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By: sydbarett Posted Jan 28, 2015 General 337 Views
(Updated May 30, 2015 12:30 PM)

80s was a great time to be a kid. The political uncertainties of the 60s/70s had been temporarily negotiated while the capitalistic liberalisation of the 90s hadnt yet reared up its ugly head. In short, all was quiet on the Eastern front(:-P). The World Cup was ours. Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron had been released and Parallel cinema was at the top of its game with releases like Arth, Bazaar, Chasme Buddur, etc really pushing mainstream Hindi Cinema on backfoot. Newspapers being the temples of modern India were incessantly harping chants of "all men are equal" while a gentleman who went by the name of RK Laxman was busy making sure India woke up to the magic of his cartoons and illustrations everyday.

Sorry for the digression but I believe it was essential. Essential because a kid's "education" back then was scaringly idealistic, if little else. Even the movies and literature hackneyed the "Good beat Evil" theme to death. And while it was great till it lasted, most of us have since found out to our dismay that it was no education at all. For the differences in text books and real life were so stark - but for the bridge provided by Laxman's cartoons, we'd have been completely clueless. But more on the pitfalls of the "idealistic education" later. For the moment let me coNFine myself to this guy who was Very Very Special(VVS). And we are lucky to have two.

But before I begin, let me state that this isnt intended to be an obituary or even an homage. For Laxman's stature is too large for such an attempt. But thanks to @jmathur, I'd like to share a few random thoughts on why the guy was Very Very Special to me. And let me start with the obvious.

That he managed to reflect the joys, the sorrows, the concerns, the trepidations, the beliefs, the gripes. .in brief the entire lifestyle of a nascent India, through the eyes of his'Common Man', is all too well known. The nascence however, was misleading in that despite the shambolic state of affairs, India had inherited a very rich cultural heritage. And I find it ironical that Laxman(the God), Laxman(RK) and his Common Man should be destined to live their lives in reduced circumstances being mute spectators to the moral degradation and decay of the cultural heritage - the one thing that could have got them over the Finish938844 line.

The other striking feature I found in his character-sketch of the'Common Man' was a tendency, actually a pronounced weakness, to be taken by surprise. This time. Every time. Despite having gone through the same set of disappointments/rigmaroles again and again, the Common Man never exhibited a sense of deja vu. Every mishap, every blunder, every gross injustice served to him was met with an almost unbelievable degree of disbelief. Nothing made him more endearing to me than this quality. This was a natural disbelief stemming from a refusal of accept that "Man could stoop so low". Which in turn must have been rooted in diehard optimism. And it surprises me sometimes, that despite having been a laboured realist for over two decades, I still find myself disbelieving the obvious. Much like his Common Man. Brings me back to the'education' bit.

I would say the biggest prerequisite for any great artist who seeks to immortalise himself for posterity is the ability to understand the'limits' to his artistic license. In other words the amount of risk he can take while expressing himself before he starts running into trouble, or "unmanageable" trouble, to add a valid qualification. Many works of art that may appear innocuous at present were almost blasphemous material back when they were created. To his credit, Laxman had a very good idea of, to use a bit of cricketing parlance(blame it on the VVS effect:-P), where his "middle stump" was and its this quality that made him and his works immortal, much the same way as it made'Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro' the matchless cult classic that it is.

Probably the most disappointing aspect is the treatment dished out to the visions of the visionary. Its very disappointing for an artist's art to be NOT acknowledged for what it seeks to accomplish, in this case "mirror" society. But its even more disappointing if the art is acknowledged for what it is or what it could be(a beacon to the path of progress?) but is otherwise ignored when it comes to its internalisation and its deployment. I fear we, the people of India, relegated Laxman to the latter category. That explains why his keen sense of perception, concern and interest in his surroundings never rubbed onto the real common man despite the daily bombardment with a widely pervasive medium like newspapers.

The last and the most personal way he touched me was his influence on my attitude towards Life, an attribute he shared with guys like Jerome, Kafka and Orwell. Humour is the best antidote to the travails of Life. Only, in a country like ours, it takes much more than plain humour to survive. Probably a bit of sardonic sarcasm.

More than a bit perhaps. Much much more!

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