It was almost a morning ritual. My father would reach for the newspaper over his morning tea and then, after skimming the headlines, he would turn his attention to a little box on the left. He would then go on to share it with my mother and together, they would both laugh out loud at what they had just read. And as I grew up, I too would join the many readers of the 'Times of India' who would wait every day for RK Laxman's daily cartoon strip, 'You Said It'!! That is until, a series of strokes compelled him to stop working. Last month, on the 26th of January, he passed away.
'The Times of India' would pay him an extensive tribute that included a collection of some of his finest works. And what a delight it was to revisit his work. His signature creation, the 'Common Man', with his checked coat, dhoti and distinctive moustache, being witness to the changes that India had seen over the years. All the while maintaining a somewhat bewildered expression at the many ironies that India throws up everyday. And who can forget his caricatures that showcased his tremendous ability to zero in on that one distinguishing feature of our public personalities that captured the very essence of their public persona.
While the common man of today would hardly resemble Laxman's 'Common Man', one can't help notice, rather wryly, that the years have seen no change in our politicians and their ilk.
But, those vintage 'You Said It' cartoon strips pointed out something else too. It showed up the lack of humour in our public discourse. We have somewhere forgotten to laugh at ourselves. It is as if we take ourselves too seriously and get offended at the smallest things. And when we do laugh, the humour tends to be tinged with derision and malice, almost with an intention to humiliate rather than to humour. It is obvious and slapstick rather than being subtle and witty.
And that is why RK Laxman was a legend. In a tribute, his former colleague, Dileep Padgaonkar writes how he possessed courage and caution in equal measure. His observations of India and her diverse people and her jamboree of politicians were sharp, satirical, incisive, funny, honest and simple, even when dealing with the most complex of issues. And always without being toxic or malicious.
To suit the mood, I made myself a cup of Irish coffee. Essentially a cup of black coffee with a dash of whiskey and a collar of cream, it is in equal measure creamy, strong, black, hot, stimulating, sweet and naughty without being excessive on any count. A perfect allegory for the kind of humour we need to see more of.
Thank you RK Laxman for teaching us the importance of humour in our lives but more importantly, for holding up a mirror to our society, over the years. The common man will miss you. There will not be another like you!
- 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
- 1-2 teaspoons demerara sugar
- 2-3 tablespoons whiskey
- heavy cream, slightly whipped
- Fill a mug with hot water to preheat it, then empty.
- Pour piping hot coffee into warmed glass until it is about 3/4 full.
- Add the brown sugar and stir until completely dissolved.
- Stir in the whiskey.
- Slowly pour a thick layer of double cream, over the back of a teaspoon, on to the top of the coffee so that it floats on top. You think it won't work but it does!
- Serve hot.