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Freedom to Cartoon, Freedom to Speak Author(s): R. K. Laxman Reviewed work(s): Source: Daedalus ,
Freedom to Cartoon, Freedom to Speak Author(s): R. K. Laxman Reviewed work(s): Source: Daedalus ,

Freedom to Cartoon, Freedom to Speak Author(s): R. K. Laxman Reviewed work(s):

Source: Daedalus, Vol. 118, No. 4, Another India (Fall, 1989), pp. 68-91 Published by: The MIT Press on behalf of American Academy of Arts & Sciences

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U

U

Freedom

Freedom

to Cartoon,

to Speak

^

R

rr

. K.

r

Laxman

^^Snly

a political cartoonist would

leave for

subject would

that

fear utopia: what his art? Political

cartooning

has,

however,

survived

for

fifty

years

in changing

India,

through

the sharp

tongues

and

pencils of its inceptors.During

the Emergency of

Mrs.

Gandhi's

causing

chuckles

reign,

as well

censors

as

those

blitzed

inducing

cartoons

silence.

That situation provides a perfect description of the irony in everyday life that the political cartoonist

attempts to convey. While always political,

cartoon characters satirize without

shrill

India's

calls

to

action. They provide

hearing

one's

humor

the relief that comes with

and

hope

voiced

publicly.

The

art

of

cartooning

is alien

to

the Orient,

although

satire

in verse,

prose, and drama has flourished

immemorial.

in this part of theworld

from time

subtle

In the early days folk songs and folktales made

comments

rulers.

But

lighter

On

vein

the

on

errant

human

did

nature,

not

seem

social

to

evils,

and

their

visual

at

any

artists

time

employ

to provoke

humorous

thought

or

ancient

Sanskrit

stage

the

character

Vidushaka,

dim-witted

talent

in

laughter.

a kind

a

of

jester, would

in

a

play

Vidushaka's

goings-on

indulge

and

send

remarks

in

irreverent

the

always

audience

had

in the kingdom.

asides

into

at deadly

convulsions

serious

of

something

to

do

with

moments

laughter.

current

R.

K.

Laxman

is a political

cartoonist

at

the Times

of

India.

69

70 R. K. Laxman

But

our

graphie

artist

was

at

all

times

preoccupied

with

painting

gods and their glorious deeds. Even such paintings were few and far between ifwe can judge from the evidence available today. Perhaps

because the humid

tropical conditions

shortened the life of paintings

the

He

artist

chose

feltmore

a more

lasting

at home with

medium

in stone

chisel and mallet

to preserve

his work.

and sculpted away

in

marble

demons

and

and

granite

dancing

a

profusion

of

damsels,

d a m s e l s , v a r y i n g

varying

temples,

in size

images

of

gods

from

the gigantic

to

and

the

most

delicate filigree design.

In England, the birthplace of the political cartoon, this art arrived

the

late,

long

after prose

for

and

and

poetry

Cartooning

had

satirized

appeared

to

society

only

in

and

the

It

is

government

seventeenth

recent origin

its appearance

centuries.

By

late

of

century.

by

it spread

the Continent.

in India. It came here along with

only

of

a

little more

than

half

their

effort

imbibed

to

many

colonize

British

a

with

the passage

language,

the

few,

came

over

soil.

the British and made

ago.

we

for

and

culture,

of

as

course,

England

a century

the

tastes,

time

our

habit,

this manner

In

the

course

The

subcontinent,

and

from

very practical

habits,

which

reasons

became

English

in our

eccentricities,

second

of

newspaper

in

itwere.

cricket,

and

to mention

root

took

Meanwhile,

comic

drawings

the

and

London

humorous

almost

jokes were

weekly

our

first

Punch

exposure

arrived.

Its

to

this kind

of artwhich

distorted reality. The educated class of Indianswho were

in a minority

this magazine.

Even

and could read and write English became addicted

Punch

became

a household

name

and

a

synonym

understand

the captions

could

characters

with

exaggerated

ears

at

seaside

and

visual

with

form

was

it that

bean-pole-like

an

they

altogether

came

those who

at

the

noses,

educated,

They

drawings

at obese

humor

were

so

couldn't

of

women

in this

impressed

to

for

enjoy

and

men.

new

humor.

looking

elongated

For

the

experience.

to believe

that British humor was

the best. Although

indigenous

jokes and

anecdotes

dialects,

because

above

humor.

thrived

in many

regions

in various

local

languages

they unfortunately

of

the

language

all

the

This

community's

indifference

remained at the level of private

the paucity

of

printed

to

the matter

of

matter,

laughter

among

barriers,

indifference

resulted

in a misunderstanding

and

jokes

and

and

the

English that the Indian lacked a sense of humor. The educated Indian,

eager

to

be

counted

out

of

this

class

of

less

educated

countrymen,

Freedom

to Cartoon,

Freedom

to Speak

71

heartily agreed with the misconception. and

gained

general

acceptance.

Thus

the

impression

spread

With

the

introduction

of

the printing

press

later,

a few

newspapers

appeared

and,

taking

care

not

to

tread

on

the

sensitivity

of

the

colonial

rulers,

began

to air

local

issues.

