|Alas ! Sometimes we take intense interest in people only after they leave us forever.|
Thank Your Sir R. K.!
Had it not been for the ‘Pocket Cartoons’, I would not have been a loyal TOI reader. I know my childhood cartoons can never match to the level of your skill but I will surely try to make my attitude and my actions match to the level of your size.
I was just 9 or 10 year old kid when I started playing with colours. Like other kids of my age, making sketches and colouring them soon became my favourite pastime. Though I did not claim to be another ‘M. F. Husain-in-making’, still I used to feel delighted of my creations no matter how disastrous they looked. I used to marvel how can one make cartoons and caricatures? I even tried my hand on making cartoons and sometimes tried my artistic hand in making caricatures of my teachers (luckily never got caught during a running lecture and usually made one symbolic ‘horrible’ face just to represent all those ones who were somehow not in my good books or may be vice versa).
Well, I still wonder upon this piece of creativity on paper i.e. a cartoon. I really look up to those ‘gifted ones’ who manage so well to put their minds on paper and that too so impressively. And among this revered lot, the one who stood apart and the one who stimulated me to look at the social-political scenario in a bit different way (since my-early-childhood-‘Times of India-reading-days’), is none other than ‘Sir’ R. K. What completely floored me was his most appealing visual content. (Now you might be figuring it out if I have borrowed ‘Sir’ from Sir Jadeja, then your guess-work is more or less right.) And this is my way of displaying my unconditional respect for the man who made my newspaper reading way more engaging with his ultimate ‘Hasya Rasa’ through his flawless creations along with his daring approach on the topics covered.
I will have to confess that perhaps that front page ‘The Common Man’ cartoon (as they say the 'pocket cartoon') was like a delicious starter to begin with. That everyday encounter of ‘wit and wisdom’ did play a significant role in making me a committed newspaper reader (who once started newspaper reading just to improve my English as per the guidelines of my visionary father). Had it not been for the ‘Pocket Cartoons’, I would not have been a loyal TOI reader. No doubt, that big, fat bundle of papers did seem pretty tempting with a cartoon somewhere in front. Sometimes I would get a little low after not finding out that most cherished part on some days. Subsequently, the same bundle (without the pocket cartoon) looked as a textbook filled with complex charts, difficult diagrams and tough theories.
To me, Sir R. K. was like a catalyst that secretly and yet successfully encouraged millions of avid newspaper readers just like me. When the news of the demise of this ‘Uncommon Man’ broke out through social media, I just could not stop myself in devoting my time to know a little more about him and his personal life. Alas! Sometimes we take intense interest in people only after they leave us forever. And to my surprise, knowing him as a person left me indeed inspired and truly grateful. Thanks to Professor Google! It was such a wonderful revelation that I read about him over and over again. Though I had the tiniest little glimpse of what they call a ‘life-of-an-icon’, the more I knew about him, the more heartening it felt.
Sir R. K. was born in 1921 in Mysore to R V Krishnaswami, a government official. He was the youngest of eight children. Once he was asked by his class teacher to draw on paper. When it was his turn to show his work, his teacher asked him, “Did you draw it yourself, Laxman?“ He was frightened and stepped back, expecting a shower of blows. Fumbling for a safe excuse, he replied, “You asked us to draw, Sir... I sat there and drew...” But to his great surprise and joy, the teacher held his slate up before the class and announced, “Attention! Look how nicely Laxman has drawn the leaf.” He turned to him and said, “You will be an artist one day. Keep it up.” He was inspired by this unexpected encouragement. He began to think of himself as an artist in the making, never doubting that this was his destiny.
This is how a self-taught artist, Laxman found his calling early in his childhood. As he grew older, his talent found an outlet in the local press, where he illustrated, among other things, the stories of his famous novelist brother R. K. Narayan. Keen on acquiring formal training, he applied to Mumbai’s premier art institution, the J. J. School of Art, but was rudely rejected on the ground that he 'lacked the kind of talent to qualify for enrollment”. It didn’t bog him down and he didn’t lose his heart either. Determined to make it as a cartoonist, Laxman left Mysore after his graduation, shuttling between cities and assignments. And as a twist of fate, he started his ‘no-looking-back-break’ with The Times of India in 1947. Well, I am hugely appreciative of the fact that years later, at a J. J. function, he was invited to be the chief guest.
As his glorious career proved, the lack of academic training didn’t turn out to be a stumbling block for him. Once on being asked about the stress of producing two cartoons a day for years on end, he quoted classically (and this is what impressed me the most about him as a professional), “Let me tell you one thing. Just because I have drawn for so many years, it does not mean that I can just come into this room and dash off a cartoon. Every day is just like the first day; the agony, the pain. You cannot tell yourself, today I’m going to be first-rate, tomorrow second-rate because I’m tired. No. You may owe it to nobody else, but you owe it to yourself, to your conscience, to be consistently excellent. The predatory animal of Time is following you, and the Damocles sword of the deadline is hanging over your head but you cannot let down even for a minute.”
I would like to believe that Sir R.K.’s life is an enormous encouragement in itself. And his life taught me three most important life lessons. First, follow your heart and be in charge of your life. Sometimes it’s good to follow your heart. Trust in what you are made of and follow where it leads you. Second, never ever give up on your dreams even when the whole world gives up on you. Whether you make it out or not, there is something what separates a dream from a daydream and that largely comes down to you: your attitudes and your actions. And third, ‘do not let yourself down even for a minute’. Greatness is not possible at the push of a button. One has to dream big and act bigger. I know my childhood cartoons can never match to the level of his skill but I will surely try to make my attitude and my actions match to the level of his size. Thank you so very much for this and for everything. As they say, ‘Jest’ in peace, Sir R. K.
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