Posts Tagged ‘S.L. Bhyrappa’

EXCLUSIVE: Unpublished doodles of R.K. Laxman

18 August 2010

The hand of India’s most famous newspaper cartoonist, R.K. Laxman, rests in a hospital in Bombay without a pen or pencil in its grip. Not even sure if (or when) it will regain the strength to pick up a pen or pencil to regale the millions who have woken up to the magic behind its mind for decades.

In this sans serif exclusive, Laxman’s grand-nephew, the journalist turned corporate manager Chetan Krishnaswamy, paints an intimate portrayal of Mysore-born, Kannada-speaking “Dudu”, with unpublished doodles and illustrations from the family album.

***

By CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY

After resolutely hanging on to the front page of The Times of India for close to 60 years now, it is perhaps difficult for the Common Man to remain in obscurity for too long.

Even as his creator lies in a hospital in Bombay recuperating from a series of paralytic strokes, the Common Man seems to have naively steered himself into the centre of a religious controversy.

A caricature of contemporary politics based on a biblical scene, with the Common Man occupying Jesus’s position, which appeared in ToI in July, hurt a section of the Christian community. Matters seem to have cooled off after the newspaper tendered an apology.

Many years ago R.K. Laxman had infuriated a group of Hindu fanatics when a cartoon showed  them setting fire to an automobile. The group had barged into his room and demanded to know how Lord Ram’s staunch followers could be projected as rabid arsonists.

Much to their annoyance, the quick-witted Laxman expressed his doubts on whether they had all really imbibed the Ramayana.  He went on to expound that the most ardent Ram bhakt was Lord Hanuman, who had gone about setting fire to Lanka with his blazing tail.

Rather confused, the group had trooped out awkwardly.

***

Suffice to say, Laxman has led an unconventional life. In 1960 he divorced his then dancer-wife Kamala and married his niece also named Kamala. Laxman did it on his terms and brooked no criticism.

The genius is prone to being eccentric and intimidating at times.

At a Bollywood party, a fawning crowd sought his views on actor Sanjay Dutt’s involvement  in the Bombay serial blasts of 1993. Laxman said that he did not think that the actor had played a major role in the terrorist act.

“However, the judge should pronounce the death sentence for the way he looks and the way he acts,” added Laxman brazenly.

There was a disconcerting hush that preceded this statement.

***

On most occasions when Laxman travelled into Bangalore or Mysore, I would be his privileged companion. I drove with him (and Kamala) to all his engagements and eagerly absorbed  his wry observations, sarcastic comments and comical anecdotes.

His world view was simple yet fascinating.

Laxman’s spontaneity and brilliance, was most visible when he held forth before an eager, awe-struck audience.

On one occasion, he recounted how he had mastered the art of slinking away from noisy parties that always began well past midnight. At an appropriate hour,  Laxman would sidle up to the host, mumble a vague incoherent excuse interspersed with words like “airport”, “appointment” , “meeting”  etc.

Invariably, the tipsy host would fall for the ploy and accompany him to the exit.  At home, Laxman would contentedly  slurp on his staple fare of curd rice and retire to bed.

Once in Mysore, after we finished attending a seminar, a leading business house was hosting dinner in Laxman’s honour that evening.

After a hot bath we headed to the venue, which was supposed to be at one of the offices of this flourishing  group. The minute we landed there, Laxman  noticed that people were already mid-way through their bisi bele baath and mosaranna.

The bigger crisis was that there was no whisky being served.

In a split second, Laxman grabbed the arm of his old friend, the legendary nuclear scientist Raja Ramanna (who hailed from Vontikoppal originally), coaxed him to abandon his plate and propelled him out.

All of us jumped into Raja Ramanna’s Mercedes and headed to Hotel King’s Kourt for Johnny Walker Black Label and dinner.

Of course, a magnanimous Raja Ramanna paid the bill.

Earlier that day at the seminar in Mysore’s intellectual retreat Dhvanyaloka,   Laxman was edgy while presenting his paper.

At one point, the academic doyen Dr C.D.Narasimhaiah interjected and commented: “You Tamilians have always been humorous….”

The Mysore-born Laxman bore into him from above his thick rimmed glasses and said: “Who told you I am a Tamilian, I am a Kannadiga….”

The loudest applause came from noted Kannada writer S.L.Bhyrappa, who was sitting by my side. I would like to believe that Laxman was quite genuine when he made that comment.

