Who said it?
You said it.
Who is ‘you’?
The common man.
The aam aadmi?
Well, you said it.
You said it.
The truth is that the common man is forever jabbering the truth. Someone hears this blabbering once in a while and some good gets done. Most of the time though this jabbering is lost unrecorded and unremembered. And then came along R K Laxman who could somehow hear this nervous, almost repentant waffling of the man on the street and he decided to give it life. He’s been silent all these 50 years. He simply listens.
The common man was thus born as a daily cartoon strip, “You Said It” in The Times of India, which started in 1951. So what was Laxman doing since 24 October 1921, before launching himself as an Indian cartoonist, illustrator, and humorist. Well, even before Rasipuram Krishnaswamy Laxman joined TOI, he was an illustrator and a humourist. We know the illustrations in R K Narayan’s books… and I remember looking at the illustrations for the stories far longer than letting my eyes read the text of the stories. Most of the images that formed in my mind were based on the illustrations… yes, the stories were charming no doubt, but I wonder how they would have fared sans the evocative lines that Laxman drew.
A quick browse on the net tells me that Laxman illustrated his elder brother’s stories in The Hindu and served with The Free Press Journal in Mumbai as a political cartoonist before becoming the voice of the Common Man.
Was Laxman really the Pied Piper of Delhi, as some fondly remember him as? A person who is quoted as having said: ‘I think anarchy would have suited us better’ makes one believe that he constantly had this urge to play the magical pipe of his drawn satire to draw away the rats who were making the country hollow. I wish this had actually happened and he had managed to lure the rats in Delhi’s political and bureaucratic cellars to dance to his tune as he led them all to the river that flows through our Capital… and cleaning the Yamuna would have become so much more interesting then. The Swachchta Abhiyan today would have become so much more meaningful. By the way, even Reuters has written: ‘Laxman’s Common Man character, often described as holding up a mirror to India’s democracy, spawned a television sitcom, was the mascot for an airline and featured on a postage stamp.’ So yes, his Common Man did manage to hold up a mirror to India’s democracy. Laxman let his lampooning go on unabated through the years. He is the one often quoted for having given satire a new lease when he wrote: Laloo Prasad Yadav, who ought to be inside jail, is actually outside. And Jayalalitha is growing so large that I do not know which jail can accommodate her!
If you think Laxman spent all his waking hours only with the Common Man, you probably do not know that GATTU of Asian Paints was also created by him in 1954. I remember this mascot with his paint brush dripping with paint hold my attention from the pages of newspapers and magazines. I liked the names more because of the way it linked to the small but adventurous stone-mining trucks on the slopes of Mussorie… and a girls there who was popular amongst her friends as Gattu because she had a small and somewhat boxed-in nose.
There are novels attributed to Laxman, his toons have featured in Hindi films such as Mr. & Mrs. ’55 and a Tamil film Kamaraj, taken up for TV adaptations by Shankar Nag, and I’ve seen his work splashed all across the internet in one way or the other. Tell me anyone who doesn’t remember his Common Man ‘from India (who) can survive without water, food, light, air, shelter!’ Laxman, in his own special way, told the world that we Indians do have the guts to laugh at our follies. Some politicians may feel restless and squirmy on seeing his toons but then I’m sure by the time they reach home after protesting in the Assembly, they would all be like this great cartoonist who mumbled:
Each morning I grumble, I plan to resign as I drag myself to office. By the time I come home I like my work!
Rest in peace, Rasipuram Krishnaswamy Laxman
The Pied Piper of Delhi
The voice of the Common Man
24 October 1921 – 26 January 2015
02 February 2015