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RK Laxman's unpublished doodles on his 96th birthday!

Keeping in line with Laxman's appetite for political sarcasm, this particular doodle looks into the political "evolution" of the then Indian prime minister PV Narasimha Rao. Photograph: (WION)

WION Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India Oct 24, 2016, 07.42 AM (IST) Madhumita Saha

Rasipuram Krishnaswami Laxman or, more popularly, RK Laxman was the Indian cartoonist who created the hugely popular comic strip, You Said It. It chronicled Indian life and politics through the eyes of the “common man", a bulbous-nosed bespectacled observer dressed in a dhoti and a distinctive checked coat who served as a silent point-of-view character for readers.

VG Narendra-the Managing Trustee of the Indian Institute of Cartoonists, pointed out to WION that Laxman was a "genious" who took the art of cartooning in India to the international level. 

The "tremendous" influence of Laxman, Mr Narendra quipped, inspired generations of younger cartoonists. 

 

The legendary cartoonist RK Laxman used to doodle constantly whenever he came to Mysore, his birthplace,on holidays. (WION)

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Born in October 24, 1921 in Mysore, Laxman was the youngest of seven siblings. He developed a love for drawing at an young age. This love eventually evolved into a full-fleged career. Laxman started creating political cartoons for the local newspapers. He also illustrated stories by his very famous novelist brother, R.K. Narayan. The sketches depicting the life and people of village Malgudi will forever remain etched in popular memory.

 

In 1975, Laxman's elder brother brought a scrapbook and made him create more doodles. This cartoon refers to the Shah Commission,which looked into the excesses committed during the Emergency (WION)

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Explaining the great popularity of Laxman's cartoon characters to WION, Mr Narendra said, "His cartoons were filled with lots of wit and humour and were easily understood by the Indian readers. The Times of India's popularity helped
RKL to gain popularity and vice versa."

 

Laxman says, "As a child, crow attracted me more than any other bird because it was alive on the landscape." (WION)

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Laxman was no common man. How did he so successfully portray what the common man was thinking in his cartoon?  The best answer to this question from WION can be found in Laxman's own words: the Common Man has "... been with me throughout my career. I did not find him. He found me… I would say he symbolizes the mute millions of India, or perhaps the whole world, a silent spectator of marching time.”

 

In total, 97 interesting doodles were created covering a span of 16 years from December 1975 to October 5,1991. At times, the doodle took hints from famous Indian mythological sagas like the Ramayana. (WION)

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Mr Narendra thinks, "With the creation of the common man, his cartoon was loved by all."  With the popularity of the Common Man, Laxman became a celebrity without, however, loosing touch with the mental world of common Indians.

 

Hundreds of people have seen these doodles at their homes. Some have called them meaningless and nonsensical. (WION)

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Cartoonists have been imprisoned, banned and even killed for their work. Why are the subjects of cartoons so sensitive about how are they being portrayed? 

Mr Narendra says to WION, "All sensible people appreciate the cartoons. It is the unsensible lot who have been creating hulla gulla (senseless noise) against cartoons. Even Laxman was telling me that he was threatened many times for his sharp cartoons."

 

Others really felt that the doodles have a deep, philosophical and artistic significance. (WION)

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WION posed a sceptical question to Mr Narendra about the future of cartoon in today's world. Mr Narendra - as the person in-charge of the Indian Institute of Cartoonists was convinced that "The future of cartooning in India is bright. Cartooning is alive and kicking." And this he feels optimistic though the world is increasingly dominated by television and everyday fewer number of people are reading newspapers where cartoons appear primarily.

 

Some of Laxman's doodles are interestingly futuristic. In this case, it seems like an Unidentified Flying Object from another world has landed in Laxman's own backyard. (WION)

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Do you think that the cartoonists in critiquing should abide by a code of conduct or is freedom of expression more important to a cartoonist? To this question from WION, Mr Narendra replies: "Certainly the freedom of expression is important to cartoonists but he should draw his own Laxman Rekha to become a successful one."

 

Keeping in line with Laxman's appetite for political sarcasm, this particular doodle looks into the political "evolution" of the then Indian prime minister PV Narasimha Rao. (WION)

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Today is cartoonist RK Laxman's 96th birthday. WION pays tribute to a great artist who also stands as one of the foremost political commentator of his time.

(Courtesy: Indian Institute of Cartoonists. WION is particularly thankful to Mr VG Narendra for providing us with these unpublished doodles of RK Laxman)

Madhumita Saha

The writer is an academic-turned journalist. She taught history at Drexel University and New York University before joining WION.

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