Strokes of a genius

The word genius is defined in the Webster’s Dictionary as a person with a natural ability and a great mental capacity and also an inventive ability to create a great and original creation of some sort. This definition perfectly fits my youngest uncle, the brilliant, one and only R K Laxman.

The earliest memory I have of him was when I was 4 years old. Every Thursday at 3 pm, he would take me on the bar of his 26-inch Raleigh bicycle for a business ride. I would sit cross legged on the bicycle bar humming a tune. We would go up our road in Lakshmipuram, Mysore and turn left on Vanivilas Road, go down half a mile, turn right at Chamarajpuram Post Office and dispatch my other uncle, R K Narayan’s writing for the week for the Sunday Hindu. We would be back home in 20 minutes. RKL was still a final year student at the Maharaja’s College then.

My next fond memory is after almost 40 years, and relates to the way he worked. Throughout his career, he was in the office of the Times of India, Bombay, from 8.30 am till late in the evening. From 9 am to 1 pm, he would read news items, political analysis, editorial commentaries, etc in almost all newspapers of the country, constantly contemplating the next day’s cartoon.

He never missed the three-column cartoon that appeared four days a week and “You Said It”, a single column daily cartoon. He did this for almost 50 years. He would say that creation of a new cartoon with a punch line was extremely tough to start with, but it became easy once the idea took shape. He would have put in almost 10 hours of work every day all through his career. This is what probably made him one of the finest cartoonists India has ever produced and the best part is, he sincerely believed that he was the finest cartoonist in the country, and could never be equalled!

Here are a couple of his best cartoons, so chosen by me because I was either physically present when the thought behind the creation originated or it was about a subject I liked.

Once, when he was in Delhi as my guest, he took me to watch the Parliament session from the spectator’s gallery upon a special invite from an MP. While entering the Parliament, he mentioned that “climbing up the building becomes extremely difficult”. The next day’s cartoon in ToI, Bombay, ran his creation — sent all the way from Delhi — that showed a fairly fat Parliamentarian trying to climb over the bent back of a security guard, mumbling, “When I said steps should be taken to improve the building, I never meant that steps should be taken away!”

I was driving down from Bangalore to Mysore in my Herald car with RKL, when I had to stop because our way was blocked by a huge flock of goats and sheep on Paschima Vahini bridge, Srirangapatna. I kept honking the horn to clear the path. But Laxman stopped me and said, “Don’t waste your time by honking. Can’t you see the odds (aadugalu, also meaning goats in Kannada) are against us?”

His sketches, born from simple ideas, were the work of an absolute genius.

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Strokes of a genius

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