In the times of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy, we must draw from the legacy of RK Laxman
Cartoonist Rashipuram Krishnaswamy (RK) Laxman, whose daily pocket cartoon, You Said It on the front-page of the Times of India, was synoptic of the aam aadmi’s take on everything—from politics to pop culture—passed away on Monday. The creator of the iconic Common Man—the mostly-bald, white-haired, dhoti-and-plaid-jacket clad comic character—was 94.
It is in times like now—in the times of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy and the times mercurial leaders persecuting hapless average Joes for lampooning them on social media with cartoons—that we need to draw from Laxman’s legacy. Never short of biting wit, his cartoons often pushed the envelope in ridiculing the mighty, from the likes of Indira Gandhi to LK Advani. But they never pushed the boundaries of tolerance. It wasn’t as if Laxman sanitised his satire or was always politically correct. In fact, he once said, “The day … the quality of our leaders improves, I will have to retire and go away”. His satire was insightful, but never incendiary. For their part, the targets of his often-devastating humour, displayed self-deprecatory humour in laughing at their foibles, along with the aam aadmi. Laxman never pulled a Charlie Hebdo, nor did any leader ever pull a Mubarak or Mamata him. It has been noted often that the Common Man’s passive bewilderment, amplified by his round glasses, contrasted with the impunity the caricatures of the political and monied classes displayed in You Said It. While it would have perhaps reflected the milieu from two decades ago or earlier, the average Indian is not a bystander now, as is reflected in the growing citizen activism. Laxman’s life and times offer the aam aadmi a lesson on how to go about this.