R K Laxman, cartoonist, humorist, illustrator and the genius behind “the Common Man” passed away in Pune on Monday leaving behind a rich legacy in the form of his cartoons.
Often referred to as the “Uncommon Man”, Laxman was the true voice of the ordinary citizen which came through the strokes of this creative genius. His pocket cartoon, “You Said It,” that appears in “The Times of India”, connected well with the common man and highlighted his plight.
Such was the impact of his cartoons that several generations of newspaper readers would first have a look at the Common Man and then go for the headlines. Laxman had once said about the Common Man, “…he is silent, he listens.”
His caricature of prime ministers, chief ministers, top leaders, celebrities and sportspersons reflected the most unique part of their personality–sharp nose for Indira Gandhi, lips of P V Narasimha Rao, the curly hair of batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar and the tall stature of actor Amitabh Bachchan.
Since 1951, the Common Man represented the hopes, aspirations, troubles and perhaps even foibles of the ordinary Indian. Clad in a dhoti and a jacket, the “the Common Man” has not missed anything.
Born in Mysore on October 24, 1921, Rasipuram Krishnaswamy Iyer Laxman was attracted to cartoons from his childhood. As a child, Laxman was engrossed in illustrations in “The Strand Magazine”, “Punch”, “Bystander”, “Wide World” and “Tit-Bits”, even before he could read. Incidentally, his application to Sir J J School of Arts was rejected.
Laxman’s earliest work was for newspapers and magazines such as “Swarajya” and “Blitz”. While studying at the Maharaja College, Mysore, he began doing illustrations for his elder brother R K Narayan’s stories in “The Hindu”, and he drew political cartoons for local newspapers and for “Swatantra”. He also did illustrations for Narayan’s “Malgudi Days”.
His first full-time job was as a political cartoonist for the “The Free Press Journal” in Mumbai. The late Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray was his colleague.
Laxman later joined “The Times of India”, beginning a career that has spanned for over 50 years. Laxman is a recipient of the Padma Vibhushan and the Ramon Magsasay Award. His autobiography, “The Tunnel of Time,” was an instant hit.
Among his other creations include “Gattu” of the Asian Paints. He also observed crows deeply and it is found in several of his creations.
He preferred to stay away from the limelight and in his autobiography he mentions that he never kept a diary, referred to a calendar or wore a watch.
Laxman first married Bharatanatyam dancer and actor Kumari Kamala Laxman, who began her film career as a child artiste named “Baby Kamala,” and graduated into adult roles under the name Kumari Kamala. They later divorced.
Laxman then married a children’s book writer who’s name was again Kamala. His son Srinivas is a senior journalist based in Mumbai.