Birth and Childhood
R. K. Laxman was born in Mysore. His father was a headmaster and Laxman was the youngest of six boys. One of his elder brothers, R.K. Narayan, went on to become one of India’s best known English language novelists.
Laxman was engrossed by the illustrations in magazines such as Strand Magazine, Punch, Bystander, Wide World and Tit-Bits, even before he could read. Soon he was drawing on his own, on the floors, walls and doors of his house. His teachers at school; praised by a teacher for his drawing of a peepal leaf, he began to think of himself as an artist in the making. Another early influence on Laxman were the cartoons of the world-renowned British cartoonist, Sir David Low (whose signature he misread as “cow” for a long time) that appeared now and then in The Hindu. Laxman notes in his autobiography, The Tunnel of Time:
“I drew objects that caught my eye outside the window of my room – the dry twigs, leaves and lizard-like creatures crawling about, the servant chopping firewood and, of course, and number of crows in various postures on the rooftops of the buildings opposite”
Laxman was the captain of his local “Rough and Tough and Jolly” cricket team and his antics inspired the stories “Dodu the money maker” and “The Regal Cricket Club” written by his brother, Narayan. Laxman’s idyllic childhood was shaken for a while when his father suffered a paralytic stroke and died around a year later, but the elders at home bore most of the increased responsibility, while Laxman continued with his schooling.
After high school, Laxman applied to the JJ School of Arts, Bombay hoping to concentrate on his lifelong interests of drawing and painting, but the dean of the school wrote to him that his drawings lacked, “the kind of talent to qualify for enrollment in our institution as a student”, and refused admission. He finally graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Mysore. In the meantime he continued his freelance artistic activities and contributed cartoons to Swarajya and an animated film based on the mythological character, Narada.
R. K. Laxman: Career
Laxman’s earliest work was for newspapers & magazines such as Swarajya and Blitz. Whilst still at the Maharaja’s College of Mysore, he began to illustrate his elder brother R K Narayan’s stories in The Hindu, and he drew political cartoons for the local newspapers and for the Swatantra. Laxman also drew cartoons, for the Kannada humour magazine, Koravanji. Incidentally, Koravanji was founded in 1942 by Dr M Shivaram who was a MBBS doctor and had a clinic around Majestic area in Bangalore. He started this monthly magazine, dedicating it to hilarious/satirical articles and cartoons. Dr Shivaram himself was an eminent humourist in Kannada. He encouraged Laxman quite a lot. He held a summer job at the Gemini Studios, Madras. His first full-time job was as a political cartoonist for the Free Press Journal. Prominent Shiv Sena politician Bal Thackeray, was also an employee at the newspaper at that time. Laxman later joined The Times of India, beginning a career that has spanned for over fifty years.
Among his other works, Laxman is known for his distinctive illustrations in several books, most notably for the Malgudi stories written by his elder brother R.K. Narayan, which was later made as a serial directed by Shankar Nag. He also created a popular mascot for the Asian Paints group called Gattu. Laxman has also penned a few novels. His cartoons have appeared in Hindi films such as Mr. and Mrs. 55 and a Tamil Film “KAMARAJ”.
R. K. Laxman: Personal Life
He is married to author Kamala Laxman. He lives in both Mumbai and Pune.
In September 2003, Laxman was affected by a stroke, which left him paralysed on his left side. He has partly recovered from its effects. On the evening of June 20, 2010, Laxman was admitted to Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai after being transported by an air ambulance from Pune. His condition was said to be stable.
Laxman died at the age of 93 at Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital in Pune on 26 January 2015. Laxman is survived by his wife Kamala, son Srinivas, his daughter-in-law and his grand-daughter Mahalaxmi Laxman.
R. K. Laxman: Awards
- B.D. Goenka Award – Indian Express.
- Durga Ratan Gold Medal – Hindustan Times.
- Padma Bhushan – Govt. of India.
- Padma Vibhushan – Govt. of India.
- Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts – 1984.
- Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalism – CNN IBN TV18, 29 January 2008.