G C Lichtenberg: “It is as if our languages were confounded: when we want a thought, they bring us a word; when we ask for a word, they give us a dash; and when we expect a dash, there comes a piece of bawdy.”

W H Auden: "But in my arms till break of day / Let the living creature lie. / Mortal, guilty, but to me/ The entirely beautiful."

Will Self: “To attempt to write seriously is always, I feel, to fail – the disjunction between my beautifully sonorous, accurate and painfully affecting mental content, and the leaden, halting sentences on the page always seems a dreadful falling short. It is this failure – a ceaseless threnody keening through the writing mind – that dominates my working life, just as an overweening sense of not having loved with enough depth or recklessness or tenderness dominates my personal one.”

John Gray: "Unlike Schopenhauer, who lamented the human lot, Leopardi believed that the best response to life is laughter. What fascinated Schopenhauer, along with many later writers, was Leopardi’s insistence that illusion is necessary to human happiness."

Art Spiegelman: "You know words in a way are hitting you on the left side of your brain, music and visual arts hit on the right side of the brain, so the idea is to pummel you, to send you from left brain to right brain and back until you're as unbalanced as I am."

विलास सारंग: "संदर्भ कुठलेही असोत, संस्कृत, इंग्रजी, बुद्धिवादी, तांत्रिक, इतिहासाचे, खगोलशास्त्राचे, आधुनिक पदार्थविज्ञानाचे, शिवकालीन व पेशवाईतील बखरीचे, अगणित ज्ञानक्षेत्रांचे, अशा वैविध्यपूर्ण ज्ञानावर लेखन- विशेषत: कवितालेखन- उभं राहत."

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Cartoon Or A Powder Keg?

Kancha Ilaiah:

"...After Ambedkar joined Nehru’s Cabinet, he was also seen as one who compromised himself for power. After he resigned from the Cabinet in 1953, and after he embraced Buddhism three years later, his image and status transformed quite dramatically. And after the Mandal movement of 1990, Ambedkar’s stature assumed messianic proportions. The present Ambedkar is not a negotiator with Nehru or Gandhi. Rather, as a messiah of the large army of the oppressed people of this country, he’s quite different from Gandhi and Nehru...

...What Mr Yadav and Mr Palshikar refuse to recognise is that Ambedkar was not just a writer of Indian Constitution, not just a nationalist leader, and not just a theoretician, but he was a prophetic figure who revived Buddhism that was driven out of India by a whole range of social forces over a period of several centuries. Thus, in every Buddha Vihar today he sits along with Buddha.
The icon of the oppressed community cannot be compared with a god or goddess of the oppressors. Nor can the protest against the Ambedkar cartoon be seen at par with the Hindutva protest against the Goddess Saraswati cartoon drawn by M.F. Hussain...

...Shankar Pillai’s cartoons were friendly jokes for the upper-caste English-educated elite of the post-Independence ruling class, but certainly not for the dalit/Other backward Classes/adivasi population..."


(The Asian Age, May 22 2012)



Another political cartoon, this time drawn by great K Shankar Pillai (1902-1989) in 1940's, is in the news.

Once again for wrong reasons. BTW- When this is being discussed on TV or radio, hardly any one mentions Shankar's name!

Many years ago, my father had acquired a commemorative volume of Shankar's pictures. I must have spent hours browsing it over many days. I still remember a few pictures from that.

The one I remember most is:

Shankar riding a donkey/pony a la Don Quixote, loaded with his 'weaponry', is leaving cartooning for good and politicians of all hue are bidding goodbye to him with mixed feelings. I think the caption was something like "parting...but not without sorrow". It was wonderful...moving.

It was this picture:



I remember many pictures on the subject of: "After Nehru Who?" from that book. His affection for Nehru was very apparent.

Should Shankar's political cartoon have been used in a school text?

My Answer: NO. It was an error of judgement.

Why?

1> My son has just given exam for Class 12 and he tells me how all subjects are taught without any nuances in his school. He feels the controversial picture would have been found offending by a few of his classmates. He doesn't think his teachers could have been to able to 'explain' it.

In such an environment, a political cartoon can become a powder keg.

2> India's widespread 'visual' illiteracy. There are a number of posts on the subject on this blog. Most notably this one.

When people send me an occasional comment on the posts from this blog, they seldom mention the picture and this blog is above all about pictures, visuals!

