"My work is a recording of local history," says Gokul Gopalakrishnan.

Remembering Nawab Rajendran The activists life through illustrations of a Kerala cartoonistImage by Gokul Gopalakrishnan
news Thursday, March 10, 2016 - 13:09

It has been over a decade since TA Rajendran passed away, but Kerala-based cartoonist and researcher Gokul Gopalakrishnan, has vivid memories of the anti-corruption crusader walking the streets of Thrissur. 

Forty-year-old Gopal's comic on Rajendran’s life will feature in ‘First Hand: Graphic Non-fiction From India’, an anthology of non-fiction comics edited by Vidyun Sabhaney and Orijit Sen and published by Yoda Press. The book is to be released in April.

"I grew up in Thrissur and have often seen him, mostly in the regular food joints. He wore a very shabby look, his hair was long, so was his beard. He wore long kurtas and usually stayed at lodges with no permanent home," says Gopal, whose comics and writing have been published in several English national dailies.  

"But he was extremely talented and knowledgeable," he adds. 

The short biographical piece revolving around the events in the anti-corruption crusader's life is a "recording of local history", as Gopal puts it. 

Who was TA Rajendran?

Known as a rebel, Rajendran started his career as a journalist. He started a daily called "Nawab", a name that most people would subsequently recognise him with. Considered a sensational newspaper, Rajendran used Nawab to expose corruption, mostly in government departments.

This earned him quite a few enemies (and threats too), and he was arrested, beaten up, had his teeth plucked out ruthlessly, and he eventually had to shut down his paper. 

Not letting it affect his resolve, he then resorted to using Public Interest Litigations (PILs), to carry forward his fight and some of the most well-known ones among them were those against former Kerala Chief Minister K Karunakaran, when the latter was at the zenith of power.

Upon Nawab's death, poet KG Sankara Pillai had told The Hindu, "Mr Rajendran was a positive rebel and a human rights activist. He used the two pillars of democracy, the `judiciary and the media', to arrest the growing decadence of democratic power. He had identified corruption as the manifestation of that decadence, and he used the strategy of exposing corrupt persons to arrest that decadence.

“For the middle class, Mr. Rajendran was a sort of safety valve in that they perceived him to be a crusader who would fight the injustices that they wished to resist.”

Several reports described him as a pauper, with no money to his name. He did not have a fixed address either - he lived in the students' hostel of the Government Law College in Kochi for some time and if he did not have any place to go to, he would head to the bus stand. 

Gokul narrates how once Nawab was awarded a cash prize of Rs 2 lakh. He kept Rs 10,000 with him and gave the rest Rs 1,90,000 to the cancer ward of the government medical hospital.

In a piece for The Better India Ravi Kumar Ambadi wrote that when he once asked Nawab to form an organised movement, the latter replied: "There is no need to organize movements. Organization will certainly end in more corruption as an organization needs a lot of funds to run the show. And we will have to depend on rich people for that. As a result, we will have to do favors for them. If anybody wants to join me, let him do the work on his own. If everyone is ready to fight the evil practices of the society then all such nasty things will disappear."

On October 10, 2003, Nawab was found lying unconscious in his room in a lodge. He had been combating cancer at that time, and was declared dead at the hospital. 

Nawab's life in illustrations

Image source: First Hand: Graphic Non-Fiction From India/Facebook

"I initially thought he was a junkie. But looks can be very deceptive," says Gokul. 

Gokul draws his ideas from the place he hails from- Thrissur. "Thrissur is a small town, where most people know each other. My work is a recording of local history," he says stressing on why he chose Nawab as his subject. 

While the facts in his comic remain intact, Gokul has taken artistic liberty in his illustrations, letting his imagination guide his pen. "Even non-fiction," he says, "has an element of fiction."

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