Laxman Legacy: Celebrating 100 Years Of The Creator Of Common Man

Laxman Legacy: Celebrating 100 Years Of The Creator Of Common ManColoured Sketch of R K Laxman painting the Common Man
  • When he put pencil to paper, humans came alive. When he chose to doodle, an entire story would be told in just a few strokes - and stories such that they resonated with everyone who read them.

    For in a world that tries to be special, he was simply being and recreating the 'Common Man'. 

    And on his 100th birth anniversary, here is celebrating the Legacy of Laxman.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a cartoon is worth much more for it can make good all those unsaid ones. And R K Laxman was one such matchless artist whose caricatures captured the imagination of more than three generation of Indians who grew up on the strokes of his pencil.

And to celebrate the legacy of the creator of the 'Common Man', the heirs to his cosmos of cartoons and caricatures decided to take his work, his views and his tales ahead as we ring in his 100th birth anniversary.

In a tete-a-tete with Swarajya, his daughter-in-law, Usha Laxman, who also runs RK IPR Management Ltd, a company to preserve his legacy, shares moments from his life, his nature and his journey and their efforts this year through the 'Laxman Legacy' to celebrate a century of the phenomenon called R K Laxman.

The journey of this ‘father of the common man’ began from the city of palaces, Mysore, and his long and eventful life came to an end in the other cultural hub of Pune where a museum housing his work and memorabilia is on the cards.

To mark the beginning of a year-long celebration, a series of conversations have been launched under Laxman Legacy where artists, admen, and various others from different walks of life who have interacted with, been inspired by or chose to know Laxman have been conversing about the legend which could say it all with a few strokes.

Laxman Legacy
Laxman Legacy
Usha Laxman

A ‘Laxman Legacy Month’ competition has also been launched, from the 4 -18 October , where people can either through art work, sketches, blogs or vlogs create their "Ideal nation for a Common Man".

“We have also thrown it open to people who have never met him but have wanted to, or have been inspired by him and his works and that has made a difference in their career or aspiring artists who want to know something about him – who would come on a live chat – because like his most famous common character we want to bring the common man into this conversation,” explains Usha Laxman.

For the common man, the kind that Laxman portrayed has vanished, both in the real world as well as in the works of those who wield the pencil. And so have those kind of conversations.

When Laxman drew, the real common man on the streets spoke in the same language, he took the jokes that were cut on him with just the right kind of salt. And in his works, there was satire but not bias, there was political commentary but never malice, there was opinion but never agenda–unlike the scene today.

In agreement, Usha Laxman says, the celebrations are an effort to restart those kind of conversations ‘which have gone missing’.

Right from 2010 when his cartoons stopped appearing in Times of India, an entire generation has grown up without knowing much about R K Laxman. And that is the reason we are doing this, says Laxman, especially the effort on and through social media – to connect to this generation that is always online.

For not all his works were about the political scenario of the country. “It was more about the empathy and sympathy he had towards the common man – even his political cartoons were through the common man – he was not directly talking about the politician – but through the eyes of the common man – the way he looked at the situation that was there in our country,” she explains.

“There is a need to generate that empathy among the younger generation today and hence this effort. Also he explored a variety of topics. He saw humour in every subject. That satire, that humour and wit needs to be brought back in people’s lives – that tolerance needs to be brought back,” she adds.

"Especially given that the present generation do not have the tolerance, the patience, the consistency, also their concentration is very limited,” remarks Laxman, who crafted a unique programme for students last year at the Ashram school in Chennai run by Latha Rajnikanth.

“Those children did not know what cartooning is, or what cartoons are – beyond the animations they saw on television. So, we conducted a programme where, in this age of gadgets and devices, we got children to put pen and pencil to paper, chalk to slate, and by the end of the programme, every child was able to create his or her own character and a storyboard around it. That is the potential that children have. It is just about how you bring it back, “ says Laxman, who wishes to take it to many more schools and educational institutions once things are back to normal.

For R K Laxman was not just someone who created unforgettable characters but also in a box of few inches would inform, educate and evoke in the reader an interactive urge to know.

For he himself, is said to have read around 30 newspapers everyday national and international, kept himself abreast of everything that is happening around the world.

Was he a recluse?

Not at all says his daughter-in-law, about this often quoted choice of his to not take the office lift as it would need him to interact with the liftman.

“He used to begin the day – thinking. He didn’t want that line of thought to break due to any kind of conversation – a very serious man even at home – and we respected that. So he would avoid the lift and go up the stairs. Then he would lock himself inside and he had a peon – because he never wore a watch – the peon would come and tell him the time so he could watch out for his deadline,” she ruminates.

And be it the Prime Minister of the country or the vendor on the street, for RK Laxman, everyone was a common man and that is how he interacted with people.

And his association with the character he created was much more than that of an artist and his creation.

“His common man was his alter ego – what Mickey Mouse was for Walt Disney – common man was for R K Laxman. And he said ‘he is mine’ like a child, he would say ‘this common man is mine – he is me , he is within me, he is completely within me and I did not create him, I did not find him, he found me’,” remembers Usha Laxman.

Recollecting an incident that shows this emotion take form, Laxman narrates how one of his sketches towards the end of his life saw him draw the common man and on his stomach put his signature. “ ‘I am within him, he is within me’ – that’s how it was for him”.

The last time he sketched this iconic character which he created in the early 1950’s was when his son Srinivas asked him to pen for ISRO the common man walking on the surface of Mars. Although not in the best of health, he still pulled out his pen and put the common man on another planet.

And nostalgically recollecting, Laxman describes a personal moment of astonishment that showed how in death as much in life, Laxman’s heart was with the ‘common man’.

After he breathed his last, his mortal remains were kept at Symbiosis for people to pay their respects.

“The moment they put him on the dais in front of the statue of the common man, his head turned towards the statue as though he was looking at the common man. We all looked at each other and felt it was so symbolic, for such was his connect. That is what the common man meant to him,” she reminisces.

The Family of R K Laxman
The Family of R K Laxman
Usha Laxman

And it is this passionate pursuit of the art of satire, cartooning and connect that Laxman Legacy seeks to take ahead through its various efforts. The Prime Minister too has assured the family all support for whatever they wish to do for the legend whose strokes told countless stories.

And the family hopes to create more than a memorial, possibly one in their hometown Mysore, which could be a hands-on and live experience of their life and works and which turns into a resort for research, learning and the venue to take the baton forward.

For unlike those of many today, his cartoons were honest, plain and unbiased - they were real, rustic and rib-tickling. And that was his greatest USP - that in a world that tries to be special he was simply being and recreating the 'Common Man'.

Which is also why most of his creations are timeless, feel as relevant to this day as they were decades ago when he drew them, and will stay relevant for as long as humans function the way they do.


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