After reading Prof. Suhas Palshikar's (सुहास पळशीकर) brilliant essay in Samaj Prabodhan Patrika April-June 2008 (समाज प्रबोधन पत्रिका), I wrote this post and informed Prof. Palshikar about it. He responded immediately with very encouraging words but did NOT say anything on John Tenniel's brilliant moving cartoon there! Maybe he was very busy.

So people are either indifferent to a visual or go ballistic looking at one.

I can go on ad nauseam!

Therefore, unless we improve this literacy, we shouldn't use political cartoons in texts.

3> There is no exact word for cartoon in Marathi. It's called either 'vyangchitra' (व्यंगचित्र) or 'hasyachitra'(हास्यचित्र). Both these words are slight misnomers. Every time Marathi people see a cartoon they think they need to laugh at the drawn personalities or a scene. Most don't think there is any other purpose to a cartoon.

4> Although the cartoon was first published in the late 1940's, it was 'reissued' c 2006 and is being 'seen' today in 2012. Remember, no one objected to this cartoon before it came in NCERT text.

However a political cartoon works strictly in a context.

A year after independence, Indians might be in a 'hurry' to see it being turned into the Republic and Shankar is showing that eagerness by depicting crowd in the cartoon containing ordinary men, women and children of the newly independent nation.

However, in 2012, we appreciate, in words of Pranab Mukherjee, "how Ambedkar oversaw the writing of one of the world's lengthiest constitutions" in record low time.

Context has clearly changed. Are India's 17-year old's mature enough or trained enough to look at a picture in their text along with its full historical context?

A lot of things transpired between the Congress and Dr. B R Ambedkar after the cartoon was published.

For instance, N. Ram writes:

"He (Dr. Ambedkar) was emphatically opposed to Gandhism and to the Congress ideology, although on some social issues he shared common points with Jawaharlal Nehru – who badly let down his Minister of Law on the Hindu Code Bill in the early 1950s...Dr Ambedkar can be considered as a founder of non-Congressism and anti-Congressism in Indian politics..."

(Frontline, January 15 2010)

Ex-Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Ms. Mayawati:

“…In fact, the Congress played a very dirty game with Dr Ambedkar when its leaders tried to foil the election of Dr Ambedkar to the Constituent Assembly by giving away a part of Bengal (that had elected Dr Ambedkar) to Pakistan. By doing so, Dr Ambedkar would have ended up as member of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly. However, when Dr Ambedkar apprised the British of this gameplan, they (British) asked the Congress to include Dr Ambedkar in the Indian Constituent Assembly and finally the Congress had to agree…”

(The Asian Age, April 15, 2008)

If this is so- and I condemn even the slightest violence committed in this regard- isn't it offensive for followers of Dr. Ambedkar to see him being 'driven'- even in jest- by J L Nehru, and that too as a part of a nation-wide textbook? (If you see the cartoon carefully, you will notice that Nehru is about to whip the snail and NOT Dr. Ambedkar. But interpretations may vary.)

Perhaps great Shankar himself wouldn't have drawn this cartoon in 1950's considering above and his own perceived closeness to India's first Prime Minister.

p.s.

This is what I read on June 15 2012:

"...Arjun Dev (ex-Professor of History in the NCERT) felt that it was a pity that much of the discussion that had taken place had, in fact, prevented a rational and objective discussion on the usefulness of this particular textbook as suitable educational material. He wondered whether the preponderance of cartoons in a textbook as ‘aids' really helped promote interest in the subject and make for a better critical comprehension.

“This particular textbook suffers from ‘overkill', with many cartoons making little sense in the absence of any reference to the context in which they were drawn. There are no dates anywhere, which would in some cases be of some use in even ‘understanding' a cartoon, even finding in it something ‘funny' or humorous. There is a cartoon on page 7 of the book in which Nehru has two faces, one facing a group of persons in dhotis and kurtas sitting on the ground shouting Vande Mataram and the other facing a group of ‘decently' clothed and ‘educated'-looking persons, most of them sitting properly in chairs playing musical instruments and singing Jana Gana Mana with a few standing behind them (the one standing resembles Maulana Azad and the one sitting, Ambedkar). The text tells the reader: ‘Here is Nehru trying to balance between different visions and ideologies. Can you identify what these different groups stand for?' Can you?” Arjun Dev asked..."

(T.K. RAJALAKSHMI, 'Chorus of unreason', Frontline, Jun. 02-15, 2012)