R.K. Laxman funeral: Tears for the man who made us smile

Relatives, friends, colleagues and politicians flocked to Pune yesterday to pay their last respects to legendary cartoonist R K Laxman, who passed away on Republic Day

“I have become an orphan once again,” said Selivraj Naidu, the 50-year-old caretaker of legendary cartoonist R K Laxman, who passed away on January 26. The entire nation mourned the loss of an icon, and the state government even accorded him with a state funeral. “Ayya’s meals were incomplete without a sweet dish. He loved ice cream and chocolate.

Iconic cartoonist R K Laxman’s family bids farewell to him in Pune. He was 94. Pic/PTI
Iconic cartoonist R K Laxman’s family bids farewell to him in Pune. He was 94. Pic/PTI

We would go on evening walks together to observe people’s lifestyles and understand them,” Naidu recalled, with tears in his eyes. The 94-year-old, known for his character, the Common Man, which captured the plight of the average Indian through subtle humour replete with astute observations, breathed his last at Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital in Pune.

Iconic cartoonist R K Laxman
Iconic cartoonist R K Laxman

Doctors at the hospital said he had died of cardiac arrest, septicaemia and multiple organ failure. The political cartoonist was hospitalised on January 16 in Aundh for altered sensorium and breathlessness, a doctor told mid-day.

He was then shifted to the ICU in Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital. “A team of doctors kept him under close observation, but his condition started deteriorating on Sunday.

On Monday, he suffered cardiac arrest and died around 6.30 pm,” the doctor added. His body was kept near the nine-foot tall statue of the Common Man at Pune’s Symbiosis Institute for an hour, where admirers flocked with sketches and roses to catch a final glimpse.

The last rites were held at Vaikunth crematorium in Navipeth in the afternoon yesterday the family preferred an electric cremation to rituals.

The youngest of the six sons of a headmaster, Rasipuram Krishnaswamy Laxman was born in Mysore in 1921. His brother, R K Narayan, was a novelist best known for Malgudi Days. He won the Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan and Ramon Magsasay award.

Laxman’s wife, Kamala (88), said, “He was a fighter and he proved it till the last breath. I think he realised God wanted to be with him and had a better place for him than this.” His son, Srinivas, a journalist with The Times of India, was composed and interacted with journalists and other visitors.

“My father was very progressive. My mother is also a strong woman and took this news stoically. Though I knew my father more as a professional, as we worked for the same newspaper, we would discuss the news every day in the evening.

Only once did I insist that he make a cartoon during the Mangalyaan mission to Mars, as the ISRO chief had requested it. He made two, the last one being on December 20, 2014, which was about 100 days of the Mars Orbiter Mission.”

Several of Pune’s prominent cartoonists, politicians from the state and the common folk flocked to the college campus yesterday. CM Devendra Fadnavis, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, whose father Bal Thackeray was a friend and fellow cartoonist and MNS chief Raj Thackeray, also a cartoonist, were among those who went to pay tribute.

Remembering him

Devendra Fadnavis, Chief Minister
R K will be remembered and will stay among us through Common Man. He didn’t just make cartoons, but always said something to the masses. The state government will think of building a memorial to him soon.

Uddhav Thackeray, Shiv Sena president
Both Balasaheb and R K Laxman started off their careers with the Free Press Journal, and shared a good bond. After his sad demise, the two kings of cartoons are no more and no one can take their place.

Mangesh Tendulkar, cartoonist
He was a thorough gentleman and his single-liners were remarkable and could bring a smile on your face. Hearing of his death, I am unable to draw my thoughts on paper.

Mukim Tamboli, cartoonist
Common Man is like Charlie Chaplin. You can always enjoy it. I have been following up with the University of Pune to start a course for cartoonists under Laxman’s name.

Ravi Paranjape, artist and former colleague
He had great vision. He preferred reading and analysing current issues. Working with him was a pleasure.

Vivek Khatavkar, sculptor of the Common Man statue in Symbiosis, Pune
It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to work with him. Even though I went wrong the first time, he explained my faults. He would come all the way from Mumbai to check on the statue’s progress.

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