These

papers

were

mostly

in

English,

vernacular

but

Of

course,

there were

languages.

the press

also

at

the

a

few magazines

time

did

not

play

catering

any

role

to

as

readers

of

a weapon

to strike a blow for democracy or freedom. It merely applauded the philanthropic acts of some individuals or preached at length against such issues as child marriage or condemned the lack of social

consciousness,

remain

in

significance

were

coming

this

were

unclean

benign

taking

into

existence.

habits,

state

place

and

for

all

the

like.

But

the

press

did

not

Events

of

great

national

the

country.

Political

parties

social

reform,

self-rule,

and

long.

over

for

Demands

freedom to discuss national affairs on the public platform and in the

press

began

to

be

voiced.

The

British

rulers heard

it all, but although

they practiced and

the

guarantor

applied to the Indians. They reacted predictably by passing laws to

preached democracy at home and zealously guarded

of human

dignity

and

fair play,

they did not

it

believe

as

it

stifle

the

voice

of

freedom.

This

action

only

gave

vitality

and

legitimacy

the

freedom

press

to

the

cause

to

and

stirred

the

of

up

national

consciousness.

Now

muscle.

It

exercised

criticized

the

the

comments

and

clamped

rulers

got

down

began

of

the

show

signs

cautiously,

developing

of

course,

and

country.

them

When

seditious

expression

style

of

and

bolder,

their

governing

authorities

considered

with

censorship. Editors were

duly punished with

fines and impris

onment.

down.

In this

process

Only

those

that

some

of

advocated

the more

freedom

daring

in

newspapers

a mild,

muted

closed

tone

survived.

The

ensure

political

his

annoy

paper's

any

cartoonist worked

survival.

person

He

kept

or

question

angels,

under

his

ideas

restricted conditions

to broad

symbols

so

to

as

any

policy.

lions,

Thus,

snakes,

his

jackals,

cartoons

and

not

abounded

to

in monsters,

tigers,

elephants. There were, of course, the celebrated

to represent theBritish rulers.A dove-eyed suffering angel symbolized

bulldog

and the lion

mother

India,

otherwise

known

as Bharat

Mata.

The

other

creatures

72 R. K. Laxman

in the cartoonist's

want,

As

famine,

and

the

national

menagerie

variously

represented

to

violence,

of

injustice,

cartoonist

pestilence

according

struggle

began

to gain

the needs

momentum,

the hour.

the

ventured

colonial

ganda

trayed flaming patriotism

to draw

ruler.

posters

But

than

and

of

impersonal

the

the paunchy,

still

with

the

way

thick-set John Bull to represent the

were

more

satirical

in

line with

in line with

comments.

They

propa

por

the alien ruler, but

in a

set by

the

but

of

system.

presented

the

nation

The

in

in

them.

Again,

the

cartoons

significant

and

within

was

Bharat

always

Mata,

"Imperialism"

"Imperialism"

lampooned

a

safe

vague

theme

innumerable

with

chains

limit

the

cartoons

same

variations:

the

legend

the mother

written

on

same lady was

shown being crushed under

the jackboot of John Bull

or being burdened with

the deadweight

of colonial exploitation.

At

this

time

there

is no way

to gauge

the

reader to these flamboyant

the

cartoons.

Perhaps

same

interest

and

uncritical

acceptance

reaction

of

the

viewed

common

with

towards

they were

that was

shown

an illustration

activity

in a book round

poets

of mythological

the mythology

composed

based

on

tales. Our

entire creative

and

the

Rama,

the

revolved

and

of

songs

the Ramayana

in

praise

classics

and

of

Mahabharata.

Krishna,

The

Shiva.

the dance

Similarly,

form was

the

so was

art of sculpture, which

always depicted devotional

likely that the cartoons of John Bull and BharatMata

themes. It is very

appeared to the

viewer

versions

as

extensions

the

eternal

of

conflict

those

mythical

between

evil

concepts,

and

good.

showing

in new

In

fact,

in

later

years,

when

the

cartoonist

gained

a

little more

independence, his task of

looking for ideaswas

because

he

borrowed

dents

and

anecdotes

from

in our mythology

heavily

the

numerous

and

dressed

considerably

ready-made

eased

inci

them

up

to fit

the

irony in current political

events. Thus

the ten-headed demon

king

Ravana

came

in very

handy

to represent

the number

of

evil

aspects

of

the alien administration.

alism through reformswhich were

Similarly, the British rulers' show of

liber

of doubtful benefit to the people,

shot

down

by

the

nationalist

party,

was

shown

in the

role

of Rama,

with his mythological bow and arrow representing in a complicated way the combined forces of patriotism and determination. Now these

cartoons

taste. Nevertheless,

may

seem

were

illiterate

or

somewhat

they made

semiliterate.

clumsy

a great

They

and

were

crude

impression

able

to our

sophisticated

on

to

the people

comprehend

who

the

Freedom

to Cartoon,

Freedom

to Speak

73

political

manner

prevailing

Though

content

familiar

Sample

of a Vintage

in a cartoon

because

Cartoon

itwas

presented

to

them

and

they

were

able

to

situation.

they were

called

cartoons,

the

rudiments

of

to

relate

them

it

to

in

a

the

cartoons

as we

know

them

were

missing.

