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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.
indira

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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Shoot The Rapist At The Sight

 And which type is contributing more dangerously to the society can easily be measured with our simple plus and minus equation

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This glaring aberration in the world of media is visible as clearly as stars in the darkness of the night.
India is plagued with a disease called Rape. Wikimedia Commons

Salil Gewali

  • India is plagued with a disease called Rape
  • There are no rigorous punishments for rape
  • Rapists openly commit crimes without anny fear

Why the clamour only for the rigorous punishment for rape and other sadistic crimes which have their roots in the mental-degeneration? Apart from the toughest punishment to the perpetrators, let’s go deeper to analyze what could be the possible  “causes”  that push men to commit rape. Why so much mental degeneration that certain individuals can stoop to the gutter being to their status, their position and social values? Well, how to address those issues is certainly a challenge. And that “challenge” certainly calls for a serious brain-storming and a serious self-assessment vise-a vise the environment in which we all are living.

Ranaghat Nun Rape Case
Rape culture in India garnered more spotlight following the Nirbhaya-gang rape, after which the issue has continue to remain a burning topic in the country. Pixabay

True, in the physical world we are highly convinced brag about that healthy environment is a must for our healthy living. Even kids know these days that we can’t breathe well if our surroundings are filled with high levels of  “toxicity”. We have well studied through our academic textbooks that people invite the environmental disaster if they keep on allowing excessive emission of CO2, CO, methane and other dangerous gases into the atmosphere. We have fully acknowledged that each tall and black chimney of the industries and the nozzles of the motor vehicles are here only to mar the beauty of this planet? What kind of damages the toxic gases are doing to our ecosystem are not at all tough job to analyze with modern appliances. Again, a lot amount of books have been published to create the awareness, to inform us about the scientifically tested measures to resolve the environmental concerns.

However, do we have the same amount of literature that pinpoint the “causes” which contribute to turning “males into perverts”? Who else is emitting the “toxic substances” that overpower the inborn sensitivity of the deviant? What are the properties of toxic filth that is polluting the mind-scape of the society? Now we have Donald Trump, the president of the USA, whom many prefer call him a pervert. At this rate, the number perverts are increasing and they have become dangerously ubiquitous. And, all those perverts have brought nightmares to the ill-fated females. We often stage candle march in protest against the rape, but remain blind to the glaring “causes”. Should we still fiddle about and be appreciative of the society that shameless covers itself with the vulgarity — the “toxicity” that might numb the sanity of males? Watch out, dear friends, those perverts have begun to see even “baby girls” as objects of lust!

Please note:  what our sages said:  “What you see that you think, what you think that you do and what you do that become !!!!”

Also Read: Eat Grapes To Ward Off Depression

Again, I would like to draw another similarity with what prompt big people to “rape”/violate the harmony of the Mother Earth. The case is very regularly brought out by the conscious citizens across the country. A senior journalist Patricia Mukhim of Meghalaya has pointedly driven home recently how the “greed for money” has corrupted many leaders who are trying hard to justify the senseless exploitation of the “body” of Mother Earth. Many big shots of big companies struggle to convince the politicians to tweak the laws to grant the permission to perpetually “rape” the country.

In my mind, both are infected with common syndromes! While the one type is interested in the body of the females, the other type has a fetish for the rocky body of the “Mother Earth”. And which type is contributing more dangerously to the society can easily be measured with our simple plus and minus equation.

The rape victims are not getting the justice they deserve.
The rape victims are not getting the justice they deserve.

Let’s assess the issues from another angle, given the advancement of medical science. Till some years back malaria, dengue, cholera, HIV, smallpox were life-taking diseases. But the medical science has pretty successfully eradicated or contained them all. The scientists have correctly identified the causes of those dangerous diseases and recommended the remedial measures. No doubt, that is a very productive achievement. However, why have the modern studies practically failed to “identify the causes”  of the pandemic rise of the horrendous instances of rapes and criminality associated with them? Is it not a strong slap in the face of the modern civilization considering we have not yet spelt out the causes and the characteristic symptoms the  “toxic emitters” who turn decent males into sadists? How long will we endure the depravity which has already strangulated the decency of the society? Should we still wait to work out the tough laws? Should we still hitch to explore for the “causes” and remedial measures? I guess the time is ripe that each morally conscious individual be allowed a shotgun to shoot the “perversion and depravity” of any kind at sight!

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’. Twitter: @SGewali.