India’s republic day was an event that was waited with baited breath and a sense of apprehension- it was after all the day that the most powerful man in the world would meet our country’s PM- the darling of the media, if not the masses- Modi. When the day finally did arrive though, the apprehension in the air soon disappeared after we all got a glimpse of the crazy antics of the small powerhouse that is Modi: a selfie with Kal Penn, wearing a pin striped suit with his name embroidered all over it, the peculiar, growing ‘bro-mance’ between him and Barack Obama with both of them referring to each other by their first names and sipping tea in a beautiful and lush gardens of the Hyderabad House while both the media and the world looked on silently…almost voyeuristically. And the talks about their on-going chemistry…ugh! This is something that Modi even admitted to-
“Relationships, chemistry matter more between leaders than commas and full-stops on paper”- Narendra Modi, on his talks with the U.S President.
One of the most important events of this year- the meeting of two world leaders who could have a huge, tremendous impact on the world had been turned into tabloid worthy news- a farce and it was sickening. So I decided to turn my attention to something that was actually worth giving any time and attention to- the passing away of the beloved cartoonist, R.K Laxman.
It has of course been nearly a week since his demise and over the course of time; numerous tributes were paid to him from almost every corner of the globe. He was remembered and cherished, his cartoons were looked at once more and treasured by a population of a billion and a thousand maybe more fans from across the globe. At this point I feel that nearly everything that had to be said about R.K Laxman has already been said; by the people who knew him, his friends, family and fans. Sitting here in front of my computer, I feel that I have nothing more to add to the praises that have been sung in the name of R.K Laxman- I am a mere fan; I never knew the man nor had I even met him during a book signing event or so. But nevertheless, I feel compelled to say something in remembrance of his memory and so I shall narrate an anecdote from my life instead and it is about the first time I discovered R.K Laxman.
Almost every one of us in India have been exposed to either “The Common Man” cartoon, or any of R.K Laxman’s cartoons regardless of the generation we belong to; such is his work’s impact. For most though, I think I can confidently say that most discovered R.K Laxman’s works in his brother R.K Narayan’s book, Malgudi Days. It was the case for me: as a young boy, I had accidently stumbled across Malgudi Days in a book store and I had fallen in love with it. However at that time though, although I liked the illustrations, I did not know that they were the work of the author’s brother nor had I ever heard of him before. But they were beautiful and eye catching and they helped to make the image of Malgudi in my head much more vivid and colourful. I did not ponder further about the illustrations and time passed on.
Fast forward a few years from that moment; I am now a kid in 7th standard and doing miserably in academics. My parents were worried, the teachers were livid, I was literally the laughing stock of the class with me being sent to the principal’s office nearly twice a week and what not, I had none to share my feelings with or talk to and so I was a very depressed kid who was contemplating suicide. The only thing that stopped me was my parents whose undying love and support prevented me from actually willing my rancid thoughts into reality. My mother who was very worried about me somehow managed to locate a home tuition which was quite nearby and run by one of her patients. The lady was kind and gladly took me in out of respect she had for my mother but she was a horrible teacher. A fun and witty woman she was, yes but a teacher she was not. She preferred to gossip and talk about nearly everything under the sky with her students and when we had nothing to talk about, we played with her dog- a nutty little Pomeranian that shed constantly. I hardly learnt anything under her tutelage, in fact I had so much fun with her, it nearly covered the guilt I had for wasting my parent’s time, money and wishes they had for me- here they were, hoping that I would improve under her care while I was just whiling away the time. Things would of course improve for me and the world would become much more beautiful but for the moment, it all really did seem hopeless. And it was in her garage that I discovered R.K Laxman.
The woman (I have long forgotten her name now) had a tiny garage where we all studied…I’m sorry…”studied”. The place also served as a store room and a library as well for her family. Hence there were a lot of dusty boxes and musty books all around us and on the shelves. One particular evening, I was bored of the conversations madam was having with the students so I began to rummage in her boxes instead. I picked up a book at random and opened it at the very centre. It was filled with cartoons and the very first one I was saw that that which had the theme of pollution. It featured a burly man wearing a striped cape passed out on the streets of what looked like a very dusty, pollution ridden city. No one tried to help the man of course, but there were two men who had noticed him and one of them had commented to the other, “Our roads are so dusty and filled with smoke, even Superman has fallen from the skies, passed out and sick.” It said something like this on these lines. This carton evoked such mixed feelings I had never experienced before- yes, the moment I read the caption in the dialogue box, I laughed out aloud- in fact I actually guffawed. But I was also angry- angry at the cartoonist’s depiction of Superman. He was wearing a striped cape! (Yes, even when I was a kid, I was very anal-retentive about superhero’s, their depictions and interpretations) And since Superman’s back was shown to the readers instead of his face, I was quite confident of my immediate assumption that the cartoonist had only heard of Superman and had never seen him or even knew how he looked like, hence the unwillingness to draw or show his face. Encouraged by this thought, I flipped the pages, hoping to find more cartoons I could critique further and poke fun at but alas. By the end of the hour, I had fallen in love with the book and by the time I went home and hit the bed, I had read as much as I could about R.K Laxman and was converted into a fan. Madam had even allowed me to borrow her book; in fact she lent me some more books of R.K Laxman.
Years later, it was now 26th Jan, 2015. Life had improved drastically. While my parents were busy getting ready for work while trying to watch the parade and absorb it in as much as they could, I who was bored by then was in my room, arranging and rearranging the books in my book cases- an activity that I enjoy tremendously and can never get tired of. While arranging them in a manner that would make a book shop employee jealous, I came across my old R.K Laxman books unexpectedly was hit by this sudden wave of nostalgia. I couldn’t help but smile at the books lovingly: my first encounter with R.K Laxman had not only changed my life, it had also encouraged me to try my own hand at cartooning- an activity which soon turned into a hobby, led to developing more hobbies such as sketching and making pencil portraits which helped me to find more like minded people with the same interests as mine who later became invaluable, close friends. My recollections of those beautiful, positive memories like such improved my day and so I placed the books at the very centre of my book case where it could be viewed by those who entered as a main attraction of sorts. The rest of the day went by quite smoothly and was only ruined when I found out about the master’s death on social media through a friend’s post. When I heard about it, this was how I reacted and remained till the end of the day-
I am just a mere, humble fan- one among billions. Looking at it that way, I really don’t stand out in any special way. But I will promise you this- I will not forget the impact you had on my life, the positive change you brought upon my family. For that I will remain eternally grateful and will remain so till I finally do get the opportunity to meet you at last when my time comes. And when that happens who knows what we’ll do? Maybe we’ll talk discuss Indian politics, or talk about what humanity did further to mess up/improve the planet. Maybe we’ll talk about crows….
Ha! Now there’s a thought. As a non-believer, I really don’t believe in the concept of heaven. But for the moment, let’s say that it exists- I think it would be real fun to just picture R.K Laxman in it, flying across the skies of heaven sitting on a majestic, shiny crow- a creature that he adored so much.
Rest in peace, Mr Laxman. You will be missed sorely.