'RK Laxman highlighted issues, but without hate', says Usha Laxman

Updated: 12 September, 2020 07:35 IST | Hemal Ashar | Mumbai

On online talk show, daughter-in-law of legendary cartoonist describes the man and speaks of the cartoon as a medium of social change

Usha Laxman, daughter-in-law of the late R K Laxman with 'The Common Man' by R K Laxman at Symbiosis Institute, Pune
Usha Laxman, daughter-in-law of the late R K Laxman with 'The Common Man' by R K Laxman at Symbiosis Institute, Pune

As a cartoon creates a stir in the state, Usha Laxman, the daughter-in-law of the late R K Laxman — the legendary cartoonist, talks of the medium as a driver of social change, while speaking on a show called, 'Cartoons as a Medium for Social Change' on the Young Online Learning Opportunities (YOLO) platform, with Prem Prakash as host, on Thursday.

Pocket punch

After an introduction by Prakash, Usha said, "R K Laxman's cartoons were a medium for social change. He highlighted issues, without garnering hate. He always said the common man is the fundamental building block of our society." She added, "In fact, Laxman's pocket cartoon was like the Twitter of the past. Just like Twitter gives you a few words for your message, the pocket cartoon left a message, in a powerful, compact form."

A childhood

Speaking about how Laxman started drawing, Usha said, "He started at the age of 3, but of course at that time he had no clue about the artist in him. He wanted to sketch everything he saw. Of the eight siblings, he was the youngest and his father was a headmaster of a school in Mysore. He grew up in a very enlightened and free environment. He could sketch on walls and the floor, and nobody was allowed to erase those drawings. When R K Narayan, the legendary writer and his older brother, there was a 15-year gap between them, started writing books, he felt he needed illustrations and that is how Laxman started sketching for books. A Kannada magazine started publishing his political cartoons, then he moved to Mumbai and it went on from there. His volume of work stretches to over 80 years," said Usha, tracing the trajectory of a career that had self-discipline as a bedrock.

Coming specifically to Laxman's most enduring creation, 'The Common Man', she said, "This iconic character he created was his alter ego. He used to say, 'I never found the common man, he found me. I was looking in the crowd and he came and stood in front of me'," said Usha to her young, online audience.

The artist

When Prakash asked whether Laxman had the quirks and temperament associated with artists, Usha said, "He had to create a cartoon a day and he had a newspaper deadline to meet. He would reach office early in the morning, because he didn't want any distraction, and he would hardly talk to us in the mornings. He would scan through at least 30 newspapers. Also, he never took the office lift, because in case the liftman asked him a question, it would break his train of thought. He would be so absorbed in creating his cartoon, that a man would open his office cabin door every hour and tell him the time. People around him thought he was an angry man, but he was not. Once the cartoon was over, in the evening, he was a totally transformed person," said Usha.

Bharat Ratna

She ended the chat, smiling, as she remembered what 'dad' [R K Laxman] would say, "'I am very happy with my politicians. They did not take care of the country, but they took care of my job. "It is time to bestow the Bharat Ratna on R K Laxman, posthumously," she signed off.

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First Published: 12 September, 2020 07:35 IST

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