Character of an uncommon man

RK Laxman’s famous caricature was the voice of the common man

shishir

Shishir Tripathi | January 27, 2015 | New Delhi



An 8-ft high bronze statue of a man clad in dhoti-kurta and a jacket stands tall at the entrance of the Symbiosis International University's Vishwa Bhavan campus in Pune. Holding a book in his hand and the scant hair on his balding head standing upright, the man looks bewildered. A youngster tries to figure out the cult of the man and asks his friend about his identity. The friend shrugs: “It must be a freedom fighter or a politician.”

Indeed, the common man no longer goes about in a dhoti-kurta, and the millennials may not connect with the famous character created by RK Laxman for the Times of India in 1951, but he remains an iconic figure for a vast majority of English newspaper reading Indians.

Much before the ‘aam aadmi’ became a political rhetoric, Laxman conceptualized, and made famous, a caricature of a common man. Much before the 140-word twitter voice of people was invented, Laxman gave us a character and a voice of fewer words, but immense impact. His ‘common man’ staring from the front page of the daily gave us a reason to start our morning with a smile. Anger, helplessness and, at sometimes, impotent rage, were the other emotions one went through while scanning the cartoon. Whatever the emotion of the day, one looked it up the first thing in the morning paper.  

Laxman, the creator of the ‘common man’ died on Monday at the age of 94, in Pune.

I was not born into the generation which woke up every morning to the cartoons of Laxman -- the cartoonist of post-independent India, but I certainly did not miss out on the timelessness of his caricatures of the common man. The reality of a vain Indian, as portrayed by Laxman did not escape me. His satire was subtle and succinct.

‘You Said It’ -- the cartoon, talked about the subtle aspirations of the common man, his anxieties, failing state and the state that failed him.  It was about the bewilderment of “we the people” at the apathy of the powerful.

My personal favourite among all his cartoons I chanced upon was one titled, “Man on the Moon Project”. Scientists at the ‘Space centre’ are huddled together. Another scientist enters the room with a potential astronaut – Laxman’s ‘common man’ – and says, “This is our man, he can survive without water, food, light, air, shelter…”


Postscript: I wanted to write an obituary of Laxman. But all I could write is a caution: Angels, pull up your socks. The humorist will be there soon. Get the house in order or else the ‘common man’ will arrive.

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