R K Laxman, his iconic ‘Common Man’ and contemporary cartoons

Friday, Nov 27, 2015,12:01 IST By Metrovaartha A A A

New Delhi | Long before India’s iconic cartoonist R K Laxman passed away earlier this year, his bespectacled ‘Common Man’ donning a checked coat and dhoti with an umbrella in his hand, had disappeared from the front page and since then cartoons seem to have lost their hitherto editorial role in publications.

Leading cartoonist E P Unny and senior journalist Krishna Prasad analysed the current state of cartooning in the country and debated the relevance of Laxmans ‘Common Man’ in present political milieu on the inaugural day of the four-day long ‘Samanvay Indian Languages festival’ that began yesterday. They participated in a panel discussion Common People, Uncommon Minds which emphasized that readership was the driving force behind media and had helped define the position of the cartoon in newspapers over the decades, indicating a paradigm shift.

Laxman himself has said that if you are good, you will stay on without any artificial support but that cannot happen through generations through decades. That can only come through readership. That is the key to understanding Laxman in my view. Relating to our concerns now, to me Laxman is hugely significant, Unny said. Now we are beginning to see signs of politics that seem to be very aggressive. So what happens to the readership when something like this happens? The first casualty in the media is the cartoon because the cartoon is a one sided thing. Unless you make a one sided thought through the cartoon, it won’t work, he said.

For Prasad, the onus of the shrinking space for cartoons in Indian media space lies both on editors and proprietors of publications as well as the readers. Editors and promoters and proprietors across are massively scared of cartoons and therefore you see a disappearance of cartoons from the front page. Besides the kind of journalism changing where we do not have space for these kind of broader cartoons there is also a similar reaction from readers. Laxman started his career in the Times of India in 1947 but the concerns that the common man had from Matunga were concerns that concerned every single citizen of Bombay, whether you drove a car or came in a bus. What you see in the newspaper consuming class now is a substantial paradigm shift from that kind of concerns, Prasad said.

With the changing lifestyle, a certain isolation, which has often gone unnoticed, has crept into people’s lives, who no longer whine about intermittent electricity or erratic water supply or potholes. With every problem being attended to at a personal level, Prasad feels Laxman’s common man addressing middle class universal civic issues would be little relevant today.