocles' sword over the country. "Only unity is a healthy phenomenon." But then can he see at least a flicker at the end of the tunnel? "Not really. There is no leadership in this country. The likes of Narendra Modi will help," he says with sardonic humour. "At least in India some of us are aware as to where we are heading but the US is unaware of where it is going!" he says as an after-thought. Laxman has reservations on the brilliance of our techno-whiz kids, the youth who are all geeks with appalling general knowledge. "I have nothing against the pursuit of technical excellence but should it be at the cost of simple general knowledge? We, as youngsters, during our times were quick-witted abounding in general knowledge about everything around us! Today the so-called techno-savvy youngster draws a blank when asked a plain question about his neighbourhood!" If this generation is to be called smarter than the forefathers, God bless them!

The environmentalist in Laxman came to the fore when he vociferously denounced the commercial hoardings that strike a visitor to Hyderabad like nothing else. "There are two things that have made the twin cities ugly: hoardings and loud music. Those monstrous hoardings blocking every structure have ruined Hyderabad. The city seems to be sick with commercial hoardings screaming consumer durables' advertisements. They distract the attention of the commuters and overshadow the ambience of anything and everything. Should concern for commercial advertisements bypass all aspects of aesthetics in this city?" he questions.

Music in posh hotel foyers, dining halls, and auditoriums are more of irritants than soothers, he opines. But then, loud music is the `in' thing with pop, jazz replacing soulful Indian tunes. With that he comes down heavily on the television, which has put audio entertainment (radio) in the attic. Admitting the added advantages of the telly, he is sore over the frequency of commercial breaks again, which mar emotive continuity to a narrative. "I pity the public who have lost the nerve to protest and put an end to such inconveniences," he says. The fact that trivial things too attract his attention and shape his opinion goes without saying. That though a veteran, Laxman's sensibility has not been dimmed by age. He is still at his creative best only because he is sensitive to his surroundings, sharp with his wit and sound in his judgement.


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