Shankar, the legendary cartoonist and political satirist, carved a niche for himself in post-Independence India by fearlessly poking fun at influential leaders. From the British colonial administration to prominent figures like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, Shankar's cartoons captured the essence of the times. This article delves into his remarkable journey, his unique relationship with Nehru, and the impact of his satire.
Anti-establishment from the start
Born in Kayamkulam, Kerala, on July 31, 1902, Shankar's early foray into cartooning began by caricaturing people, including a teacher sleeping in the classroom. Despite the trouble it caused him, Shankar's talent was recognized by his uncle, who encouraged him to pursue his art. After studying painting at the Ravi Varma School of Painting, he joined the Hindustan Times as a staff cartoonist in 1932, honing his craft through rigorous training in the United Kingdom and Europe.
Cartooning against colonial administration
Shankar's cartoons often targeted the British colonial administration, depicting Viceroys like Lord Willingdon and Lord Linlithgow, as well as leaders of the independence movement like Mahatma Gandhi and Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Although his cartoons drew criticism and occasionally got him into trouble, one notable cartoon depicting Lord Linlithgow as Goddess Bhadrakali received surprising appreciation from the Viceroy himself. However, Gandhi, in a postcard to Shankar, offered constructive criticism and advice on the ethical boundaries of cartooning.
Challenging Nehru and beyond
Shankar's weekly satirical magazine, aptly named Shankar's Weekly, became a platform for future cartoonists and provided a voice against the establishment. Nehru, India's first prime minister, featured prominently in more than 4,000 of Shankar's cartoons. Despite their political differences, Nehru admired Shankar's ability to highlight weaknesses and foibles with artistic skill. The cartoonist never shied away from satirizing Nehru, including a notable cartoon depicting the power struggle within Nehru's cabinet.
Emergency and the end of an era
In 1975, during the Emergency imposed by Nehru's daughter, Indira Gandhi, Shankar's Weekly closed its doors. While some believed the magazine shut down due to the political climate, Shankar attributed it to the financial strain of running a weekly publication. In the final edition, Shankar emphasized the importance of humor and compassion, stating that a developed sense of humor requires tolerance and civilized norms of behavior.
Legacy and literature for children
Following the closure of Shankar's Weekly, Shankar redirected his talents toward writing and illustrating children's books. In 1957, he founded the Children's Book Trust, which continues to thrive today. Shankar's dedication to promoting literature for children and his contribution to the field are significant aspects of his lasting legacy.
Shankar's legacy lives on through his influential work and his contributions to children's literature, leaving an indelible mark on India's artistic landscape.