CHITRAPU UDAY BHASKAR
The work focusses on different facets of Laxman’s vast oeuvre — art, caricature, humour, and political cartoons
Cartoonist apart, Laxman is also an author of three books and has tried his hand at films.
RK LAXMAN — The Uncommon Man: Collection of Works from 1948-2008: Dharmendra Bhandari; Copies can be had from author, B-44, Malviya Nagar, Jaipur-302017.
India’s best known and most revered political cartoonist, Rasipuram Krishnaswamy Laxman (b. 1924), better known by his alter ego — the silent ‘common man,’ who has been appearing daily in The Times of India for over 50 years, will be all of 85 years on October 24 and the book under review is an appropriate tribute to this extraordinary and very ‘uncommon man.’
Compiled by Dharmendra Bhandari, a family friend of long standing, the book traces the evolution of R.K. Laxman — brother of the celebrated author of Malgudi fame, R.K. Narayan, in a brief introduction of 16 pages. The rest of this sumptuous book is a veritable visual extravaganza of Laxman’s nimble quill and the incisive imagery that he so deftly created, and still creates, on a daily basis. An illustrious son of Mysore, the young Laxman fits the description of being a born artist and, as he recalls in his autobiography, “I do not remember wanting to do anything else [in life] except draw. I do not remember a day when I have not sketched, whether it was time to prepare for examinations or lying in bed recovering from a bout of fever.”
The book is broadly divided into four visual sections that focus on different facets of Laxman’s vast oeuvre: art, caricature, humour, and political cartoons; the last section alone has about 190 pages. As the text reveals, Laxman began his career as an illustrator for the Mysore University magazine and then graduated to The Hindu, where he provided the visuals for the short stories of his brother Narayan. Later the artist visited Madras and Delhi to make his career as an illustrator and cartoonist but with little luck. It was more by chance that he stopped in Bombay before going back to his hometown and he related to the great metropolis with an empathy that is as vibrant after more than half-a-century.
Earlier, Laxman had sought admission to the JJ School of Art — but was rejected for he “lacked the kind of talent” the institution was looking for! This rejection seems to have been a blessing in more ways than one because he then pursued his journalistic career with great determination and never looked back. After a brief stint at the Blitz and the Free Press Journal (where his fellow cartoonist was Bal Thackeray), the little-known Laxman began to embellish the pages of The Times of India. By 1954, the bespectacled common man with the bulbous nose and checked coat — now universally recognised as the face of the average Indian, the aam aadmi — became Laxman’s signature.
For 55 years now, his daily cartoon has appeared consistently (barring the Emergency period) and in a pithy single column of a mere two inches, the artist makes an incisive socio-political comment with his rich visual complemented by a caption of a few words. And the little man in the funny coat is a silent spectator — as he has been for decades — exploited, harassed, deceived, but still stoic. Cartoonist apart, Laxman is also an author of three books and has tried his hand at films.
Among the nuggets strewn in the text is the little known detail that famous film star Shah Rukh Khan got his break via a Laxman TV serial — ‘Wagle ki Duniya’.
Laxman warrants a more detailed comment but this book is an affectionate tribute and will hopefully spur others to make a critical assessment of the vast body of work created by this gifted man. Paradoxically, while politics and politicians have been his bread and butter for decades, he avers that the role of the cartoonist is now over — for the Indian politician has now become so brazen, that the skill of the cartoon is no longer required to expose the turpitude of the ‘neta’ and the torment of the ‘common man.’ Laxman’s many fans will pray that he does not take his own pronouncements too seriously!