It was in 2014 that cartoonist Satish Acharya along with a group of cartoonists in Kundapura in Udupi district of Karnataka held the first edition of Cartoon Habba, an exhibition of cartoons. The festival celebrating the world of caricatures and cartoons was, in Satish's words, started with the aim of creating an interest in cartooning among youngsters.
Five years on, the festival has become an annual affair that is quietly capturing the imagination of youngsters in the coastal town. "We felt that atmosphere to encourage cartooning was missing here," Satish says looking back at the start of the five-year journey. "We used to have exhibitions and workshops here (in Kundapura) as a college student before moving to Mumbai. After I returned in 2010, we found that students are not very interested in cartooning. For them, a cartoon meant Chhota Bheem or Tom and Jerry. They were not reading newspapers or following current affairs and we were not able to get them interested in cartooning," he says.
This opinion of cartooning irks Satish who considers cartooning as a serious journalistic skill. "We consider cartooning as a part of journalism because it is not just about the art, there is an opinion which requires journalistic skill. It is the visual depiction of an opinion which can be about a serious topic too." He goes on to say that many effective cartoons do not have an element of humour. "They have emotion and expression in them," he adds.
The message of cartooning as a way of communication and expression resonates in every iteration of the Cartoon Habba. Since 2014, the event has gone from strength to strength holding workshops to draw cartoons, contests to encourage the art and also discussions on the intricacies of practicing cartooning in an increasingly digital age.
"There is a session on why people should appreciate cartoons. There are times we take messages strongly from cartoons and Satish Acharya himself has been attacked in the past for his views", says Bengaluru (South) DCP Annamalai K, who has previously been a keynote speaker at the event.
He further highlights the importance of the 'Cyber Crime' session at the event due to its setting in coastal Karnataka which has been in the news for communal and political violence, particularly around the time of elections. "There is also a cyber crime session in which we discuss why hatred, abuse and fights revolving on ideologies happen online. The discussion conveys the message of the right to expression. It also highlights the rise of cyber crimes," Annamalai adds.
This year, the event will be inaugurated on December 6. A panel discussion 'Hashtag Harate' will be held on December 7 focusing on the digital lives of individuals in which journalists and political leaders will share a stage. 'Cartoon Kali', a workshop introducing interested people to cartooning will be held on December 7. The festival will also host a contest for students from class 5 to those studying in degree colleges encouraging them to draw cartoons.
The event also comes at a time when editorial cartoonists are fighting for space in publications. In the recent past, Satish has been vocal about the suppression of a cartoonist's voice especially after discontinuing his cartoon column in Mail Today in August.
But he does not think that the vociferous opposition that faces cartoonists online will affect the event. "When the audience reads a cartoon on social media, they respond to it tend to label it as anti-Modi or pro-Congress. But at an exhibition there are all kinds of cartoons and there will be cartoons on the opposite ideology also", he says.
Satish Acharya at Cartoon Habba 2017
The cartoonist admits that the organisers of the festival are aware of the task cut out for them in their bid to get youngsters interested in cartooning. "We know it will be a long journey. We are trying to attract youngsters to cartooning and let them enjoy it. If they are passionate about it, they can take it forward either professionally or as a serious hobby," he says.
Karnataka is no stranger to editorial cartoonists. The state was introduced to the talents of RK Laxman much before he gained instant recognition for his daily cartoon column in Times of India. In the early 1940s Laxman's works were published by Koravanji, a Kannada magazine published in Bengaluru.
Today, over seventy years later, events like Cartoon Habba can offer a ray of hope to help create the atmosphere for editorial cartoonists to thrive again. ]
The schedule for the event can be found here .