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Monday, April 12, 2021

The man who depicted the common India: R K Laxman


Birthdate, October 24th, 1921, Mysore, Rasipuram Krishnaswami Laxman was the youngest of seven siblings one of whom was R K Narayan, the renowned novelist. R K Laxman’s father was the headmaster of a school and his mother a homemaker. R K Laxman developed an affinity for drawing at a very early age and was fascinated by the illustrations in the magazine like The Strand, Punch, Bystander, and Wide World. At a young age, he began drawing on his own-on the floors, walls, and doors of the house. His drawing being praised for a peepul leaf by his school teacher marked the beginning of his journey as an artist.

R K Laxman worked for a weekly news magazine also a made comic strips for children’s magazine, initially working on the illustrations for the Illustrated Weekly of India. Because of his strong grasp on politics, R K Laxman’s cartoons began appearing on the front page of the newspaper, and his reputation as a cartoonist had escalated, which eventually gained him the position of the paper’s chief political cartoonist. It was during this time the idea of You Said It came to his mind and he started with it, which would feature the ubiquitous Common Man as the central character.

R K Laxman won several awards, including the Padma Bhushan in 1973; the Ramon Magsaysay Award, the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Prize, in 1984, and a Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalism by CNN IBN TV18 in 2008. The University of Marathwada, the University of Delhi, and his alma mater — the University of Mysore conferred on him honorary Doctor of Literature degrees. In 2005, he was honored with the Padma Vibhushan for his works.

Some of the interesting facts about R K Laxman’s childhood:

  1. He was influenced by the work of Sir David Low a renowned British cartoonist whose work occasionally appeared in The Hindu. For a long time, he misread Low’s signature as a cow.

  2. Apart from being a cartoonist, R K Laxman had also published novels such as The Hotel Riviera in the year 1988 and The Messenger in 1993 as well as an autobiography, The Tunnel of Time in 1998.

  3. Laxman was the captain of his local cricket team. He inspired the stories Dodu the Money Maker and The Regal Cricket Club he said in his autobiography, which were written by RK Narayan.

  4. Laxman had applied to the JJ School of Art in Mumbai. He was denied admission. The school’s dean wrote to him that his drawings lacked “the kind of talent to qualify for enrolment in our institution”.

  5. He had a comedic streak from a very young age. This fact can be traced to the times he drew caricatures of his father at home and of his teachers in school, much to the amusement of his siblings and peers.

The Legacy is a profound one, R K Laxman wrote and published many short stories, essays, and travel pieces, some of them compiled in a book titled The Distorted Mirror which was published in 2003. Other collections of his cartoons were published in The Best of Laxman and Laugh with Laxman by Penguin Books India. You Said It served as the basis for a television comedy which was titled R K Laxman Ki Duniya. The Symbiosis International University named a chair at its Pune Campus in R K Laxman’s honor in 2011.

His time as a student, R K Laxman joined the University of Mysore. During his time at the Maharaja’s College, he often illustrated the stories by his brother R K Narayan, which used to get published in The Hindu. He turned to create satirical and political cartoons subsequently. R K Laxman worked as a freelancer and drew cartoons for the Swarajya Magazine. R K Laxman also worked on an animated film based on the mythological character Narada. His first break was with R K Karanjia’s weekly publication titled Blitz. In 1947, he began drawing cartoons for The Free Press Journal in Bombay alongside Bal Thackeray. Bal Thackery too being a cartoonist before he turned to politics and founded the Shiv Sena. In 1951 R K Laxman joined The Times of India Group. He passed away in Pune on January 26, 2015, at the age of 93 in the wake of a series of strokes he had been suffering from since 2010. Such a great personality will always be remembered forever.


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