On your doorstep, or in their neighbourhood hotel, or the local tea shop, the media bring to you a world full of troubles. But along with that, they’ve had some consideration for your funny bone and give you a daily dose of laughter by publishing the work of some of the finest cartoonists in the country. “
On May 5 – World Cartoonist Day – here’s bringing you a glimpse of your favourite illustrators and what keeps them going.
One of the senior-most cartoonists in the media, EP Unny says growing up in a “cartoon savvy Kerala” and a “campus life that was acutely political” were a great foundation for his politics. As for his art, there were illustrators such as Ab Abraham, OV Vijayan and Rajinder Puri who drew him to it.
Chief Political Cartoonist with The Indian Express, Unny draws a pocket cartoon called “Business as Usual”. Ideally, he believes that there should be no sacred cows for humour, but says he refrains on drawing on matters of faith. On a related note, he says, “The space for irreverence is shrinking in our polity.”
Unny believes that space for cartoons in the English language press has shrunk but there’s a silver lining. “The websites could come forward and seize this print monopoly because news web is a more natural extension of print than news TV,” he says. Asked if he ever felt that he had run out of ideas, Unny had a one-word reply: “Scary (thought).”
Mir Suhail has been cartooning since he was 14. His first job was with Kashmir Images and has since worked with several newspapers in Kashmir and also with international publications. At 26, he is one of the sharpest artists around and insists that learning is a never-ending process.
He follows the works of many artists but his dyslexia prevents him from being able to recall any their names except for RK Laxman whom he admires. “If you have to decide if you want to look at things as a cartoonist or as (regular people do). Laxman was the aam admi (when he drew).”
On any subject, Mir believes research is key. “It’s important to keep talking to people. If I have an idea, then I make sure that I call people to find out what is happening on that front. It’s important to do research. You can’t just close your eyes and imagine someone’s problem,” he says.
His art is a product of the times he has lived in. “This situation (of violence) is as old as I am. When I was about five, one of my friends was killed in firing. Even today, when there is a death, I am reminded of it. It was hard to fight depression, and it is often hard to convert torture into humour,” he says.
Based in Srinagar, Mir draws on everything. His work is not just limited to the situation in Kashmir. Some of his cartoons on the coalition between the BJP and PDP are incisive. After Chetan Bhagat wrote his open letter after the Handwara firings, Mir drew a him a letter back, to which the writer responded in a tweet.
To everyone who disagrees with Mir, he has one thing to say: “I don’t have a gun in my hand, I have a pen. To everyone who calls me Pakistani, I tell them: ‘Come here, see what is going on for yourself and then decide.’”
A desire to participate in a political debate led Prasad Radhakrishnan to take up the profession. “The thing that lead me to cartooning is the same kind of thing that leads writers to write, poets to sing, artists to paint and cartoonists to lampoon.”
Starting his career with the now defunct ‘Observer of Business and Politics’ in New Delhi in 1993, Prasad is now with Economic Times. In the past, he has worked with Outlook, Business Standard, Financial Express and Mail Today.
Growing up in Kerala was a big influence on his political views. “And Kerala’s long tradition of social and political satire, starting from Kunchan Nambiar’s Ottanthullal, helped,” he says.
Prasad thinks cartoons are “negative art”, irreverent by their very nature. “Cartoons can be sugar-coated in humor. Beyond the line of irreverence lies bad taste,” added. He does not venture into the territory of natural disasters or personal tragedies unless it is to roast the government over relief operations and the blame games that follow.
He is not quite cynical about the future of the political cartoon. “Editorial cartoon has more or less disappeared from the front pages of our English newspapers, though regional language papers still give it on page one. Ads bring in revenue. Cartoons don’t.”
Satish Acharya quit a job in an advertising agency to pursue his love for cartooning. Reading Amar Chitra Katha books as a child drew him (pun unintended) to illustrations. But later, it was the cartoons RK Laxman and Mario Miranda in The Illustrated Weekly which inspired him to copy them, even though he was too young to understand the political humour. “They became my Dronacharyas.”
Hailing from Kundapura in Karnataka’s Udupi district, Satish’ work has appeared in several English and Kannada dailies. “As a political cartoonist I play the role of opposition.”
This said, he doesn’t think that laughter is the bottom line and that there are any holy cows for humour. “I don’t look at cartoons as a laugh-manufacturing factory,” he said. “The idea and the message is more important. I don’t hesitate to express my opinion through cartoons about death or tragedy, as long as I don’t trivialise the subject.
To him, politics is just a subject. “And as a cartoonist I’m a spectator. I just present my perspective through humourous cartoons. Some readers may not agree with me, but it’s my personal perspective,” he says.
However, he does think that most cartoonists stay within a “crucial” Lakshman Rekha that separates humour and bad taste. “We normally stay within that boundary, but we don’t hesitate to push the boundary when required.”
Satish believes that the popularity of satire on news portals and social media have helped revive political cartoons in newspapers. “News portals made cartoons popular through social media. This forced the newspapers to have a relook at cartoons. But it’s our challenge to do justice to the space.”