On 26th January 2014, one of India’s most eminent cartoonists R. K. Laxman, the creator of the unforgettable cartoon character ‘The Common Man’, died at the Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital in Pune at 6:50 pm. He was 94 years old.
For the past several days Mr. Laxman was in an unconscious state, and was supported by a ventilator. He breathed his last after suffering from multi-organ and kidney failure.
He was born on October 24, 1921 in Mysore in a Tamil family. Rasipuram Krishnaswami Laxman’s talent first found expression on the doors and walls of his home. But his application at the JJ School of Art in Mumbai was rejected, as he was told he “lacked quality and accuracy”.
Early life :-
He moved to Mumbai and started working first at the ‘Blitz’ magazine, and then at the ‘Free Press Journal’. It was in Mumbai that he also met and worked with two other famous cartoonists Balasaheb Thackeray, who later went on to form the Shiv Sena, and Goa-born Mario Miranda. Through work these colleagues became friends and were in touch till they passed away.
But it was this daily cartoon strip since 1951 on the front page of the ‘Times of India’, called ‘You Said It’, set down India through the eyes of ‘The Common Man’, which shot Mr. R. K. Laxman to fame.
The Common Man character an old frazzled gentleman with a wisp of white hair was always present in a distinctive checked shirt and dhoti. His over sized pair of glasses, added to his eternal look of surprise. He shared this Common Man with the world every morning via news paper for 60 years, the humorist spared no one.
A Padma Vibhushan, Laxman also won the Magsaysay award in 1984 for journalism, literature and creative communication arts.
The political satirist took on corrupt politicians, scheming bureaucrats, policemen and gossipy housewives with equal fervor, becoming a critical commentator of India’s inequalities and quality of leadership. From Jawaharlal Nehru to Indira Gandhi to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Mr. Laxman fearlessly teased them all. But his humor was at best sarcastic but never venomous, bringing a smile even to the most serious of politicians.
Other Work :-
Laxman also created a popular mascot for the Asian Paints group called Gattu in 1954. He also wrote a few novels, the first one of which was titled The Hotel Riviera. His cartoons have appeared in Hindi films such as Mr. & Mrs. ’55 and a Tamil film Kamaraj. His creations also include the sketches drawn for the television adaptation of Malgudi Days which was written by his elder brother R. K. Narayan and directed by Shankar Nag. Laxman also drew caricatures of David Low, T.S. Eliot, Bertrand Russell, J.B. Priestly and Graham Greene.
A few years ago, at an event honoring the illustrator, Gursharan Kaur, the wife of then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, had said, “I begin my day with a look at what the Common Man is up to. Even my husband, who is often a subject in his cartoons, smiles when he sees it.”
His work is so deeply entrenched in India’s public, that even though politicians and governments have come and gone, the ‘Common Man’ has endured the test of time. Statues in Mumbai and Pune are a reminder of his greatness. And yet, all his life, he remained fiercely critical of the political class.
He once famously said, “I wouldn’t say politicians represent the country. I don’t think they do. They have forgotten the common man; they think the common man belongs to them, to serve them.”
A cartoon that Laxman had made following the successful landing of Mangalyaan on Mars was posted by the Indian Space Research Organisation on its Facebook and Twitterpages on 27 January. Mr. Laxman was accorded a state funeral and Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis also announced that a memorial would be built in his honor.
Condoling his demise, noted cartoonists described him as outstanding, towering figure who always had his finger on the pulse of the nation.
“India will miss you R K Laxman. We are grateful top you for adding the much needed humour in our lives and always bringing smiles on our faces,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted.
Awards and recognition :-
- Padma Bhushan– Govt. of India – 1973.
- Padma Vibhushan– Govt. of India – 2005.
- Ramon Magsaysay Awardfor Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts – 1984.
- Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalism – CNN IBN TV18 – 29 January 2008.
- Pune Pandit Award (Scholar of Pune Award) by the Art & Music Foundation for excellence in ‘Creative Communication’ – 2012.
- Honorary Doctorate from the University of Mysore – 2004.
- There is a chair named after R. K. Laxman at Symbiosis International University.
- Nag, C. S. (1 October 2012).He Said It! the ….WheelMan Press.
- Laxman, R. K. (1988).The Eloquent Brush. Times of India for Benett Coleman & Company.
- Laxman, R. K. (1998).50 Years of Independence Through the Eyes of R.K. Laxman. The Times Group.
- Laxman, R. K. (February 1989).The Hotel Riviera. Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated.
- Laxman, R K (4 April 2002).Servants Of India. Penguin Books Limited.
- Laxman, R. K. (1 June 1998).The tunnel of time: an autobiography. Viking.
- Laxman, Rasipuram Krishnaswamy (2008).Brushing Up the Years: A Cartoonist’s History of India, 1947 to the Present. Penguin Books India.
- Laxman, R K (1 March 2004).Distorted Mirror. Penguin Books India.
- Laxman, R K (11 September 2002).Dose Of Laughter. Penguin Books Limited.
- His autobiography ‘Lakshmanrekha’ is published in Marathi
- The Reel World[cartoons] published by Marwah Studio.
- Laxman, R. K. (1 January 2003).A Vote for Laughter. Penguin Books.