The creator of the Common Man, RK Laxman is undoubtedly one of the greatest cartoonists ever. An illustrator and humorist par excellence, his on-the-point cartoons speak a thousand words.
Early life of RK Laxman
RK Laxman was born in Mysore on 24 October 1921 to the son of headmaster. He was the youngest of his eight siblings and the brother of RK Narayan, who went to become India’s legendary writer.
Even before he started to speak, he would scribble and draw. Before he could even read, he would immerse himself in the illustrations in the books and magazines.
The pictures that were drawn in the famous Strand magazine would attract his attention since childhood. Like his Common Man who silently observes everything, he would do so. He would look out from his window and see the shape of the twigs and leaves and put it into drawing. He would watch men and women going about their daily tasks and sketch them. His keen eye for expression and detail is what laid the foundation for his groundbreaking cartoons.
Since early days, RK Laxman was a different kind of a child. While other kids would cry and wail when left at school, he would actually look forward to it. For him, it was a new vantage point.
A classmate would be more like a character to be sketched on paper. However the most interesting painting subjects were his teachers. RK Laxman found the character of his teachers vastly interesting. He would sketch them in their caricatures. While his friends loved the way he portrayed their nature, some teachers would even appreciate and encourage him.
However not all of his teachers took it well. At one time he sketched one grumpy teacher looking somewhat like a tiger cub. Of course he did not like it and the young cartoonist got his due with the cane.
RK Laxman spent a rich childhood, culturally. His house was frequented by many musicians and dancers. He got a chance to interact with writers, artists and visionaries. His imagination grew and so did his sense of humour and sensitivity.
He would also meet film artists and royal family members who would visit his home. Exposure to the various levels of society gave him an experience and wisdom that would later reflect through his illustrations.
While RK Laxman was still growing up in his childhood days, his father suffered a serious stroke. It resulted in paralysis and within a year he passed away. His older siblings took up the responsibility of the family and let the youngest sibling to carry on with his education.
After RK Laxman finished his schooling, he wished to get a professional degree in art and drawing. He applied at J. J. School of Art, one of the best art schools at the then Bombay. With his application, he had also sent samples of his sketches and drawings. However his portfolio did not impress the teachers at the JJ School. They thought he was not talented enough to do well at their art school and rejected him.
While he was disappointed, he did not give up. While he completed his graduation at the University of Mysore, he also continued to draw. He would work as a freelancer while he was still a student. It is interesting that after many years when RK Laxman gained popularity and awards, it was this same JJ School of Art who invited him to be an honorary guest.
RK Laxman, while he pursued part time and freelancing jobs at different magazines, discovered his flair as a political cartoonist. Perhaps it was the reason why he secured a job at the Times of India office. There he created his famous Common Man in the comic strip ‘You said it’. His Common Man continued to live for fifty years through the newspaper until his final retirement.
The cartoons of RK Laxman
The cartoons of RK Laxman are a rare blend of humour, politics and observation. Each and every character displays the art of caricature in a very relatable form. It is not easy to display the hard hitting truths of life so simply in just one picture. The truth is that his cartoons speak a thousand times more than a newspaper article.
Humour can be a great weapon if you know how to use it. It is just like fire; one has to enjoy the ‘light’ without getting into it. A great sense of humour requires a very sensitive and wise mind, something that we see loads in the cartoonist.
RK Laxman would showcase the hardest hitting truths in such a manner which was easy to understand. But the drawings and dialogues were emsembled with layers of interpretation. If you have the intelligence to see to the bottom of the issue, you might just see what lies behind the cartoon.
RK Laxman’s The Common Man
The presence of the Common Man is comical as well as heartrending. The Common Man was democracy personified and in a way he also is how we are expected to be as a citizen in India. The Common Man was first borne on print in 1951 and for fifty years he has actively lived amongst us until his creator’s retirement.
The Common Man created by RK Laxman has found his place among many admirers. Salman Rushdie mentions him in two of his books. An eight feet tall bronze statue of the Common Man stands in Pune and another one is in Mumbai. An airline has made him their mascot. The Government of India has released a postage stamp in his honour.
The Common is a simplest of an Indian in its visage. Clad in traditional dhoti and nonchalant in appearance, he is one of those men we overlook every day on the streets. He is balding and lacks luster. But what makes every common man special is his presence.
He is the citizen of a nation that has hopes, aspirations and a lot of scope but is brought down by men who are corrupt and stupid. A lot of slyness goes around trying to befool the Common Man. But he sees all through it, like the silent observer. Appalled and disappointed yes but not without hope. Because hope is what makes him live through all this.
Witty Quotes by RK Laxman
Here are witty and sassy quotes of the master cartoonist. Not only RK Laxman spoke through picturesm he was sharp with words as well!
” Britishers who came to India missed Indian humour since they couldn’t understand our sense of domestic humour. They thought Indians have no sense of humour!”
- Cartooning is the art of insult and ridicule.
- Crows are so good looking, so intelligent. Where will I find characters like that in politics?
- Each morning I grumble, I plan to resign as I drag myself to office. By the time I come home I like my work!
“Every one of my drawings is my favourite.”
- Every single tree spelt adventure. I would scramble right to their top and watch the world from the heights.
- Frankly, our politics is so sad that if I had not been a cartoonist, I would have committed suicide.
- Generally, people take everything for granted. They hardly see anything around them.
- I am grateful to our politicians. They have not taken care of the country, but me.
“I do not remember wanting to do anything else except draw.”
- I have not forgotten that you can see the world through pieces of coloured glass.
- I think everybody enjoys it when our mighty politicians are exposed in a comical and often ludicrous light.
“My common man is omnipresent. He’s been silent all these 50 years. He simply listens.”
- My sketch pen is not a sword, it’s my friend.
- Only when we grow older do we learn to be kind and realise that selfishness is bad. But even then not all of us learn these things. Otherwise, why would there be fights and wars?
- Searching for new ideas is an endless process.
- To a child, reality seems much more fabulous than fantasy.
” The cartoon contains observation, sense of humour, sense of the ridiculous and contradiction – life! “
Credits: www.rklaxman.com, archive.org/details/TheBestOfLaxmanCartoonsVolume4/page/n207