It isn’t often that Indian cartoonists talk about their craft—or their colleagues and compatriots.
There is, for instance, a famous incident of the doyen of Indian cartooning, R.K. Laxman, being asked in the course of an interview with The Illustrated Weekly of India, about a younger cartoonist then working for the Indian Express.
“Ravi Shankar? Fantastic sitarist,” was Laxman’s put-down, sotto voce.
Ajit Ninan, the former cartoonist of India Today and Outlook now a consultant with The Times of India, speaks about Laxman, in an interview in Star of Mysore:
Q: How would you differentiate yourself from R.K. Laxman?
A: I am a man of details and I think India is a country of details. Look at our architecture, the temples, fashion—everything has a lot of details. There is no school of cartooning and it is my seniors who helped me. I learnt by observing their works and have slept over their styles. Mario Miranda‘s details, Abu Abraham‘s simplicity of thought and Laxman’s works—something of everybody is there in my work.
However, Laxman’s cartoons had lengthy captions. I try to finish it within 10 words or even less. Almost 70% of my time goes into drafting captions.
When your drawing is so detailed, why burden it with words?
Q: Who would rank as the best Indian cartoonist?
A: R.K. Laxman—because he was a typical South Indian genius. He was a big crowd-puller and by nature he was funny, sharp and witty. Next is Mario because he brought out Indian architecture and humour, food, language, fashion through his drawings. He was a complete cartoonist and very versatile. The third would be Sudhir Tailang.
Image: courtesy Shafali
I am disappointed you haven’t mentioned Bal Thackray. Much before he was a Shiv Sainik, he was a cartoonist for The Free Press Journal, one of the most revered newspapers before independence. His cartoons were drawn during the suffocating days of the Defence of India Rules. Not a single newspaper mentioned that his cartoons appeared in The New York Times Sunday edition, the world’s most respected newspaper and Asahi Shimbun, world’s largest circulated newspaper at that time. These facts are taken from the Encyclopedia Britannica. Can we ever get out of our secular straitjacket?
Couldn’t it be that the Malayalee sacked him because he was Marathi Manus? As for Thackray’s hatred of South Indians, here is a Hindu report by Amrita Byatnal (Nov. 25, 2011):
Two friends, who have known each other for more than 50 years, met, reliving old times and shedding a tear or two on the memories.
Nothing unusual except that the two are legendary cartoonists R.K. Laxman and Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray. Mr. Thackeray (85) visited Mr. Laxman (90) in his Pune residence on Thursday evening to enquire about his health. The two first met in 1945 when Mr. Laxman joined The Free Press Journal, where Mr. Thackeray was already working as cartoonist. “We worked together till 1950 after which he joined The Times of India,” he said.
Mr. Laxman, who suffered a stroke in 2010, cannot talk, and uses his hands much. In spite of that, he drew his favourite character, the Common Man, for his old friend, which Mr. Thackeray proudly displayed to reporters. Mr. Laxman’s wife Kamala said, “We have known him for very long. Laxman is very fond of him. He is visiting us in Pune for the first time.”
I second that! I mean, ‘Can we ever get out of our secular straitjacket?’
Although I am aware that Bal Thackeray was a cartoonist with ‘The Free Press Journal’, I did not know that ‘The New York Times’ and the ‘Asahi Shimbun’ published his cartoons.
His exit from TFJ was far from pleasant and he took out his anger against his boss who sacked him (Malayalee, wasn’t he?) on all South Indians. It was probably the reason for founding the Shiv Sena. Some say, initially it was intended to cleanse Mumbai of South Indians. You might throw some light on this.
LOL! it seems 10 years of humiliation in the TOI has made Mr Ninan a bit humble.
One might say a good cartoon is one that’s sharp and has less of details; we (should) get it all in a split second. And, the caption…the fewer the words, the better… Laxman and Shankar had it in them to make people laugh. Some of the vernacular dailies still have talented men doing the job; as for the national dailies, or of English journals, one is not all that sure who stands out…signs of the times…
Cartoonist pawan is best among all
My favorite is Aseem Trivedi