Three weeks ago, a picture popped up on Pencilashan’s Instagram account. Torchlight in the darkness and two dialogue boxes. One asks another, ‘What are you searching for?’ The other says, “Humanity! It was kept somewhere here last year, after the flood.”
The dialogues are in Malayalam, posted in the week when rains and floods and landslides were once again battering Kerala, beginning to look menacing like they did last August. Vishnu Madhav, the creator, cannot remember when his cartoons posted under the name Pencilashan began getting so noticed, thousands liking, sharing, commenting on every one of them.
“It is a love that began in my schooldays in Kannur, where I grew up. I’d watch TV news till 12 in the night and read the newspapers in the morning before drawing a political cartoon every day. Those days, I’d show it to my parents and try to publish it some way. When nothing else worked, I began running a newspaper of my own, printing copies for my mates at school. It was called Malayala Shabdam. I put my name down as Chief Editor,” Vishnu says.
Left: Pencilashan Logo; Right: Vishnu Madhav
Vishnu now works as an illustrator, for some reason not taking up a media job like he’d wanted ever since he was a child. “I don’t know, it didn’t happen for some reason. After schooling, I did my BFA at Shantiniketan in West Bengal and didn’t wait to do a Masters, but began working, drawing illustrations and caricatures for a children’s publication.”
Social media let him satisfy his creative urges while drawing cartoons. He’d follow news like he did as a child, and an idea would strike him here and there. He’d note them on a sketchbook and draw them all as soon as he could. He knows the illustrations would lose their news value if he kept them for later. Be it Sabarimala, last year’s floods, elections or cinema, Pencilashan’s cartoons did not leave out anything.
The most recent one that got a lot of attention is an Amit Shah cartoon in which the BJP president is seen leaning on a table that has a pair of handcuffs on one side and the lotus party symbol on the other. “An offer you can’t refuse,” he says, seemingly with a thud on the table. Clearly referring to the time politicians were jumping parties, especially in Karnataka, leading to the Congress-JDS government’s fall.
“I get threats. Nobody likes it when their (political) party is criticised. I also get threats when I touch sensitive subjects like religion. Someone offered me a visa to Pakistan. And then there are the threats I get from fans of actors I draw caricatures of. I interact with people who comment on the cartoons but when it becomes abusive, I ignore them,” Vishnu says.
He is also an active part of Manjappada, the Kerala Blasters football club fans community, and is involved in making cartoons and banners for them.
A banner Vishnu designed for Kerala Blasters