IT IS A PITY THAT I CANNOT RECALL the name of the first cartoonist in print that I came across when I was in class 4 in Mangalore (now Mangaluru). It was in a Kannada daily called Navabharata. The cartoon featured a hassled, ordinary citizen, pretty much like the ubiquitous common man created by R. K. Laxman in You Said It that graced the pages of Times of India for so many years. The Navabharata character had an interesting nose formed by a concentric circle in contrast to the bald, achkan and dhoti clad citizen created by Laxman.
SINCE WE LIVED IN MANGALURU for nearly two decades, we children mostly conversed in Kannada and English although Malayalam was our mother tongue. My mother however devised an interesting strategy to make us learn Malayalam. The Manorama weekly (in Malayalam) which we subscribed to carried a very interesting comic strip titled Bobanum Mollyum (Boban and Molly) that featured the antics of a boy and girl with social commentary as its sub text. My mother’s pre-condition for reading aloud to us the conversations accompanying the cartoon strip was that we begin to read and write Malayalam. The comic strip was created by Toms (real name V. T. Thomas [1929-2016) who passed away last month. Toms started his career as an electrician but soon the famous cartoon strip became an integral part of Manorama weekly from 1957 to 1987 until he branched out on his own after a copyright dispute.
THE ENGLISH PAPERS WE SUBSCRIBED to were Times of India and The Hindu. Those days, in The Hindu, John Thomas (cartooning under the name Jomton) and an interesting column On Second Thought by Emery Kelen (which usually carried the caricature of the personality discussed) provided principal relief from the bombastic prose of G. K. Reddy and the sombre editorials of the newspaper. Equally, Laxman’s You Said It and his weekly summations gave us adequate escape from the high faultin pieces from the likes of Girilal Jain and Sham Lal. Our neighbours subscribed to Indian Express and I was simply bowled over by Abu Abraham’s Private View and his lead cartoons. Abu also wrote exceedingly well. His travel pieces and sharp political commentary were simply delightful. Years later when I landed in a job in Mumbai, I began subscribing to Debonair since it carried his column although I must also confess that its centrespreads were also another reason for buying the mag ! It is here that I also discovered Bhatlekar. Mumbai also introduced me to Mario Miranda. He was probably the only cartoonist in the world who demonstrated that nature abhors a vaccuum. On his larger cartoons, so full of characters and objects, you could not even place a pin and his Rajni Nimbupani, Ms Fonseca and Bundalbass are the stuff of legends !!
I ACCIDENTALLY BEFRIENDED A CARTOONIST in a Mumbai local years ago. We used to take the same train from Andheri to Churchgate. He was Raobail (real name Prakash Rao Balebail) who was also a mimicry artist. His cartoons had a rare sort of life in them and his personalized post cards were truly unique. Sadly, after I left Mumbai, I lost touch which I still regret.
THE NUMBER OF CARTOONISTS WHOSE WORK I became acquainted with are too numerous to be mentioned here. The novelist O.V. Vijayan, Rajinder Puri, Ajit Ninan, Keshav, Surrendra, Sudhir Dhar, Murthy, Ravi Shankar, Unni, Gafoor , Shankar Pillai of the Shankar’s Weekly, and, yes, Bal Thackeray, have all made an indelible impression. And who can forget Manjula Padmanabhan who has carved a niche for herself with Suki ! I am also beginning to enjoy Sandeep Adhwaryu nowadays.
THE CELEBRATED FILMMAKER ARAVINDAN was also a first rate cartoonist. His series Cheriya Manushyarum Valiya Lokavum (Small Men, Big World) first published in Mathrubhumi weekly remains one of the most powerful social commentaries on Kerala which has acquired an iconic status almost equal to his award winning films.
AS I MOVED OVERSEAS FOR NEARLY 15 years, I began to read The New Yorker and Punch magazines which threw open a whole new world of cartoons and caricatures – arguably the world’s best. Yet, the cartoons that one truly enjoys are those with local flavour where there is immediacy in their sub texts and which are also truly heartwarming. Great cartoons do not merely raise a heartfelt smile, they also communicate insightfully which Charlie Hebdo tragically failed to achieve.
LEO ROSTEN DEFINED HUMOUR AS THE AFFECTIONATE communication of insight. Cartoons do precisely that and elevate our prosaic existence. One is happy to learn that The Indian Institute of Cartoonists has been established at Trinity Lane in Bengaluru by V.G.Narendra. New talent needs to be discovered and nurtured in these times when we have almost lost the ability to laugh at ourselves !!
This piece was written on the occasion of World Cartoonists’ Day – May 5.