I grew up watching and reading two people, RK Laxman and RK Narayan; they always represented common man in a very dignified manner. Their work spoke volumes about their concerns for common man of this country. A stint with Free Press Journal is very close to my heart. I began my career in journalism with this daily newspaper. Many legends have contributed to “Free Press Journal”, this is Mumbai’s very old newspaper, which is an institution for journalists like me.
Among his thousands of cartoons, the one which always makes me laugh the loudest is this one: The ubiquitous politician delivering his speech from a stage: “With what I have said just now, I vehemently deny what I have said in the earlier part of my speech.” How does the common man react to this? That common man in Dhoti-Kurta and stick, eye brows are almost at the top of his head and his eyes are popping out almost one inch from their sockets. The Common Man generally acts as a silent witness to all the action in his comics.
R.K.Laxman had shown how shallow our politicians are at all times; how they jump to make comments without even thinking, only to contradict themselves later on after they receive flak from the public and peers. With his death, we have lost an intelligent thinker, who could make us forget our cruel world for a few moments every day. He gave the common man a distinct identity and status. His cartoons were unsparing in their criticism but being sophisticated in design they were never libelous. He was one of a kind and there can never be another like him. Whether sketching crows or politicians of every hue, his eye for details was fantastic.
R K Laxman joined the Free Press Journal in 1946 as a political cartoonist, where his colleague was none other than a young Bal Thackeray, also an admirer of David Low and an aspiring political cartoonist. Many legends from old say that Thackeray started the Shiv Sena because Laxman was a better cartoonist. He did a variety of jobs for the paper, far beyond what the salary justified, including producing a political cartoon every alternate day. Bal Thackeray’s cartoons were more like political satire but RK Laxman’s cartoons were more on the victimisation of common man. Those days even RK Narayan touched millions of hearts of common man of this country with his Malgudi days.
The town called Malgudi was RK Narayan’s creation –. Just the mention of that name spells magic as far as viewers of Nag’s ‘Malgudi Days’ are concerned. The message that ‘Malgudi Days’ conveys represents every human emotion and personality there ever was and ever will be. We truly miss Shankar Nag’s genius and RK Narayan’s wisdom. The stories are simple yet moving. Some of these stories do have elements of suspense and thrillers and almost all of them have healthy humour and existential questions do prop up in understanding some of them. These stories as a whole look like celebration of life in all its forms.
There is a common theme in all these stories: A person is in a unique crisis. This might be crisis of faith or existential nightmare or a peculiar event leading to his crisis. Malgudi Days has become part of memories of great old days which make many of us nostalgic. As I watch these episodes again after a long time, I find that the characters are so intriguing and so perfectly played by some very good artists. The credit indeed goes to great stories written by R K Narayan. Without these stories it would have been impossible to create such profound impact in the hearts of people. Nothing better than Malgudi Days has ever been telecasted in Indian TV in my opinion.
The setting for most of Narayan’s stories is the fictional town of Malgudi, first introduced in Swami and Friends. His narratives highlight social context and provide a feel for his characters through glimpses from their everyday life. He has been compared to William Faulkner, who also created a fictional town that stood for reality, brought out the humour and energy from ordinary life, and displayed compassionate humanism in his writing. Narayan’s short story writing style has been compared to that of Guy de Maupassant, as they both have an ability to compress the narrative without losing out on elements of the story. Narayan has also been criticised for being too simple in his prose and diction.
In the meantime, somewhere we all grew in a world that R.K.Laxman, RK Narayan, Bal Thackeray ruled with their cartoons and writings. They all left us with time, today India needs them the most. RK Laxman’s cartoons were informing, aptly meant for the common man. People who could not read could follow the scene and even the people who were being grilled in those images felt the levity about the predicament that he portrayed, so deftly. He helped to keep those ministers and their actions in check.
R K Laxman entertained us for about sixty long years with his rib- tickling and thought-provoking political cartoons. He was one of the most respected and honoured caricaturists in the world. He was not a Head of a State, but many Heads of States respected him for his biting sarcasm. He was not a politician, yet many politicians loved him for his clean political criticism. Laxman was not as popular in the South as his older brother and famous writer R. K. Narayan. But both of them became a household name when Laxman drew illustrations for his brother’s TV serial, Malgudi Days. His drawing, ‘the Common Man” earned uncommon name and fame for its creator. His ‘Common Man’, resembled Laxman himself, became a great hit for his incisive comments on almost all things that touched and changed the life of the man in the street. He had many things in common with his sibling RKN.
Now we have to accept that they all are living as every common man. Sometimes we just have to accept the fact we can’t explain everything, so let him pass to paint in heaven.