By Ezra Rynjah:
At a time when we mourn the loss of the conscious soul, the candid critic, and the coy cartoonist embodied in R.K. Laxman, let us take a moment to remember the person who moved us through his work, in however small a manner. Anyone who has read The Times of India would be familiar with Rasipuram Laxman, or more so, chuckled at the incessant political satire that flavoured his cartoon strip, “You Said It”. We all recognise the bald and bespectacled “Common Man”, clothed in a checked coat and a lungi, appearing at different scenes of the Indian political underbelly with tufts of hair poking out from behind each ear, expressing himself soundlessly through a performative combination of bushy eyebrows and a moustache. Through this character, R.K. Laxman as we know him, spoke out against the many inconsistencies he saw in India, not limiting his commentary to politics.
He never saw himself as being on a mission of change. “To make people laugh and understand the ridiculousness of the situation, that’s all, nothing more than that”, he had said in this interview. He maintained this low profile and people were entertained rather than threatened or disturbed by his cartoons. As he himself said in an interview with Money Life, the only politician who was upset with him was Morarji Desai, while everyone else felt that a caricature by him was a status symbol!
Through his consistently insightful work, he was awarded several accolades, including the Padma Vibhushan in 2005, the third highest civilian award of India, and the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1984, among others.
Apart from his life in this public domain, it must be said that to think of him without his crows would be blasphemous. He considered his sketches of crows as his art, as opposed to his cartoon, and took delight in regaling facts about the birds’ intelligence. His interviews reveal that he was very serious about his work, and at the same time, a person of obvious wit. Here is a collection of some of his work over the years.
1. Laxman’s idea of the observant and ever-present spectator, peering into India’s politics, supposedly representing all Indians – the “Common Man”:
2. In times of crisis, Laxman appealed to the humanity in his loyal audience, such as at the time of the Gujarat earthquake, 2001:
3. Bollywood stars weren’t beyond his commentary, and this sharp one came after Salman Khan had allegedly run over and killed people sleeping on the pavements:
4. The one on the left is on the level of comprehension of our public servants, while that on the right is a commentary on the clogged roads of India, particularly Mumbai:
5. Here, Laxman lampoons the Indian Space programme by contrasting its lofty ambitions to the abysmal conditions faced by the “Common Man”:
6. The “Common Man” has remained unchanged for decades as have the abject conditions of the poor, says Laxman:
7. The “Common Man” off to fight the problems we see in governance (a reference to the Aam Aadmi politics we now see, perhaps?)