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RK Laxman and his indelible brushstrokes on the Indian mindscape

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By Swarnima Bhattacharya

In a glowing tribute to R.K Laxman, India’s foremost cartoonist, humorist and political satirist (to say the least), The Times of India called him the “uncrowned conscience keeper of the nation”.

I remember encountering the magical and pithy effects of Laxman’s deft brush-strokes, even before I knew that a nation and its makers needed conscience-keeping. In a middle-class, upwardly mobile family like ours, the daily news from The Times of India furnished not only our dinner-time conversations, but was also the repository of what my teachers fondly called “general knowledge”.

Adding immensely to that body of knowledge, introducing layers of pointed, good-humoured criticism to prevalent discourse, were the inimitable cartoons of RK Laxman.

The nameless Common Man, the ubiquitous, immediately recognisable old man, dons the attire of our grandfathers. The checked coat is a vestige of colonial legacy, and the dhoti, harkening back to a more Indian sartorial legacy.

He also wears an unchanging wry, bemused expression, similar to what I have often imagined on my father’s face, after a long day in a battered government office, or standing in a long queue outside the electricity office.

As I grew up, I didn’t need telling to make me know that the endearing Common Man was us-not one of us- but the essence of all of us consolidated on canvas. In an interview with Karan Thapar, RK Laxman recalled how the discovery of the iconic Common Man was rather an accident.

Overwhelmed by the sheer plurality of Indian identities, Laxman started off by drawing representatives of multiple religious and cultural denominations as mute spectators to national goings-on. The Common Man, as we now know him, emerged suddenly, mainly as a result of economising time and space.

And now, this prodigious accidental discovery, is an enduring institution unto itself. For over five decades, the Common Man has peered out of the small cartoon corner of The Times of India. He has been a silent, marginal figure who simultaneously occupied the most private spaces of bureaucrats, politicians, prime ministers of the country, presidents of the United States and even the corners of our drawing rooms.

He remained silent and brooding, with an occasional furrowed brow, but largely unfazed. Since 1947, the year of our independence, he documented for more than half a century, our challenges, idiosyncrasies, dogmas, follies and some moments of redemption.

In his own words, RK Laxman outlined the role and responsibility of a political satirist in so many words, “Ceaseless public criticism is the best guarantee that the liberty of the individual as well as of the nation will be preserved”.
Truly enough, the joke was on everyone. During the tumultuous years of the Emergency, the rights of the cartoonist were suspended for about 20 months. But soon enough, the tongue-in-cheek satirist hit out with this cartoon.
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Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru was a well-known admirer of Laxman’s sharp eye and incisive draftsmanship. After finding himself to be an object of ridicule in one of the cartoons, for his role in the Indo-China war, Nehru is said to have requested Laxman for a signed, enlarged and framed copy of the cartoon. Irreverence and dissent had never been more relished and welcome.

nehru

Always exposing the avarice of bureaucrats, rapacity of politicians, self-serving deviousness of Ministers and the foibles of everyday people, Laxman never failed to add a dash to humour to commonplace frustrations. It was the quotidian that found centerstage in Laxman’s world of inoffensive derision.

Even though the Common Man was tucked up in the margins of the frame, it was his very relatable presence that has been institutionalised in the Indian political imagination. Unlike the screaming, busy-looking debaters that are now found in profusion in mainstream media, Laxman remained an astute political commentator with his dignity and sense of humour intact.

The fact that his mocking eye survived the ire of successive governments, rioters, angry mobs and offended corridors of power, says a lot about his artistic method. He possessed an uncanny ability to cut through the most entangled of national and social problems, and capture the crux of the matter in one raised eyebrow, or a twisted grin, or a swish of the wrist.

His satire didn’t need distended vocal chords or reams of paper, but just a few words. He found “reason” in chaotic discourse, as Shakespeare would say, as “two grains of wheat hid in bushels of chaff”. The Common Man didn’t topple governments, or change policy, or impact development.

Despite that, never has the Common Man, the weary yet optimistic Everyman, been more empowered and entitled than on the canvas of RK Laxman- not even through political parties whose names commemorate the proverbial “aam aadmi”. Heralded as the “uncommon” creator of the Common Man, RK Laxman breathed his last on January 26, 2015.

