March 31, 2020
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Common Touch

R.K. Laxman is more than our foremost political cartoonist. He is a national habit.

Common Touch
Common Touch
The Distorted Mirror—Stories, Travelogues, Sketches
By R.K. Laxman
Viking/Penguin Pages: 160; Rs 225
R.K. Laxman is more than our foremost political cartoonist. He is a national habit. For many, the day is incomplete if they don’t chuckle over what Laxman said that morning and share it with their friends. It’s a mystery what prompted ToI to move his cartoons to an inside page. Mercifully, his pocket cartoons continue on Page 1. Perhaps the owners have nothing against the Common Man.

Laxman is no political ideologue or moral evangelist. What drives him is a sense of the ridiculous, a remarkable grasp of the issues of our time and the psychology of our political class. His lines are bold, as Low’s and Herblock’s used to be. The strength of his ideas enables him to dispense with eccentric or bizarre draughtsmanship.

If Laxman has a way with lines, he also has a way with words. He is a superb story-teller and mimic. He also has a third string to his bow—writing, and is the author of a couple of novels and quite a few short stories, sketches and travelogues. His new anthology is a little book which is lots of fun. One short story is as good as any written by his famous brother, R.K. Narayan. It’s about a boy called Gopal who is taken from school during the British days to cheer a visiting Viceroy. While waiting, Gopal gets so involved balancing an ant on a stick that he totally misses the cavalcade. Back home, when his mother asks him whether he had a good look at the Viceroy he says, "No, I was busy."

Laxman also talks about his craft here. He says he’s frequently asked jejune questions like how he gets his ideas, how many people work under him, and what ministers think of his work. One question rarely asked: "When you look around, does everything appear funny to you?" Answering himself, he says cartoonists don’t lead charmed lives. He is subject to the same worries that beset others but cultivates a professional pastime of watching faces and features of people in all kinds of situations. The reader will find himself agreeing with Laxman that the dividing line between the caricature and the caricatured has disappeared. But one question: why call it ‘The Distorted Mirror’? The mirror is not distorted. It is people who are distorted, the mirror just enables them to find it out.

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