An uncommon man

Our cartoonist recalls an inspiring day spent with R.K. Laxman.

Published - January 31, 2015 03:42 pm IST

Illustration: Keshav

Illustration: Keshav

R.K. Laxman made the medium of cartooning popular. He inspired many like me to take it up as a career. Brilliant drawing, incisive ideas, terrific work discipline and dedication to the art made him a rare gem among cartoonists.

His strength lay in strong lines reminiscent of the great David Low (of whom he was a fan, too). A brilliant caricaturist, his observations of the leaders brought immediate laughter to the reader.

The success of his column ‘You Said It’ in the front page of the Times of India newspaper was legendary. He used dramatisation to maximum effect.

He observed and knew the pulse of the people, their anger against the establishment on various issues. Laxman succeeded in transforming this anger of the people into humour — by taking it a step higher.

What made it click was its humour, without any malice. This earned him the unbelievable freedom he had in this field.

Once, while discussing Laxman’s work, Abu Abraham mentioned to me that he could get away with murder. Such was the enviable liberty he had — and he never misused it.

I was fortunate to be with Laxman for a whole day at BITS, Pilani during the early 1990s. He was on a vacation there with his wife. I had gone there for a Lecture-demonstration on cartooning. As a courtesy, I wished him and was about to leave — and he said: ‘Stay with me until tomorrow.’ He had come with his wife.

Then started the day of my life when I could learn about cartooning and his thought process first-hand. He was a great mimic. He performed like an actor the physical caricature of V.C. Shukla, Lalu Prasad, Deve Gowda (to name a few) in the same language they spoke. That was the secret behind the success of his pocket cartoon ‘You said it!’

It also helped me understand the dramatist in him — as proved by the success of his television serial, Wagle ki Duniya.

After a rollicking time, I asked him what an upcoming cartoonist should keep in mind when drawing. Many knew what he had to say: Good drawing skills, a sense of history (general knowledge) and sense of humour.

But when I asked him about the most important quality for a cartoonist he said, “Dignified irreverence”.

This, I think, was the reason why everyone loved his work — irreverence in caricaturing various personalities. No one was spared.

But he never crossed the limit, the elusive Lakshman Rekha. This, I wish, is imbibed by all aspiring to succeed in the rare field of cartooning.

In my opinion, this brilliant coinage by him will be his most valuable legacy. On behalf of the millions of Laxman fans and cartoon lovers, I pay my respects to the departed soul.

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