How Palghat gave birth to cartooning gharana

palghat

Palghat, or Palakkad, in Kerala is famous, as the former chief election commissioner T.N. Seshan once said, for “cooks, crooks, civil servants”.

And Carnatic musicians.

And cartoonists.

The landlocked town with exactly two landmarks has produced four top-class political cartoonists for New Delhi’s newspapers: P.K.S. Kutty, O.V. Vijayan, Ravi Shankar, and E.P. Unny.

In the Indian Express magazine supplement Eye, Unny writes about the common muse for cartoonists from the “Palghat gharana“:

“Warmer than the rest of Kerala, the beach-less Palakkad isn’t visibly touristy. Nature, however, made up by putting us in the big gap in the Western Ghats — a land port that facilitated much movement, including full-scale invasions.

“First, by the Sultans of Mysore and close on their heels, the British. Hyder Ali’s engineer built a fort here and the Brits a college. Between the two landmarks (there isn’t a third), the municipal town lay neatly bracketed.

“Our world was a low-rise sprawl in parenthesis. No scenic backwaters and stuff. True, we didn’t have to look far for paddy fields but the stretch never seemed quite as green as it turned out in photographs. We have a river as well, nudging the Tamil Brahmin settlement in Kalpathy but the poets have the first lien on it.

“Under such visually-deprived circumstances, you couldn’t doodle your way to a finer art than cartooning. Even as cartoonists go, the Palakkad gharana tended to be sparse. Kutty trained with Shankar, a master who crafted at length, but quickly switched to a workaday functional style.

“Vijayan betrayed no sense of place. His characters floated in a political space that turned increasingly sombre — against a broad dark backdrop, he created with a khadi cloth dipped in Indian ink. Acerbic wit delivered with a Gandhian flourish. Ravi Shankar, Vijayan’s nephew, has an eye for the minutiae, as yet unexplored.”

Image: courtesy CD and LP

Read the full article: The homecoming cartoonist

MUST READ: Shankar’s Weekly final editorial

2 Comments

  1. Great article. I’m from Palakkad myself. Not a cook, crook or civil servant (I hope!)

  2. professormrdua@gmail.com

    i visited palghat as it was called then.
    stayed in a park house.
    the statue of naked woman there
    by a kearla artist was a a great attraction.
    i hope it is still there.
    i went there in 1978….mrdua

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