The Common Man – R. K. Laxman


R. K Laxman

Every morning, the ‘Times of India’ gives people its first page with ‘You Said It!’, the reflection of the Common Man – who is quiet spectator of the events, politics, inflation and the country’s economic rise and fall. Over more than half a century, Common man has been the voice of India.

His ‘Common Man’ with his unchanging dhoti and checkered shirt and a perpetually bewildered expression symbolizes the mute millions of India, a silent spectator of marching time. The ‘Common Man’ who finds that the leaky tap in the bathroom is of greater concern to him than the failure of the summit, or the rise in the cost of toothpaste and tomatoes is more bothersome than the deficit in our foreign exchange reserves.

About Common Man

The ‘You said it’ comic strip started being published in the Times of India from 1961. It is a sketch, a single box, inked by Rasipuram Krishnaswamy Laxman, who is a sharp-witted cartoonist and political satirist. Laxman’s character, known as the Common Man, confronts India’s latest heartbreak with a kind of wry resignation. Meek and silent , he’s a witness to everything: scheming politicians, rapacious bureaucrats and gossiping housewives.

Laxman says that like most Indians, the Common Man sees his country being forced through endless indignities by its leaders and yet doesn’t even whimper in protest. He has perfected docility as a survival strategy.

About the Man behind Common Man

“A cartoonist does not speak for himself. He speaks for the general opinion; he speaks for the common sense. I don’t pursue an ideology; I don’t belong to a party. I follow common sense, whatever is pragmatic” – R.K Laxman

Career

A turn-away of JJ School of Arts, R.K Laxman graduated in Bachelor of Arts from Mysore University. While in College, he began to illustrate his elder brother R K Narayan’s stories in The Hindu, and he drew political cartoons for the local newspapers and for the Swatantra.(His brother R. K Narayan was the writer of the famous book, ‘Malgudi Days’)

He then went to Bombay in the 1940s, spent six months with the Press Free Journal and has been with Times of India since then.

Achievements

Many awards have come his way, like the 1984 Magsaysay award, the Padma Bhushan, the Horniman award and in 1988, the B D Goenka award for excellence in journalism. In 1985, Laxman became the first Indian cartoonist to exhibit in London, where he also had the opportunity to meet the idols of his childhood, David Low and Illingworth.

This year he was the recipient of the ‘CNN-IBN’ Life time Achievement award.

R.K Laxman’s Inspiration

In his autobiography, The Tunnel of Time, Laxman confesses to an unusual personal quirk — he never keeps a diary, refers to a calendar, or wears a watch. So, it proves doubly difficult to find dates to match events in Laxman’s life.

His father was not unduly upset by Laxman’s low school test scores, noting his son’s preference for hours on a marketplace bench, sketching the bustle around. Whenever the child bawled at dusk for their mother, who might be away at the club, playing chess with the Mysore Maharani, his older brother Seenu found a novel way to calm him — by sketching endlessly.

At school, Laxman remembers a dhoti-clad teacher, who often left their class to secretly smoke a beedi. He once asked his students, seated on long benches, to draw a leaf on their slates while he was away. Laxman’s leaf impressed him so much that he declared, ‘You will be an artist one day. Keep it up.’

What are Laxman’s school memories made of? He found it a nightmare to distribute 15 mangoes equally between three people, but could name historical villains, heroes and warriors with ease. As the arithmetic teacher droned on one day, Laxman unknowingly sketched all over the margins of his exercise book. Suddenly, he felt a stinging slap. The teacher was glaring at Laxman’s drawing of a tiger cub, which he imagined was his own caricature. Years later, the cartoonist realized that people’s expressions could be likened to those of animals or birds.

Laxman insists that a cartoonist needs a sense of humour, the talent to draw, and a sound education. ‘It is of no use if one of these traits is present without the others, or any two without the third. He must have all of them. Cartooning is inborn’ he says. ‘It cannot be taught’…

The Changing times

  • The Common Man is on a commemorative stamp celebrating 150 years of The Times of India.
  • The Common Man is the face of Air Deccan.
  • R. K Laxman’s favorite sketching is that of crows.

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