The proposed memorial to legendary cartoonist RK Laxman, announced by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis in Pune last week, must be erected in Mumbai, his family has urged.
“The CM was very kind to announce the memorial, but the location has not been specified. We, especially my daughter Rimanika and wife Usha, are keen that it should come up in Mumbai, where Laxman spent over seven decades of his life and The Common Man was born,” said son Srinivas Laxman.
He said that it was the vibrant and never-say-die spirit of the ordinary Mumbaikar that inspired the image of Laxman’s bespectacled creation – The Common Man – always silent with a confused and bewildered expression at the antics of politicians, generally in his trademark check shirt with dhoti, and a tuft of hair clinging to the sides of his worry-marked pate.
Srinivas, himself a retired journalist from The Times Of India (ToI) and now a specialist writer on space exploration, said that his father started his cartooning career in Mumbai and walked the streets of the city, saw it developing into a global financial centre and chronicled it through his sketches.
“He had a long, 60-year old friendship with another great Mumbaikar and cartoonist, the late Bal Thackeray. They used to have lunch and tea at Chetna Restaurant in those days, laugh and joke. Before his death, Thackeray had visited my dad in Pune,” Srinivas said.
During lunch breaks, or on lean working days, Laxman and other senior editors of ToI would go for walks in the old, bustling Dalal Street (before the 29-storied BSE Building came up in 1980), Strand Book Stall, Jehangir Art Gallery, the Colaba Causeway, Flora Fountain, and other parts which comprised the CBD (central business district) of Mumbai, Srinivas said, explaining how his father got inspired for his works which became historic creations.
In the 1940s, when Laxman first came to Mumbai, he lived in the Mirabelle Hotel – which no longer exists – at Marine Lines and then at other smaller places before moving to his flat in the posh Breach Candy area, where he spent 70 years of his life.
Owing to practical reasons – the Mumbai building does not have a lift – the 86-year old Laxman shifted to Pune in April 2008. “But, his heart always beat for Mumbai. He always wanted to return and live here,” Usha said.
In fact, during his frequent visits from Pune to Mumbai, Laxman enjoyed going for long drives in various areas and loved to watch the crowds at Churchgate, Marine Lines, the Chowpatty Beach and the bhelpuriwalas, the CST and the vicinity of ToI, as also some other old haunts, and always appeared pleased and excited.
On a more personal level, the family would miss Laxman`s delightful annual `Happy Birthday gifts` in the form of a sketch of Rimanika or Srinivas, and also doting daughter-in-law Usha.
“Practically from my birth, he used to make at least one annual sketch on my birthday. Later he did some for Usha, who was very close to him, and then regularly for his grand-daughter Rimanika,” Srinivas said.
Once, during a college event, the young and shy Srinivas was billed as R.K. Laxman`s “Greatest Creation”!
“But, we took it in our stride…” he laughs today over the incident in a south Mumbai college over four decades ago.
According to the family, a Laxman memorial in Mumbai would be a befitting tribute to both the great city and its prime resident, The Common Man, whose statue is already installed at Worli.