***

On another occasion, chief minister S.M.Krishna was felicitating the cartoonist at Bangalore’s Institution of Engineers. Soon after the event, there was a milling crowd that blocked me from getting to Laxman.

Even as the driver revved the State car with Laxman in it, there  was confusion all around, security was instructed to look for a certain Chetan Krishnaswamy.

Sensing an emergency, I rushed to the car and plugged my head in, he looked at me a trifle irritated  and enquired: “So where are we going?”

That evening, accompanied by my dear friend and former bureaucrat Pramod Kumar Rai, we sipped beer in his guest house.  The next morning the hospitable Chief Minister’s wife sent the Laxmans piping hot idlis for breakfast.

***

On a visit to a not-so-distant relative’s house in Bangalore, he irritatedly whispered into my ears: “Who is who here? The servants and the relatives all look the same.”

Thankfully nobody heard that.

Dudu , as Laxman is called in the family, was born on 24 October 1924, the youngest of six sons. His strict headmaster father Rasipuram Venkataraman Krishnaswamy Iyer was  imperious and remote, preoccupied with his work to bother much about his youngest son.

The mother Gnanambal, who was the Mysore Maharani’s favourite partner in tennis, bridge and chess, was the cheerful collaborator.

Not many know that in his working years Laxman unfailingly sent his mother a portion of his salary by post. When he came to Mysore on vacation, he would spend most of  his time sprawled on his mother’s cot.

The other great influence was his famous sibling R.K.Narayan, who, to young Laxman’s relief, underplayed the importance of academics, connected him to important artists in Mysore and allowed him to illustrate his short stories for The Hindu set in mythical Malgudi.

Interestingly, both the brothers had contrasting personalities.

While Narayan was a teetotaler, unassuming, patient and more gentle; Laxman was mercurial and quite a free-spirited rabble rouser. Narayan mentored his nephews and grand nephews; was always concerned about the extended family’s well being and future.

Laxman was affectionate but seemed more distant.

However, both brothers were non-ritualistic in their spiritual beliefs.  Laxman, though was a little more vocal in criticising established religion and sometimes refused to walk into crowded temples.

His favorite deity has always  been the playful elephant god Ganesha, which he drew with great dexterity and vigor. For his artist eye, the rotund form seemed to manifest itself everywhere: in a tree trunk, a weather beaten boulder, a drifting cloud, etc.

Laxman’s  other enduring  subject has been the common crow, whose quirks have held him spell-bound  since childhood. Curiously, Narayan’s obsession was the owl: he had accumulated a collection of statuettes  over a period of time.

As kids, my cousins and I would be intrigued by this strange collection every time we were able to sneak into Narayan’s  airy room in Mysore.

Is there an explanation for one family spawning two such outstanding creative figures?

N.Ram, the present chief editor of The Hindu, had attempted to respond to that question:

“It happens very rarely but it has happened elsewhere. They express individual genius, which has always defied explanation, but they are also products of a particular family and social milieu that has been congenial to creativity: liberal and modern in outlook, yet imbued with strong values and laidback integrity and respectful of independence and originality.

“The link between childhood and adult creativity is now well recognised in the social science, especially psychological, literature: that is, the importance to the creative mind of a childhood in which exploration and curiosity are encouraged, not restricted or stifled.

“Laxman, a decade-and-a-half younger than Narayan, is very different in make-up, temperament and experience. But he is a product of the same kind of upbringing and social milieu that have fostered creativity, although they cannot of course ‘explain’ it.

“Further, Laxman (who, in his autobiography, tells us that ‘I do not remember wanting to do anything else except draw’) has clearly benefited, from the beginning, from having Narayan around him: to mind him as a child, to encourage his independence and creativity, to have him illustrate his Malgudi stories and novels, to take pride, without ever making a fuss, in his gift and accomplishments. I have observed the two brothers together: so close, yet so different, and so independent from each other—creative contrasts from one distinctive, difficult to replicate, pool.”

***

Although Laxman never wore a wrist watch in his entire life, he had a fondness for tweaking watches and other mechanical contraptions. He was the quintessential man about the house repairing gadgets that had broken down and fixing other knick knacks.

A born engineer!

As kids he would regale us with magic tricks. Coins would disappear and appear, sometimes dropping out of our noses and ears. He always had a bundle of tricks up his sleeve, and was the most awaited guest in our houses.

In the later years, brother R.K.Srinivasan’s home  kept a brown hardbound book for Laxman to doodle everytime he came on a vacation. The book, a family heirloom, has a range of Laxman’s caricatures.

