‘Laxman Rekhas’

The celebration of the common man has been, and will always be, an uncommon tale. Fortunately, one person amongst us men has captured this ethos very well over the years. Through his satirical cartoons, legendary artist R.K. Laxman has glorified the bewildering life around a regular working class man, a mere mortal in the vast land that is India. For about five decades, Indians have looked forward to his cartoon strip ‘You Said It‘ in the newspaper every morning only to find a sardonic portrayal of the current affairs, mostly related to the political domain, that can be easily identified with.

Wouldn’t a collection of such portrayals be a prized possession for anyone? Most definitely. However, you tend to value it more when you receive it, quite unexpectedly, as a birthday present!

Yesterday when I opened my mailbox I found a copy the book ‘Laxman Rekhas’ with my name on top. It was a present sent to me by my cellular phone service provider, Idea Cellular. What a wonderful gesture! Now I recognize the fact that I wasn’t and won’t be the only person to receive this as a birthday gift, and it might even be a campaign by The Times of India and the cellular service provider to publicize the book as well as themselves, but who cares! I am loving it 🙂

A celebration of the common man, one of my prized birthday gifts this year

Needless to say, the book has some delectably hilarious sketches. On the last page is another sketch, this time that of a crow with a few words next to it, words which I think capture the character of the legendary cartoonist.

Crow

R.K Laxman’s fascination with the crow is well known. He has no patience with “stupid birds like the parrot”, but the crow, with its intelligence and quicksilver movement, has always captivated him. In his autobiography The Tunnel of Time, he wrote: “As I grew up I realized that crows had a temperament close to that of humans – clever, cunning and cautious!” Because the crow is so ubiquitous, found as it is on tree branches, near the garden tap, on the window sill, on top of statues and TV antennas, we tend, says the cartoonist, to take the bird for granted “like a full stop in a sentence”. One of the best compliments paid to him was when a child mistaking one of his framed core sketches for the real thing, flung a stone at it and cracked the glass.

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Government: A ‘Whisky Priest’

Government: A ‘Whisky Priest’

There has been a lot of air about the fight between the Indian government and the civil society on the battlegrounds of the anti-corruption ‘Jan Lokpal Bill‘ (citizen’s ombudsman bill). The swords too are nicely named: ‘stability’ and ‘morality’, and as with all swords, they are double-edged!

With neither side backing down, nor moving substantially forward, behind-the-scenes meetings and under-the-cloak deals being carried out every minute, its the classic stalemate that has plagued the world ever since the Greeks coined the word ‘democracy’, a brilliant concept spoilt by an ego-centric populace. Well, its no point blaming the Greeks anymore if recent history is anything to go by, they are more than suffering from the consequences of dealings under the economic part of that ideology.

Standing on the sidelines, though, I have tried to understand its gravity. While watching an episode (‘The Whisky Priest‘) of the extremely popular 1980’s British comedy TV series ‘Yes Minister’, I came across a dialogue sequence which made things clearer. The scene is question is after the minister, Jim Hacker, receives information about underhand dealings between British arms suppliers and middlemen and Italian red terrorists. He wishes to raise the issue with the Prime Minister and in that vein mentions his desires to his permanent under-secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby, a hard-core civil servant. Appleby advises him against opening ‘a can of worms’. This is what transpires after that advice, and it will give the reader a very good idea about the perpetual state of any government and civil service establishment on the Earth.

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Government isn’t about morality.

Minister Jim Hacker: Oh I see, what is it about then?

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Stability. Keeping things going. Preventing anarchy. Stopping society falling to bits. Still being here tomorrow.

Minister Jim Hacker: What for? What is the ultimate purpose of government, if it isn’t for doing good?

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Minister, government isn’t about good and evil, it is only about order or chaos.

Minister Jim Hacker: And it is order for Italian terrorists to get British bombs, and you don’t care?

Sir Humphrey Appleby: [disdainfully] It is not my job to care, that’s what politicians are for. My job is to carry out government policy.

Minister Jim Hacker: Even if you think it is wrong?

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Well, almost all government policy is wrong….. frightfully well carried out!

Minister Jim Hacker: Humphrey, have you ever known a civil servant to resign on a matter of principle?

Sir Humphrey Appleby: [surprised] I should think not! What an appalling suggestion!

Minister Jim Hacker: For the first time I fully understand that you are only committed to means, and not to ends.

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Well, as far as I am concerned, minister, and all my colleagues, there is no difference between means and ends.

Minister Jim Hacker: If you believe that Humphrey, you will go to hell.

Sir Humphrey Appleby: [smiling] Minister, I had no idea that you had a theological bent.

Minister Jim Hacker: You are a moral vacuum, Humphrey.

Sir Humphrey Appleby: If you say so, minister!

As Stan Lee of the Marvel Comics fame would say, “nuff said!”

(P.S. Follow the link to understand what the term whisky priest means.)