Telling it as it is
WHEN SHANKAR lampooned the British government in his regular cartoon strips people on both sides of the divide recognised in them an easy banter that was amusing and largely inoffensive. The timing was correct. The British were on their way out and couldn't be bothered anymore; Nehru appreciated Shankar's humour and gave him a free hand. However, when O.V.Vijayan came onto the scene he was appalled by the frivolity with which India's hard earned freedom was being abused. His bitterness that the `tryst with destiny' was not being lived up to and this showed up in his caricatures where he blamed the system for throwing up people of a smaller stature who were unable to meet the challenges of a fledgling democracy.
And so, while it is an intrinsic characteristic of a cartoon that it should evoke a smile in the viewer, Vijayan's stir up a gloomy sigh. "It is an unutterable sadness which punctuates the reality that I am called to portray," says the man whose cynicism is a product of the environment that he confronts. How insensitive are those who thirst for Coke when our own children are growing up on grass?, he asks.
Shankar felt that Vijayan's commentary was too harsh on a nascent nation. On his part the latter felt compelled to shake up a slumbering people. What has propelled his cartoons to centre stage is their global, timeless character. He was fortunate that his works that appeared in Far Eastern Economic Review were reproduced in the New York Times so that his readership became truly global. In no time at all the international press became aware of his presence. Moreover, the scenes that he portrays are more or less perennial. They transcend the particular, highlighting instead the conceptual so that their validity is long lasting. Themes rise above boundaries; the upshot being that his commentary on dictatorship or whatever else can be applied anywhere in the world.
Vijayan wooed Communism for some time until Stalin's regime, among many other happenings worldwide, cast disillusionment and he became its zealous critic. With an aching heart he realised that compassion, which was a hallmark of his very being had no room in this ideology. The romance was cut short and the God had failed him.
Clearly a walk around his exhibition, which was mounted on the first floor of Durbar Hall Art Gallery was an indicator of his sense of betrayal. Wry and pungent he tells it as it is. So moved was a visitor at the show that he commented, "If I had to choose the five best cartoonists in the world, Vijayan would be one of them." The exhibition was organised by the Kerala Cartoon Academy, Bank Employees Art Movement, Ernakulam, Centre for Studies in Culture & Heritage of Cochin and Kerala Kalapeetom.
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