The Pune Times has this irritating byline to the legendary "You Said It": "By Pune's Own Laxman". It is in keeping with their general tone of writing which largely consists of appropriation, appeasement and advertisement of a whole gamut of people. For example, if some flutterby celebrity was to reveal her baby-powder was once bought in a Pune store, it would probably suffice for the PTOI to claim her one of Pune's. And fall all over themselves, when such flavours-of-the-week passed by.
But PTOI-bashing can wait, as I humbly wish to attend to Gaurav's request to tell-all about the RKL visit last week to PSPL which had made deliciousl fare, considering I had earlier in the month successfully mugged a lot about RKL and recalled many in Ajmer.
Before that, a history lesson: A story I wish to record here and probably will give to people who want to know "why RKL?". It's not really about him being a fellow Iyer or part-Punekar, which are incidental coincidences. So, the fade-in begins and we ...
Cut to self in Second Year of engg. engaged in wheedling (and ghostwriting) articles for the college mag (more of a "college rag" these days, did I start the slide?) Abhiyanta. The customary interview for the English section was afoot and a tapping of my uncle's resources resulted in a set of phone numbers being obtained from freelance Film Journo Deepa Gahlot, she being well-known to my uncle's family. This included RKL's number and a couple of calls resulted in the great man granting us a quick mulakaat at his TOI office. But alas, I was unable to go for it and could only supply some research material. The interview turned out to be mostly stuff that we couldn't directly use, for he had digressed and called a few leading politicians some uncomplimentary names. But he had granted us blanket approval to dig into his autobiography to fill the pages. I could atleast transcribe the tape and add the rest from The Tunnel of Time. But the missed opportunity rankled. <end_flashback_in_sepia_tone>
But the gods had a sense of humour. A year later and thankfully I had made it to T.E.! It turned out that RKL would be one of the chief guests at the college's social gathering and I was witness to RKL's trademark speech, with the barbs at the politicians and anecdotes. When the invitation arose to ask him questions, I reacted with unprecedented decisiveness and was on stage asking him questions. A handshake ensued too and a week later, I had a copy of my photo with the master cartoonist. <end_flashback_in_eastman_colour>
<And in 2002 A.D>
When the process began to choose a topic for my semi, it just struck me that I knew quite a bit about this man and it might be fun to do this topic. It had a happy ending. But I didn't know there would be an appropriate post-script around the corner. I mentioned this curious fact to the big-wigs at work, but I was cautious, since I'm not supposed to give too many details about the as-yet untelecasted semi in public.The saab-log at work thought it would be appropriate that I present the traditional memento to him (a silver Ganesha, BTW, something that would have pleased the Ganpati-loving cartoonist). RKL seemed a bit surprised when I materialized from behind the stage to do so, probably he was expecting the even more traditional girl-in-sari to do the honours. But Anand made the announcement about the reasons why as I walked down and RKL seemed suitably interested. Amit Garde suggested that even RKL would find it a teeny-bit flattering, something I didn't quite find out. So, Gaurav, there was no Peri Pauna namaskarams and I hardly exchanged a word with one of my subjects (I shouldn't say this myself, but that's a fun-pun!). I plan to send him a postcard asking him to watch the show on the 26th, though.
There remained two unanswered questions:
Was he getting bored of being asked to draw caricatures each time he was invited to speak? and the more important one: When was he born? (I found 2 different years of birth from 2 equally reliable sources, and was dreading this question, which never came in MMI). I refrained from asking this in the Q&A that had followed his speech: asking this would have seemed incredibly trivial, but it is the singlemost important fact I want to know!
His speech was on expected lines and I had heard most of the things before, so I was too familiar to be dazzled. He was a bit more nice than I have experienced earlier, though he did say he didn't like any of the other Indian cartoonists. I was most interested by one point: his cartoons do not go for editorial sanction at the TOI, "they", to paraphrase him, "read it in the next day's paper"!
Whatever he's like, very few people can claim to be at the top of their career for so long and with such widespread and unchallenged success.
If ever anyone should write an official biography of Rasipuram Krishnaswami Laxman, I think I should be the among the ones considered. Said in true Laxman-like immodesty!