They

academic

type.

The

cartoonist

were

of

those

rather

days

jejune

drawings

was

basically

of

a painter

the

74 R. K. Laxman

from

the

art

schools

trained

to

turn

noblemen

and

other

classical

characters.

out

portraits

For

pecuniary

of

kings

reasons

and

he

became

academic

caricature

a

style, which

cartoonist.

But

alas,

he

could

not

shake

off

the

stiff

training and allow his lines the free flow

that is the soul of

and

he

cartoon.

no

doubt

To

add

to

it the ubiquitous for

saw

regularly

inspiration

Punch

and

magazine

sometimes

for copying, when

he desperately

needed

guidance

in drawing

figure,

England

stood

in the way

of

flexibility

of draftsmanship.

in those

days

the popular

cartoonists

were

Bernard

Even

Partridge

a

in

and John Tenniel, who

adhered to a classical style with

no

liberty

taken

cartoonist

in

drawing

under

human

the

features

of

influence

or

the

the

Punch

human

artists

figure.

and

So

his

our

own

limitations

continued

to

draw

cartoons

without

distortion

or

caricature

in them.

 

But the Indian cartoonists did not

remain docile

any

element

of

and banal. The

nation

The

became

for

cry

engaged

in a determined

itwas

echoing

loud

and

effort

to gain

clear

from

every

independence.

corner

of

the

subcontinent. The press, both small and large, had become bolder

in

attacking the British and openly demanded

that they quit. The British

were

hesitant

to

resort

to

summary

punishments

and

arrests,

for not

only had world

opinion

become a factor to reckon with

in interna

tional

and were

affairs

on

attracted

but

commanding

also

our

own

political

as

leaders

The

leader

of

freedom

cause.

So much

had

gained

in

editorial

was

in stature

a

big

way

writers

international

scene

to

respect.

the

the

for

his

arrival

the

struggle

The

of Mahatma

Independence

Gandhi

movement

the

gave

political

a moral

boost

sympathy

and

became

The

world

unsparing

cartoonist

in attacking

did

not

the British.

lag behind.

happening the strait jacket of

politically

that he could not help getting out of

conventional

imperial

draftmanship

representatives?viceroys,

and mythological

governors,

ideas.

Real

collectors,

people,

and

the

com

missioners?were

Mahatma

favorite

toothless

him

of

making

besides

cartoonist.

his

unique

the

make

their

being

His

attire,

grotesque

a great

appearance

leader

in his

was

his

cartoons.

a great

puckish,

him

made

in

Gandhi,

the

smile,

of

of men,

with

about

whole

and

Even

appearance

other

an

factors

the delight

caricaturists.

a highly

inexperienced

beginner

caricature

of

him!

cartooning

could

competent

At about this time a young New

Zealander

had

left his homeland

and

sailed

to England

to

become

the

greatest

cartoonist

the world

Freedom

to Cartoon,

Freedom

to Speak

75

had

concepts,

ever

known.

His

name

his

use

of

material

was

David

Low.

were

altogether

His

new

style,

in

his

the

visual

field

of

figurative satire. Instead of the usual quill he used brush, which made

his drawing bold,

simple, and clear. He

had a genius for the art of

caricature,

facial

grotesque

which

again

a

was

features

and

of

crude,

celebrity

which

unique.

He

and

used

distort

to be

had

the gift

to exaggerate

them

without

making

the practice

earlier.

Besides,

the

them

he

had a deep knowledge

of politics andwas

a committed champion of

social justice. The appearance

in the

style

of his

on

cartoons

in the

satirical

art world

of his

1920s

soon

and

the

had

sprang

Low's

a great

up

work

impact

in every

other

of

own

cartoonists.

the world

the

imitations

in

the

through

reproduced

they were

Imitations

part

seen.

their

where

course

sheer

somewhat

cartooning

came

of

nowhere

time

such

incompetence

in

some

of

outdated

the

existed

near

cartoons

was

effort.

But

However,

great

acquired

good

master's

copies

Low's

a quality

of

of

Low's

cartoons

in making

that

newspapers

In

work.

were

period

in our

country,

although

by the time they reached the Indian shores by boat and their themes

had

no

trade

subjects

relevance

union

of

in the

movment,

his

cartoons.

context

and

of

our

Tory-Whig

Occasionally

politics:

the

Irish problem,

wranglings

used

were

he

to draw

usually

cartoons

the

the

on

colonial rule and onMahatma

Gandhi's

arrest and civil disobedience

movement.

Whatever

the

subject,

itwas

a

cartoons. Our

Indian cartoonist was

duly

joy

to

look

at Low's

vivid

influenced by the force of

his

lines

and

and

the

the

need

Bernard

come

care with

folds

which

and

he

drew

of

human

course,

anatomy,

without

twist.

of Punch

The

buildings,

losing

fame,

sight

had

cartoonist

This

furniture,

of

the

By

become

seemed

in a dress?all,

give

vital

then,

to distort

a comical

Partridge

and

inescapably

receded

and