Brushing Up the Years: A Cartoonist's History of India 1947-2004

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Item Code: IDJ408
Author: R. K. Laxman
Publisher: Penguin Viking
Edition: 20014
ISBN: 9780143103660
Pages: 302 (Illustrated Throughout in B/W)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 7.2 X" 9.0"
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Book Description
From the Jacket

From 1947, throughout the entire history of independent India. R. K. Laxman's cartoons have appeared regularly in The Time of India, commenting on every possible aspect of India's social and political life. Some years ago. Time magazine called R. K. Laxman the country's sharpest cartoonist and political satirist. For many Indians. However, Laxman is much more. His daily cartoons, with their whimsical, idiosyncratic and downright hilarious depictions of Indianness, have become something of a national habit-a way for millions of readers to tackle the perplexing and often frustrating headlines in the morning newspaper. Laxman's Common Man cartoons (where the Common Man, like the quintessential Indian, observes everything that goes on around him-from political wranglings to household squabbles-but never utters a word) are sharp and pointed observations on the rampant corruption, social injustice, financial fiascos and political byplays that have plagued the nation since its inception. His political cartoons, on the other hand, are marvelous caricatures of the personalities and policies of our larger-than-life leaders. Laxman's cartons represent a uniquely Indian take on life, informed, humourous. Philosophical and. Above all, mischievous. These, perhaps. Are the qualities that have made him India's best-loved cartoonist.

Brushing Up the Years: A Cartoonist's History of India 1947-2004 is a selection of the very best of Laxman's cartoons, drawn over a career spanning six decades. From India's first general elections to Nehru's Five-Year Plans. From the wars with China and Pakistan to the reign of Indira Gandhi and the Emergency. From Rajiv Gandhi's government. The rise of regional politics and the fall of the Babri Masjid to economic liberalization. The rule of the BJP and the Congress's return to power. These cartoons trace a history of modern India. a history that is perceptive, provocative and humourous. Brushing Up the Years is a unique book that reveals what modern India is al about. It is a collector's item that every Indian will want to possess.

Rasipuram Krishnaswamy Laxman was born in Mysore in 1924. He began cartooning for the Free Press Journal. A newspaper in Bombay. In 1947. Soon after he graduated from the University of Mysore. Six months later he joined the Times of India as staff cartoonist: he continues to draw for the newspaper even today.

R. K Laxman has written and published numerous short stories. Essays and travel articles. Some of which has been collected in the book The Distorted Mirror. He has also written three works of fiction. The Hotel Riviera. The Messenger and Servants of India. All of which have been published by Penguin Books. Penguin has also published several collection of Laxman's cartoons in the series The Best of Laxman and Laugh with Laxman. The Tunnel of Time. Laxman's autobiography. Is also available from Penguin.

R. K. Laxman has won numerous awards for his cartoons. Including Asia's top journalism award. The Ramon Magsaysay Award, in1984. The University of Marathwada and the University of Delhi have conferred honorary Doctor of Literature degrees on his. In 2005. The Government of India honoured him with the Padma Vibhushan.

Publisher Note

R. K. Laxman began drawing cartoons for The Time of India in 1947, and his work has appeared regularly in the newspaper for fifty-eight years now. This book is a representative selection from more than 30,000 cartoons that he has drawn over his career. It cannot claim to contain all of his best work, for many of Laxman's cartoons from the earlier decades are lost or were given away, and no copies are available, it also does not purport to trace Laxman's artistic development as a cartoonist over the years, since the span of this volume is too short for that purpose. What Brushing Up the years does is showcase some of Laxman's most memorable cartoons, and place them in a historical context. In the process, nearly every year of Laxman's remarkable cartooning career has been represented in the book.

Since the cartoons are chronologically arranged, they provide something like a running commentary on India's unfolding history over the six decades since Independence. Needless to say, this history is by no means a comprehensive account of the events that have occurred across India's political and social landscape since 1947. it is a very selective history, moulded by artistic perception. The effort has been to try to capture the way in which Laxman recreated or represented events, and not to chronicle the events themselves. Thus, many key markers in India's socio-political history have not been included in this book. Also excluded are scores of brilliant but very topical cartoons, the context of which have become so obscure now that they would be difficult to explain.

The commentary that accompanies the cartoons is meant to serve the sole purpose of putting the cartoons in historical context, and does not reflect the author's or publisher's views towards any personality, political party or institution.

Laxman suffered a cerebral stroke in 2002. While his brushstrokes are understandably less firm in the last cartoons in this book, his insights and wit remain as sharp as ever.


The art of cartooning came to India from England, and the first political cartoons drawn in this country depicted real personages-readers of the freedom movement and guardians of imperial authority like the Viceroy or Governor-and social evils such as the dowry system or child labour. Enslaved India was symbolized by the image of a long-suffering Indian woman called Bharat Mata, a semi-divine being with flowing dark tresses, carefully draped in a sari and adorned with a crown.

When the British left, the Constitution of free India provided the cartoonist with ample freedom of expression. His canvas could also expand now to include the motley crew of politicians and their hilarious antics. Our leaders introduced an altogether new style of functioning in our political life-political news no longer concerned ideologies or constructive plans to benefit the citizens, but detailed instead how intra-party groups worked against each other, squabbled among themselves, parted company from the party to form a new one, or defected back to the same party they had been opposing heartily till the day before. Strange political behaviour like dharnas, floor-crossing, booth-capturing, toppling ministers and so on became part of the daily news. As a nation we are rather prone to talk politics-whether at a bus-stand or in a railway compartment, at an exclusive cocktail party or in office. Due to this abiding interest in politics and politicians, political cartoonists began to flourish.

As I became more and more entrenched in watching and commenting on the political phantasmagoria of our country I needed an acceptable symbol to represent the common Indian in my cartoons. In the early days I used to try and cram in as many figures as I could into a cartoon to represent the masses. Gradually I began to concentrate on fewer and ewer figures. Eventually, I succeeded in reducing my symbol to one man: a man in a checked coat, whose bald head boasts only a wisp of white hair, and whose bristling moustache lends support to a bulbous nose, which in turn holds up an oversized pair of glasses. He has a permanent look of bewilderment on his face. And he is ubiquitous. Today he is found hanging around a cabinet room where a high-powered meeting is in progress. Tomorrow he is among the slum-dwellers listening to their woes. He has been witness to every kind of political instability and economic setback the country has been, and has survived all sorts of domestic crises for six decades now. Like the mute millions of our country he has not uttered a word in all the years he has been around. He is a silent, bemused and often bewildered spectator of events that in any case are beyond his control.

Besides the 'big' political cartoons, the Common Man has appeared in a single-column series called 'You Said It', which is meant as a free-wheeling comment on the state of things, free of real political personalities and actual political events. While the 'big' cartoon might feature Nehru, Indira Gandhi or Vajpayee, the Common Man appeared in the smaller cartoon with nameless villagers, bureaucrats, ministers,

Officegoers, businessmen, householders, street-dwellers, commuters-in face every type, from every walk of life, as the occasion warranted.

Over fifty-eight years of Independence readers-and the Common Man-have seen a lot of interesting things. Brushing Up the Years contains cartoons I have drawn over my entire career-from 1947 to the present. I am continually surprised to note that many of them are as relevant today as when they were drawn several years ago.

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