They are whacky, whimsical, political, absurd – perhaps  reflecting Laxman’s relaxed mood. A whole bunch of them are ball-point scribbles, but with the distinctive stamp of the artist.

***

In November last year, Laxman visited Bangalore and Mysore and patiently posed for pictures with the entire family. It was painful to see him wheel chair bound and cheerless. A paralytic stroke had rendered his left side completely useless.

I had lunch with the Laxmans in their hotel room in Mysore and took them for a quick drive around Laxman’s old haunts in the city. He rode with me in silence, periodically making uncharitable comments about the city.

He cursed the lack of street lights, the  bad roads and shoddy planning of what was once his most beloved city. This time,  I was careful not to make unnecessary small talk or embellish his views with my own banalities.

As darkness set in, he wanted to be dropped back to his hotel. Unlike in the past, it seemed evident that the genius  had not enjoyed the drive.  As his helpers heaved him out of the car and placed him on  his wheel chair, he thanked me quickly and cursed the flight of stairs that appeared before him.

***

Recently, actor Akshay Kumar visited him at the Breach Candy hospital in Mumbai to talk to him about his latest film that was based on the Common Man.

Wonder whether Laxman will ever regale an audience about this encounter with the same fervor and zest.

***

Author photograph: courtesy Facebook

View unpublished doodles/ illustrations here

***

Also read: Has namma R.K. Laxman drawn his last cartoon?

Laxman & Narayan: How one family produced two geniuses

Look, who inspired R.K. Laxman‘s common man!

Making all of us smile can make one of us cry

Is management responsible for content too?

4 January 2009

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: Can a newspaper (or magazine or website) publish anything in the name of a “debate”? Is such content questionable even when it does not directly spark trouble on the ground? And, in the eyes of the law, who is to be held responsible for the publication of such content?

These are old questions in journalism, but they gain added significance in the wake of police in the communally sensitive coastal city of Mangalore taking cognisance of two separate complaints against Vijaya Karnataka, a Kannada newspaper owned by The Times of India group, for two different articles published on two different dates.

Besides the overall editor of the paper, the resident editor, and the author of the piece, the police have registered a complaint against the directors of the Times of India subsidiary that publishes Vijaya Karnataka, in the second of the two cases. They have been charged with “spreading hatred” among the people and “disturbing peace in society”, both non-bailable offences under two different sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Ironically, churches, convents and prayer halls in Mangalore and other parts of Karnataka had been attacked in September last year after Hindutva activists stumbled upon Christian literature (Satya Darshini) that allegedly mocked Hindu gods. This was deemed to be offensive to Hindus and the violence was sought to be justified in the name of the perceived injury to Hindu sentiment.

The boot is now on the other foot.

***

The first case is pretty straight forward and has been widely reported. On 27 December 2008, the Mangalore South police station, registered a case (FIR No 343, dated 27-12-2008) in connection with an article written by the noted Kannada author S.L. Bhyrappa in Vijaya Karnataka on 16 October 2008.

The case was registered on a complaint filed by P. B. D’Sa, president of the Dakshina Kannada unit of Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).

In his complaint, D’Sa alleged the article titled ‘Inthaha ghatane bere yava deshadalli nadedeethu‘ (In which other country would such an incident take place?) incited communal feelings, in the wake of the attack on churches in Karnataka in September last year.

Apparently, the article by Bhyrappa cast doubts on “the integrity of Mother Teresa and a number of other Christian saints in reference to their contribution to humanity. The complaint said the article had hurt the feelings of Christians, and pointed to a number of demonstrations and jathas taken out by Christians against it.

The local diocese had termed the article “communally provocative” when it was published.

The first complaint named Vijaya Karnataka‘s editor Vishweshwar Bhat, its Mangalore edition resident editor U.K. Kumaranath, and printer and publisher, K.R. Ramesh, besides Bhyrappa.

***

But it is the second complaint, booked by the Mangalore North police six days later, on 2 January 2009, that is drawing the attention of ToI bosses in Bombay and Delhi.

This case (FIR No. 2, dated 2-1-2009) deals with an article written by Pratap Simha, a sub-editor with the paper who writes a weekly column titled Betthale Jagaththu (naked world) every Saturday on the editorial page, and published on 20 September 2008.

The complainant in this case is James Louis, vice-president of the Bharathiya Crista Seva Sanghatane (BCSS). And here, too, the charges are identical: of endorsing the bashing of the minority community and seeking to create discord among various communities.

