Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Remembering Shankar

Cartoonist Shankar 
is the best known name in the world of cartooning in India. They were full of fun, pun and satire. He is considered as the father of political cartooning in India. He founded Shanker’s Weekly, India’s Punch for a long time. But the children of his times, be it in India or elsewhere in the world, see him as their uncle who did much to make them laugh and enjoy life.

His full name was Kesava Shankara Pillai but he became better known as Shankar. He was born in 1902 at Kayamkulam, a town in Kerala. He attended schools in Kayamkulam and Mavelikkara. The sleeping posture of one of his teachers was his first cartoon. He drew it in his classroom. This made the headmaster angry. But then he was encouraged by his uncle who saw in him great potential as a cartoonist.

Shankar took keen interest in dramas, scouting, literary activities etc. He amazingly did good campaign for the collection of funds towards flood relief. This concern for the poor and the distressed people continued all though his life and reflected in his cartoons.
He left for Bombay for higher studies after his degree but quit his law studies midway. Shankar’s cartoons were published in the Free Press Journal and Bombay Chronicle. Pothen Joseph, the editor of The Hindustan Times brought him to Delhi as a staff cartoonist. Thus he and his family settled in Delhi finally.
Shankar’s cartoons attracted even Viceroys like Lord Willington and Lord Linlithgow. During this time, Shankar had a chance of training in London for about 14 months. He spent the period in various Art schools, utilising the opportunity to study the advanced techniques in cartooning.

He also visited Berlin, Rome, Vienna, Geneva and Paris. When he returned to India, the country was in the thick of freedom struggle. The dawn of independence also favoured Shankar’s dreams for a separate periodical. The idea came true when Pandit Jawarharlal Nehru released Shankar’s Weekly, edited by Shankar himself.

Shankar was chum to kids. He held them very dear to himself and organized annual painting and drawing competitions for them, which became very popular. It later began drawing children from all over the world. Annual awards from Shankar’s Weekly were presented by prime ministers.

He even founded a ‘Children’s Book Trust’ which was located in Nehru House on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg in New Delhi. Later the International Dolls Museum too came to be located here. Thus Nehru House became a ‘must visit’ item for kids going to New Delhi. It has now a children’s library and reading room.

Shankar died on December 26, 1989. But his 1949 cartoon of Ambedkar in a NCERT textbook prompted protest in parliament and an immediate withdrawal of the cartoon in 2012. 

As per records, neither Nehru nor Ambedkar had any objection to the below cartoon. For a cartoonist to show irreverence is natural, but there is never anything insulting about a Shankar cartoon. It is usually presented in the form of a gentle chiding. Even the outlines are gentle, a cartoon without being a caricature.

Keeping the needless controversy aside, we miss the Indian father of political cartooning in India on his birthday (31st July).