The Story of Indian Art #7: R.K Laxman

Rasipuram Krishnaswami Laxman (famously known as R. K. Laxman) was born later this month (24th October) in the year 1921 in Mysore. His most famous creation was the comic strip ‘You Said It’, which featured the ‘Common Man’ as a silent and anonymous observer of life in India. Let’s meet the man behind the world’s most famous anonymous hero.

Rasipuram Krishnaswami Laxman (famously known as R. K. Laxman) was born later this month (24th October) in the year 1921 in Mysore. His most famous creation was the comic strip ‘You Said It’, which featured the ‘Common Man’ as a silent and anonymous observer of life in India. Let’s meet the man behind the world’s most famous anonymous hero.

R.K.Laxman (1921-2015)

Early Laxman

Laxman’s father was a headmaster. Laxman was the youngest of six brothers and a sister. The celebrated author, R. K Narayan, was his elder brother.

Engrossed by the illustrations in magazines such as The Strand, Punch, Bystander, Wide World, and Tit-Bits, before he had even begun to read, Laxman was soon drawing on his own, on the floors, walls and doors of his house. Next, he began drawing caricatures of his father and teachers, much to the amusement of his siblings and classmates.

An early influence on Laxman was the work of the world-renowned British cartoonist, Sir David Low (whose signature he misread as “cow” for a long time) that appeared now and then in The Hindu.

After high school, Laxman applied to the J. J. School of Art, Bombay, where he hoped to hone his passion for drawing and painting. But the dean of the school wrote to him saying that his drawings lacked “the kind of talent to qualify for enrolment in our institution as a student”, and refused admission. Laxman then enrolled at the University of Mysore, from where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts.

R.K Laxman’s iconic ‘Common Man’

Laxman in shorts

After completing his education, Laxman began taking up freelance projects with newspapers. After graduation he continued his freelance work and contributed cartoons to ‘Swarajya’, drew illustrations for an animated film based on the mythological character Narada, and worked as a part of an animated film unit at Gemini Studios in Madras.

In the early 1940s, Laxman moved to Bombay and tried his luck at several newspapers. In Bombay, he started working for R.K. Karanjia’s weekly publication, ‘Blitz’. This proved to be his first break and he began to make a name for himself as a cartoonist.

In 1946 he landed a full-time job as a political cartoonist at The Free Press Journal in Mumbai (Bombay). Here he met Bal Thackeray, who, too, was a cartoonist, before the latter went on to form the political party, Shiv Sena.

In 1951 Laxman moved to The Times of India, where he created You Said It, which adorned the newspaper’s front page and continued to do so well into the 21st century.

In 1954, Laxman also created a popular mascot – Gattu – for the Asian Paints group. His cartoons have also appeared in Hindi films such as Mr.& Mrs. ’55 and a Tamil film Kamaraj. His creations also include the sketches drawn for the television adaptation of Malgudi Days, which was written by his elder brother R. K. Narayan and directed by Shankar Nag.

In addition to being a cartoonist Laxman was also a writer. He published numerous short stories, essays and travel articles. Some of these pieces were collected in an anthology called The Distorted Mirror (2003). He also wrote the novels The Hotel Riviera (1988) and The Messenger (1993) and an autobiography, The Tunnel of Time (1998).

In 2005, Laxman was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian honour.

Laxman at a glance

  • Full name: Rasipuram Krishnaswamy Iyer Laxman
  • Most iconic creation: The Common Man
  • Nationality: Indian
  • Born on: 24 October 1921
  • Born in: Mysore
  • Died on: 26 January 2015
  • Place of death: Pune, Maharashtra, India
  • Spouse: Kumari Kamala
  • Notable Awards: Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan, and Ramon Magsaysay Award

“I am grateful to our politicians. They have not taken care of the country, but me.” ~R.K.Laxman

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Avinash Subramaniam

Avinash has been an advertising writer, fiction writer, poetry writer, freelance writer and serial wronger. Other roles he has been in include those of an editor, brand builder, and teacher. His interests include advertising, scrabble, body building, chess, cinema, making money, reading, internet culture, cricket, photography. To hear him air his thoughts, follow him on Twitter @armchairexpert.

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