New book chronicles iconic political cartoonist Rajinder Puri's work

Updated: Dec 16, 2017, 10:17 IST | Snigdha Hasan

A new book chronicles the oeuvre of iconic political cartoonist Rajinder Puri and through it, offers a glimpse of India's journey over five decades

At the tender age of 13, Rajinder Puri saw the horrors of the Partition from up close, when he came to Delhi from Karachi. As part of a generation that was left scarred for life and a political observer, Puri held the Congress responsible for the woes of the country after Partition, which he felt could have been avoided. He began his career as a cartoonist and writer in the early 1960s, and became known for his acerbic style. Invariably, the then Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was the subject of many of his cartoons, and Puri wasn't particularly kind to him.

Rajendra Puri

Yet, when Nehru died in 1964, Puri gave him a fitting tribute in his work, The Void, which showed a white silhouette of Nehru against a sea of people, depicting India's despair at the loss of her statesman. "Though Puri sahab was firm on his political views, he never let his personal likes and dislikes seep into his work. His anger was never directed against people; it was against policies and parties," says filmmaker, critic and journalist Partha Chatterjee, who has co-authored the recently released book What A Life (Niyogi Books), on Puri's oeuvre, with columnist, writer and entrepreneur Arvindar Singh. The tribute to Nehru is the book's cover, which, in turn is a tribute to Puri, who passed away in 2015.

Puri's depiction of Mumbai's annual deluge
Puri's depiction of Mumbai's annual deluge

"Mr Chatterjee and I had known the late Rajinder Puri for several years. Apart from being a talented cartoonist and writer, he was a wonderful human being. Last year, we organised an exhibition of his cartoons in New Delhi, which was well received. Thereafter, we thought of doing something concrete which would enable the reading public, particularly the younger generation, to become acquainted with his work," says Singh.

Pluralist India
Pluralist India

The book's introduction draws a comparison between his style and those of his contemporaries. "RK Laxman was essentially a family cartoonist, while Abu Abraham was political with a whimsical style. OP Vijayan, though political, didn't have the fierce anger of Puri sahab," shares Chatterjee. Singh further elaborates, "The book has a caricature of Indira Gandhi. It was drawn as a reaction to her criticism of Puri's cartoons about her a day earlier. It shows his bold and independent approach. Equally relevant is his cartoon of Narendra Modi attacking the pluralist idea of India."

Rajinder Puri
Rajinder Puri

Sometime in early 2014, Puri, whose last known work was his column Bull's Eye in the Outlook accompanied by his signature cartoon, hung up his boots. How would his brush have responded to the current politics in India? "He would have been deeply unhappy, perhaps there would be hardly any takers today for his kind of work," says Chatterjee. "In the climate of fear that we live today, he was a beacon of hope."

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