WHEN Indian political cartoonists are discussed, Sudhir Dar's name usually figures in
the list of the first half-dozen. Expectedly so. For over two decades Dar worked as the
political staff cartoonist of Hindustan Times, the largest-selling newspaper in north
It may sound strange, but I have always considered Dar to be a victim of Indian
media's prevalent system. Till recently, media in India was heavily political.
Dar was never by inclination a political cartoonist. He is not a political animal. His
attitude to politics is somewhat akin to what I imagine would have been the attitude of
Bertie Wooster. Dar's forte was humour. Pure humour of the zany kind. His drawing
style suited that genre. Earlier he used clean lines without too much black, without
shading. Dar is a self-taught draughtsman without the visible influence of any other
artist. Unlike an icon like Laxman, or even Thackeray, neither of whom I imagine would
deny the profound influence David Low's work exerted on them.
For his first three years as a newspaper cartoonist, Dar drew only cartoons without
captions. He focused on humour, not topical comment. The comment, when it surfaced, was
incidental. This was possible because he worked for The Statesman, edited then by Evan
Charlton, who himself was not the typical Indian editor. His interest in politics was
marginal. He encouraged human interest features, travelogues and writings on nature. Only
in a newspaper like The Statesman of those days could Dar's zany humour, usually
unrelated to current news, have flourished.
But Dar had to get on in the profession. So he switched to HT when a vacancy for a
political cartoonist arose. Mulgaokar, who edited HT those days, was the antithesis of
Charlton. A political ideologue, Mulgaokar was carrying on his paper's
pre-independence tradition of being the most important media voice in Indian politics.
Dar had to get into the conventional mould of an Indian political cartoonist. For two
decades he acquitted himself with competence. But his real potential was never realised.
Had he pursued his natural inclination for pure humour and captionless cartoons, he might
have developed into an icon like the cartoonists of Punch and The New Yorker. Political
cartooning even took a toll on his drawing style. He resorted to shading, making his style
more conventional to fit in with the rest. He should have taken a leaf from Abu who
painstakingly evolved his deceptively simple, childlike style. Abu's drawing became a
talking point in Fleet Street in the Sixties. The feathery touch of Dar's earlier
style survived only in some of his Page One pocket cartoons. Fortunately, there was no
It is ironical that when Indian newspapers are diversifying themselves to get away from
politics—and not always with happy results—to create a natural space for social
cartoons, Dar has retired. Another wonderful cartoonist, Mario Miranda, had to get into
the current affairs straitjacket to find space as a pocket cartoonist in the daily press.
A pity the Indian press never allowed a cartoonist like Giles of The Daily Express to
develop in India. Like Mario, Giles was a wonderful artist. But he got a six-column spread
doing only social cartoons to become Britain's highest-paid cartoonist.
Old hands often complain that political cartoonists in India today are not like
Shankar, Kutty or Laxman in their heydays. The truth is we have as fine a bunch of
political cartoonists as ever. Ravi Shankar, Unny, Sudhir Tailang, Keshav, Ajit Ninan and
the rest can hold their own with cartoonists of any generation. The problem they face is
not of their making. Politics itself has become so trivial as to render improbable
cartoons that are memorable.
Dar's fifth such book, The Best of Sudhir Dar, reproduces only his pocket
cartoons. For fans of cartoons it's essential addition to their memorabilia. For air
travellers it is an ideal companion.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Dear Mr. Dar,
My aunt who is an old friend of yours and Mukut Narain Tankha from Allahabad University - Doris Singh - who was studying her Masters in Geography is remembering you. She is presently in India staying with us and would like to hear from you. Please do drop her a line on my address.
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