R.K. Laxman passes away

Cartoonist R.K. Laxman  

Legendary cartoonist and creator of the Common Man, R.K. Laxman, one of post-Independence India’s greatest caricaturists, died of a cardiac arrest at Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital here on Monday evening. He was 93.

Mr. Laxman, battling a severe urinary tract infection and kidney failure, was put back on ventilator support after his health took a turn for the worse on Sunday evening. His health had deteriorated after a series of strokes in 2004 and 2010, which severely impeded his speech and left him bedridden.

“Unfortunately, his condition started rapidly deteriorating in the last 24 hours and he failed to respond to the ongoing therapies made to improve his multi-organ dysfunction,” said Sameer Jog, the doctor who had been treating Mr. Laxman since his admission to the hospital on January 17. Mr. Laxman, under close observation by a team of intensivists in the hospital, was taken off the ventilator last week after his health showed a little improvement, sparking hopes of a possible recovery.

“The last few days have been unnerving for us,” said Mr. Laxman’s son, journalist Srinivas Laxman. Mr. Laxman’s wife, 89-year-old Kamala Laxman, had “borne the news stoically,” he said. Tributes flowed in soon after the news of the demise filtered through. “India will miss you R.K. Laxman. We are grateful to you for adding the much needed humour in our lives & always bringing smiles on our faces,” tweeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “We have lost a truly uncommon cartoonist who gave a new dimension to caricaturing in India,” said Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.

Mr. Laxman, born in the then Mysore on October 24, 1921, was the youngest of six sons of a school headmaster and the only one among his siblings to share fame with his brother, writer R.K. Narayan. Growing up in the city’s idyllic environs, Mr. Laxman was influenced by the scathing caricatures of the New Zealand-born Sir David Low, then the pre-eminent caricaturist of the Western world.

Sir David’s acerbic caricatures of the momentous events in the early 20th century, especially of its great reactionaries, fascists and authoritarians who shaped Europe and the world’s destiny, made a lasting impression on the young Laxman. Famously denied admission to the J.J. School of Art, Bombay, after his drawings “failed” to meet the standards, Mr. Laxman caricatured the passion and folly of India’s human comedy.

The messy business of the democracy that was India was unforgettably captured in the iconic creation, labelled simply The Common Man, of R.K. Laxman, who died here on Monday.

Mr. Laxman, who was awarded the Padma Vibhushan and the Magsaysay Award, was a complex man, who defined his métier with an ingenious lightness of touch as evinced in his autobiography, Tunnel of Time.

His astonishing career was a paradox in the Chestertonian sense — often interviewed in public, he fiercely guarded his private life. “There was an unmatched brilliance and warmth in his wit. He was inimitable. He could be many things to many people at the same time,” reminisced friend and fellow cartoonist Mangesh Tendulkar.

Balding, clad in a tattered jacket and donning an eternally bemused expression through his spectacles, the Common Man was the first sight of millions of newspaper readers in Mr. Laxman’s pocket cartoon, You Said it, since 1951 in The Times of India.

Be it Gattu, the tousled boy mascot of Asian Paints, or the masterly Malgudi illustrations (accompanying R.K. Narayan’s short stories serialised in The Hindu), Mr. Laxman’s dab hand portrayed the tokenism of politicos and the existential angst of the Indian commoner with a devastating effectiveness.

“In a sense, we were all his disciples. His death has left a massive void in Indian journalism. It marks the end of an epoch in its history,” said cartoonist Vikas Sabnis. “His stature was greater than any editor’s. He was that uncommon,” said cartoonist Sudhir Telang.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2022 6:27:46 AM |

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