The 'recluse' who wasn't: R K in Bengaluru

The 'recluse' who wasn't:  R K in Bengaluru

Fellow cartoonists had no qualms labelling R K Laxman “reclusive”, despite being inspired by his acerbic wit and detailed drawing style.

However, his frequent visits to Bengaluru to stay connected with his relatives and his acceptance of a “Lifetime Achievement” award from the Indian Institute of Cartoonists (IIC) here in 2002 demolished that aura. IIC was categorical in its recognition of the legend’s contribution to Indian cartooning through the last decade.

IIC president V G Narendra’s analysis echoed the Institute’s high regards for the artist: “Laxman’s cartoons, the eloquence of his strokes catapulted Indian cartooning to international standards.”

The gallery’s exhibition of about 100 of Laxman's cartoons in 2009 was followed by a much-publicised discovery of the legend’s unpublished doodles from his Mysuru home. “Those doodles were the basis for his affectionate nickname as ‘Doodu'. In 2011, we displayed those works, generating much interest,” recalled Narendra.

The unrelenting interest in his works had IIC arrange two more shows, one based on his best political works, and another focused on his caricatures. Though a man of few words, Laxman’s pocket cartoons were studies in verbosity. But Gujjar, a noted Bengaluru-based cartoonist, was not ready to generalise.

“Of course his pocket cartoons were wordy. But that was his style. He also drew cartoons that had two-word captions.”

Gujjar had heard some Delhi cartoonists term Laxman an illustrator more than a cartoonist. Yet, the veteran’s political objectivity, brought home day after day through pungent, unsparing lines, outshone all such definitions. “He never took sides, and that’s what made him stand out,” said Gujjar.

Laxman had illustrated many books of his brother R K Narayan. But those were “cartoon” illustrations and had a life of their own. “His style, like that of many other cartoonists such as Shankar and Bal Thackeray, was inspired by David Lowe. Laxman Indianised that style,” said Gujjar.

This deliberate distancing, perhaps, added ammunition to his critics, who branded him haughty.

Cartoonists held him and his art in high esteem, yet did not feel encouraged enough. But the popularity of his “common man” transcended them all.

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