He left behind a glowing legacy of menacing caricatures on power, development, corruption and social inequity. As you stand beside the statues of the Common Man in Pune and Mumbai, you are struck with the realisation, that this is no celebrity, even though he is a celebrated iconoclast.

The Common Man is a poignant reminder of our own exalted and significant, but oft-forgotten position as the largest electorate in the world.

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Copyright 2015 NewsGram

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All You Need To Know About India’s Strategic Chabahar Port

The Chabahar Port is a seaport in Chabahar, which is on the Gulf of Oman, near Iran-Pakistan border.

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Chabahar Port is of great international significance in terms of trade, especially for India. Wikimedia Commons
Chabahar Port is of great international significance in terms of trade, especially for India. Wikimedia Commons

By Ruchika Verma

  • The Chabahar Port is of great strategic importance for India
  • It is in Iran and is being built and operated by India
  • This port will increase India’s trade with Central Asia and Europe

The Chabahar Port is a seaport in Chabahar, which is on the Gulf of Oman, near Iran-Pakistan border. Chabahar is the trans-shipment and logistics hub for the Makran Coast and Baluchistan province of Iran.

Chabahar Port is built and operated by India. Wikimedia Commons
Chabahar Port is built and operated by India. Wikimedia Commons

The tension between India and Pakistan is nothing new. There are several instances where both the countries have tried to obstruct each other’s political or economic agendas. This obstruction, along with other strategic reasons, resulted in the India and Iran’s deal on the Chabahar Port, which is crucial because of several reasons.

Here are few things about it you may not have known before :

  • Under the Trilateral Transit and Transport Agreement of 2016, the Chabahar port is the gateway to the Transport Corridor between India, Iran and Afghanistan, which allows multi-modal goods’ and passengers’ transport.

Also Read: India and Iran sign agreement to develop Chabahar Port

  • The agreement also states that India will develop and operate two berths in the first phase of the port. The contract is for 10 years and extendable. This time period excludes the first two years as they will be used for construction.
Chabahar Port will make India's trade with Afghanistan easier. Wikimedia Commons
Chabahar Port will make India’s trade with Afghanistan easier. Wikimedia Commons
  • The Chabahar Port’s first phase, which was developed by India, and inaugurated by Iran on 4th December 2017, is of great strategic importance as it makes it easier for India to conduct trade with Central Asia and Europe.
  • Iran’s Chabahar port is also important for India’s trade because of Pakistan’s reluctance in allowing India to send goods to Iran and Afghanistan through its land territory.

Also Read: Gwadar Port: China Turning Pakistan Port Into Regional Giant 

  • The development of Chabahar Port will increase the momentum of the International North-South Transport Corridor whose signatories include India, Afghanistan and Russia. Iran is the key gateway in this project. It will improve India’s trade with Central Asia as well as Europe.
    The Chabahar Port has also reduced Afghanistan’s dependence on the transit road, which went through Karachi. Now, trade can be conducted via Chabahar Port too. Islamabad has accused India of trying to use this development as a means to destabilise Pakistan.

    The Chabar Port is the said to be the counter to the Gwadar Port. Wikimedia Commons
    The Chabar Port is the said to be the counter to the Gwadar Port. Wikimedia Commons
  • The Chabahar Port also acts as a counter to the barely 100 km away, Gwadar port in Pakistan, which is developed by China. However, Iran has defended that Chabahar is not a rival to Gwadar and Pakistan is invited to join in its development.
  • In October 2017, India sent its first shipment of wheat to through Chabahar to Afghanistan, in order to test the viability of the route.
  • India will also construct a 900-km Chabahar-Zahedan-hajigak railway line that will connect Port of Chabahar to Hajigak in Afghanistan. It will also connect Mashad in the north, providing access to Turkmenistan as well as northern Afghanistan.This project is worth $1.6 billion.

    India will supply $400 million worth of steel rails to Tehrain. Wikimedia Commons
    India will supply $400 million worth of steel rails to Tehran. Wikimedia Commons
  • It is being said that India will supply $400 million of steel rails to Tehran. There are also possibilities of setting up a fertilizer plant through a joint venture with the Iranian government.