Vol. 5 Num 418 Sat. July 30, 2005  

Book Review
The Common Man

R K Laxman (the 'R K' stands for Rasipuram Krishnaswamy) is widely regarded as India's foremost cartoonist, the creator of The Common Man. He was born the youngest of eight children--of whom one was R K Narayan, the novelist--in the southern city of Mysore in present-day Karnataka. Laxman's earliest work was for newspapers and magazines such as Swarajya and Blitz. Then, while still in college, he began to illustrate R K Narayan's stories in The Hindu, as well as start to draw political cartoons for local Mysore newspapers. Later he left Mysore for the Free Press Journal in Bombay. The story goes that one day the Journal's proprietor banned him from making fun of communists. So the twenty-three-year old Laxman left the premises, caught a victoria, and walked into the The Times of India office. From that day 'I had a table and a room to myself which I have used ever since,' he has said, speaking about a career in the newspaper that has spanned for over fifty years.

It was in the Times, in 1951, that he began his daily one-panel comic 'pocket cartoon' series You Said It, which featured The Common Man, and started to chronicle the state of Indian life. The evolution of The Common Man is interesting to note. In the beginning Laxman attempted to cram in his cartoons representatives from all the different states and cultures in India. In the rush to meet deadlines, Laxman began to draw fewer and fewer background characters, until only one remained: the now-familiar Common Man--the tousle-headed, check-coated man who blinks in bafflement from the sidelines in each cartoon.

Farhad Ahmed is a free-lance writer.

The Best of Laxman: the common man casts his vote by R. K. Laxman; Delhi: Penguin India; 2005; 188 pp.; Rs. 200.