Predictably, the author of the article (Simha), the editor of the paper (Bhat), the resident editor (Kumaranath) and the printer (Ramesh) have been named in this complaint. But also standing “accused” are five directors of Vijayanand Printers Limited (VPL), the Times of India subsidiary that publishes the paper: Ravi Dhariwal, Chinnen Das, Anand Sankeshwar, Bhaskar Das, and Probal Ghoshal.

Those who have seen the complaint say it does not mention why the ToI directors have been named as accused. All it says is that they are all responsible for the publication of the article.

The complaint refers to objectionable parts of the article ‘Haagantha helidavanu yaava Bajarangiyu alla‘ (the person who said so is not a Bajrang Dal man) and alleges that the article is a “deliberate” attempt to instigate the sentiments of the Hindu community against the Christian community and to create hatred towards Christians.

The complaint raises objections to paragraphs 6, 11 and 12 and says it can “poison the minds of the readers and hurt the sentiments of Christians.

In particular, it objects to the question “How will Christ help the people when he couldn’t help himself?” and the statement “Who will keep silent when offensive statements are made about their religion and is attacked?

This, according to the complainant, justifies the attacks on the churches and prayer halls in Karnataka, coming as they did shortly after the Christian community was targeted in Kandhamal in Orissa.

It says paragraph 12 particularly instigates the people against the Christian community and justifies all the violence reported against minorities. Apparently the article in question contained the statement, “do not keep quiet when someone comes to your locality with the intention of conversion. Receive the books that they give and then teach them a lesson“.

The case against the author, editors, printer and directors has been registered under section 153, 153A, 153B and 295A read with section 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Section 153 of IPC reads: “Wantonly giving provocation with the intent to cause riot—if rioting be committed, if not committed.” Section 153A reads: “Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc, and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.” Section 153B reads: “Imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration.”

Section 295 saying injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class has to be read with the IPC section 34 which says: Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention.

***

Media observers say the mere filing of FIRs against the editor, printer, publisher, author/s and directors of the company alleging a plot to disturb communal amity does not amount to much, especially when the attack on the churches preceded the date of publication.

Moreover, the police have to investigate the complaints and only later contemplate or take further action.

PUCL’s D’Sa who accompanied the second complainant to the police station has been quoted as saying that the police inspector told them he would investigate whether the article did create any “negative ripples” in society. That is easier said than done.

But it is the attempt to implicate the directors in the case that is eliciting attention. Are the directors, all of them non-journalists, responsible for the publication of the content when four of the five directors cannot speak, read, write or understand the Kannada language?

Or is this just an attempt to cause pin pricks to them because a mainstream, mass-circulation Kannada publication owned by the country’s largest print media house is seen to have become the inhouse journal of the Hindutva herd?

Or is the management of a media house only answerable for the bottomline, regardless of how it is editorially achieved?

***

The two cases should also be viewed against the backdrop of Mangalore emerging as a vortex of communalism into which journalists have not just been sucked in but are active players and participants.

On either side of the communal divide on the west coast, leading publications have played a not inconsiderable role in whipping up the surcharged communal atmosphere with inflammatory headlines and incendiary content. The circulations are soaring, but the faultline is growing wider and wider.

Trucks carrying Karavali Ale, a Kannada newspaper published from Mangalore, were attacked last month and its copies burnt allegedly by Bajrang Dal activists for its criticism of their role in the attack on the churches in September. The Press Council of India has had to intervene after the local police refused to register the paper’s complaints.

In March 2007, the paper’s editor B.V. Seetharam was arrested on the ground that his writings promoted religious hatred. Seetharam was arrested under Sections 153A, 153 B and 295A of the IPC—all non-bailable offences.

Ironically, the Vijaya Karnataka editors, the authors, and ToI directors have been booked under the same sections of the IPC.

But the larger question is of the role of the media in creating the ground for “public debate” on a sensitive issue like “conversions”.

Is the publication of any kind of content OK in the name of a public debate? Is it really the business of the media to maintain communal and societal peace and harmony, or is it of the “State”? Is it beyond the function of a newspaper or a writer to provoke readers because somebody might find it offensive?

If Christian literature published decades ago can be suddenly ferreted out and declared offensive to Hindus, are Christians wrong in finding offence in yesterday’s newspaper? Is it wrong for Muslims to feel offence if the Danish cartoons are republished in the name of “debate”?

Who was that genius who said an eye for an eye only makes the whole world go blind?

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