Friday, May 20, 2005

The Classroom Cartoonist - me, the next R.K. Laxman?

I will be out of station for the next ten days, and will be away from blogsville. :-(. But I will be driving along South India's expansive highways. :-D. Anyway, till then, adios. Hope this post reads good - I wrote this as well a while back. (Btw, I will try to sneak in a post or two from Trivandrum, where I shall be ;-))

Becoming a classroom cartoonist is one of the best ways, according to Carnegie Mellon University, to win friends and influence people. If you are a short, pimply bloke like me whom the girls never bother to say hi to, you can always woo them with your pictures of the Hindi teacher in a toga sipping on moonshine in a western saloon.

However, classroom cartoonists have several problems related to suppression of their artistic freedom. They face some of the same perils that Commie dissidents who attempt to tell the General Secretary that the people prefer bread to cake and Cuban cartoonists who depict Ol’ Fidel dancing the tango in his underwear.

It is however a highly worthy pastime as the following account of my own experiences as a classroom cartoonist clearly illustrates.

How ennui almost made me the next R.K.Laxman (1998)
(and the brutal story of the suppression of artistic freedom that followed)

This happened when I was an untried, untested young lad of 14. I was in my ninth standard and as penance for a misspent young life, I was sitting in the first bench, writing notes and actually listening to the teachers in class.

But even human endurance, even if toughened by the rigours of penance, has its limits. My endurance met its limits in the History class. I found myself utterly incapable of staying awake in the class.

But the History teacher was unfortunately blessed with the eyes of a hawk as well. She would notice every tear of boredom (and there were a lot of them) that streamed down my cheek and bless upon me that sardonic smile that was the precursor to expulsion from the classroom (and a subsequent, rather unpleasant meeting with the vice-principal).

Our teacher discussed Hammurabi’s code at a pace that would have appeared to be slow even to an acclaimed retard like George W Bush. It was therefore scientifically impossible to stay awake in her class and actually concentrate. I had even attempted to count the number of leaves on the tree outside my class.

I therefore developed a scintillating new technique of passing the time which I was sure would escape the notice of her eagle eye. I began to devote every moment to concentrating upon splitting her image into two. I could see two of her, two black boards, two lecterns and two of everything else including my nose. In spite of the fact that staring at four stout forearms wielding chalkpieces was worse than staring at just two, this occupation seemed to be safe yet fun.

But, when I was into my third day and attempting to discern whether one of her was actually smaller than the other, I realized that she (both of her) was looking at me rather intently whenever she turned away from the blackboard. At the end of the class, she asked me, with a highly concentrated version of her sardonic smile, to visit her in the staffroom.

The invite was definitely not for a cup of tea over which we would discuss world politics, I concluded (though I fervently it would be something along those lines). When I went into the staff room, I was filled with a nameless dread.

She asked me, rather sweetly, ‘Siddhu, do you have a squint?’

I had to reply, rather perplexed, that I didn’t. The last thing I expected her to ask me was this. I would have been less surprised if she had asked me whether I was harbouring Osama at my house.

[Sardonic smile switched on like a 60 watt bulb.]

‘Then why, pray tell, are you squinting in my class? You do that once more, no, I will take you to VP, ok?’

And then, she launched into a long-winded lecture about how she was the epitome of virtue when she was herself a student (rumoured to be sometime in the decade before the First War of Indian Independence).

The question of why I saw two of my nose had been worrying me all the while. The answer now struck me like a tight slap across the face.

That was the end of my career as an image splitter.

And that marked the beginning of my cartooning career – the boredom beating technique that this blog is all about.

I thought India was a free, democratic country. After all, had not Keshav walked free after consistently representing Narasimha Rao with a zipper for a mouth? With such illustrious predecessors behind me, I felt no qualms as I set about creating my own set of cartoon characters from a bunch of eccentrics I met everyday – my schoolteachers.

This, I was sure, was by far the safest and most entertaining technique of scoring one over ennui. Even hawk-eye, my old nemesis, would not be able to discern that I was drawing her in battle dress fighting Hamid Karzai in a ring. She would definitely, I reasoned, assume that I was copying her ugly drawings of the map of Upper Mongolia (circa 1560).

Once again, my master strategy succeeded initially. In fact, in order to maintain continuity in the strips I was illustrating, I dispensed of every notebook except one which became the only one I carried to school every day. Until that fateful day…

It happened to Napoleon at Waterloo. To Hitler at Stalingrad. To Alexander the Great in the Gangetic plains. And to yours truly in the History class.

Buouyed by the fact that not a single teacher had yet suspected me of adding their mug shots to my notebook, I grew bolder and bolder. I was so involved in crafting the AK-47 that Ahmed Shah Masood was to shoot Musharaff dead with that I did not notice the sniggers of the class. I did not notice the slight shadow that had formed over the notebook. I did not notice the dangerously sardonic smile until a familiar hand whisked the book from underneath my pen.

It was, as that intellectual giant of our times, Arnold, would have put it, Asta La Vista, as far as I was concerned.

What followed was just another reason for the reformation of the school education system in India. The suppression of my artistic freedom would have put even Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein to shame.

Instead of appreciating my artistic creativity at such a young age and having a hearty laugh over how I had portrayed the G.K teacher in a Superman suit (among others), the P.T sir hit me with the branch broken from a convenient tree, my history teacher did not let me inside her class for the rest of the year, my science teacher told me that she would fervently pray that I flunked my board exams and to top it all off, my parents took a rather unfair and uncharitable view of the whole incident.

However, thanks to this, I did not suffer from boredom at all, for a very long time…

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