FAREWELL TO THE HAPLESS COMMON MAN
“The bespectacled Common Man in his checked coat had walked into my cartoon spontaneously, as if I had no hand in his creation.” – R.K.LAXMAN
The creator of the immortal mute spectator ‘Common Man’, cartoonist R K Laxman, died on 26th January, in Pune at a private hospital at the age of 94. He was admitted to the hospital on January 17 for urinary infection, but later he was put on ventilator as he suffered multi-organ failure. His loss was widely mourned by India’s media and political establishment. According to the doctors, he had been bed-ridden for many months, and suffered from diabetes, hypertension and diabetic nephropathy.
The youngest of eight siblings, Mr. Laxman was born on Oct. 24, 1921 in the southern Indian city of Mysore. He was the younger brother of the famous Indian author R.K. Narayan, and is survived by writer wife Kamala, retired journalist son Srinivas and daughter-in-law Usha.
The young Laxman had to face rejection from the Mumbai’s J J School of Arts when he applied there for admission, and subsequently graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from University of Mysore. At college, Laxman started illustrating R K Narayan’s short stories in The Hindu and drawing political cartoons for local newspapers. He took up his first full time job as a political cartoonist at Mumbai’s Free Press Journal.
His legendary spell on the Indian newspaper reader was cast after joining the “Times Of India”. His front page cartoon “You said it” started in 1951, unleashing his iconic “common man”, a silent witness to the shenanigans of politicians who were supposed to realise his dreams, hopes and aspirations but betrayed him on most occasions.
India’s politicians remained a constant source of inspiration for Mr. Laxman’s pen. Even in the most controversial phases of India’s past, like the late 1970s, the time of emergency rule in the country when Indira Gandhi was PM, he didn’t give up his satire.
Mr. Laxman was a recipient of the Padma Bhushan as well as the Padma Vibhushan. He was also awarded with B D Goenka award-Indian Express, and Durga Ratan Gold medal- Hindustan Times.
The Times of India paid an elaborate tribute to Mr. Laxman. “And with his passing,” the newspaper said, “the curtain comes down on an era of humour that was one of a kind—playful and ironic, astute yet childlike, razor-sharp but malice-free. In a nutshell, vintage R.K. Laxman.”
Among those who offered condolences was Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“India will miss you R K Laxman. We are grateful to you for adding the much needed humour in our lives and always bringing smiles on our faces,” he tweeted.
“He was the original God of cartooning,” cartoonist Ajit Ninan said about Laxman.
Cartoonist Hemant Morparia said, “He was a towering figure. He outlived all his contemporaries. I assume his cartoons will in fact outlive him for a very long time.”
Sudhir Tailang, another member of the fraternity, said “Laxman is an institution” who created “respect for the job of cartoonists”.
In “The Tunnel of Time,” his autobiography which was published in 1988, Mr. Laxman described the Common Man as a “silent spectator.”
On the day of his death, the Indian Space Research Organization, tweeted a sketch that Mr. Laxman had given to the space agency for its achievement of successfully sending an Indian satellite to Mars orbit.