Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Understanding Vijayan - the tale of karma

...Long before the lizards, before the dinosaurs, two spores set out on an incredible journey. They came to a valley bathed in the placid glow of sunset.

My elder sister, said the little spore to the bigger spore, let us see what lies beyond.

This valley is green, replied the bigger spore, I shall journey no further.

I want to journey, said the little spore, I want to discover. She gazed in wonder at the path before her.

Will you forget your sister? asked the bigger spore.

Never, said the little spore.

You will, little one, for this is the loveless tale of karma; in it there is only parting and sorrow.

The little spore journeyed on. The bigger spore stayed back in the valley. Her roots pierced the damp earth and sought the nutrients of death and memory. She sprouted over the earth, green and contended...A girl with silver anklets and eyes prettied with surma came to Chetali's valley to gather flowers. The Champaka tree stood alone - efflorescent, serene. The flower-gatherer reached out and held down a soft twig to pluck the flowers. As the twig broke the Champaka said, My little sister, you have forgotten me!

The Legends of Khasak, page 53

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

O.V.Vijayan's book 7

O.V.Vijayan's book 6

O.V.Vijayan's book 5

O.V.Vijayan's books 4

O.V.Vijayan's book 3

O.V.Vijayan's books 3

O.V.Vijayan's books 2

O.V.Vijayan's books 1

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Understanding Vijayan - Liberation

'We went round the township. We came to the old mosque which had not changed these 40 years. As a child, I had imagined djins in the form of grey parrots zooming in to perch in its attic. I fold Fazl about the djins. He called me in to see them.
There were four or five boys with Fazl, and as we went in, it was time for the evening prayer.
"Would you mind sir?" said Fazl, as they went to a little tank inside for the ritual washing of hands and feet. I went in after them and washed too; it was unpremeditated, the most natural thing to do. I followed them into the prayer hall, stepping with freshly washed feet on ageing mats of rush.
"Would you mind," I asked, "if I prayed with you?"
It is not often that I pray, but I prayed that evening. Fazl and his boys swayed and bent and rose, while near them I sat cross-legged and with my prayer dug for that spring of love that lay beneath Mecca's great black stone and the stone figures of my own pagan gods. It was compact with something which was there for Fazl and his boys and me, a trust which I knew will not fail my country.'


'Liberation, dear Fazl, is much more complex than the books would have us believe, and we, both you and I, are in need of it. I can still hear your chanted prayer, a prayer in which, in affection and generosity, you let this pagan merge his sense of the incarnate Brahman, a celebration of your Prophet in which you let me experience the immanence of my Gurus. Let us not split the God of that prayer or ethnicise prophecy.'

O.V.Vijayan, 1986

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Grand Mughal's Gift - An O.V. Vijayan story

A fishbone got stuck in Emperor Akbar's throat one day. There were no surgeons yet in the Mughal Empire, and the Court Hakim could not get the bone out. So the stork was brought in.

'Take the bone out,' said Akbar. 'You shall be amply rewarded.' The stork bowed and then put its head between the Emperor's jaws. It took the bone out.

'Get lost,' said the Emperor.

'My reward,' the stork reminded him nervously.

'No creature that has peeded into the throat of the Mughal Emperor has ever taken its head out. I have let you emerge unscathed, what reward can be greater than your own head?'

There was little that a stork could do against an Emperor, but wht made it feel even more wretched was that the whole story was lifted from Aesop's Fables.

O.V.Vijayan, Selected Fiction, Penguin Books, 1999

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Bruce Petty's review of 'A Cartoonist Remembers', O.V.Vijayan, Rupa & Co, 2002

There is something quite brotherly about discovering a parallel biography. The synchronicity of two people, the same age, puzzling out a cartoon on the same day, on two different contents is an interesting thought.
But when Vijayan mentions Thurber on page one of his book 'A Cartoonist Remembers', an even closer professional bonding flashes up - Thurber was the one cartoonist that suggested to me that the profession should be pursued. I could draw like that. I thought. Not quite, as it turned out.
But there the symmetry comes apart.
Vijayan remembers accurately that the Thurber world was one of dada New York mannerisms. Vijayan's world was the third world as we had conveniently so numbered it. Here we get a taste of his sharp writing style - Oxfam childrens eyes peer out from his world with 'infantile senility'. Thurber would never know, he says. Nor will I.
While I was drawing first world mannerisms for Punch and The New Yorker, Vijayan was confronting the ferocity of his Nations moves to independence.
So his cartoons and essays in this book unfold insights into the story of India from independence through partition, the emergency, regionalism, Russian cold war positioning, a deadly version British style party policies, parodies and personalities. It is a passionate record and elegantly written. He also tells the editor-contributor story, a factor which his critical style turned into an ongoing drama in itself.
As the foreword by Ashis Nandy and the postscript by Sundar Ramanathaiyer & Nancy Hudson-Rodd suggest there is sadness and sacasm alongside acute perception. They both convey the affection and respect with which Vijayan is held in India. They indicate the potency of his comment on Indian politices.
Finally altered to politics by the cold war, 100 new nations, and cartoonists like Vicky in London, I monouvered into political cartooning.
And the third world was finally on the drawing board. It had been our History books as a kind of heroic civilising adventure story. It had been on the Tourist brochures. It supported trade offices and missionaries. Now it became cold war hearts - and minds - territory. Now we were taking sides in countries we could barely position on a map.
Concerned voices and a few politicians in the West tried to give 'the third world' some differentiation, some proper historic attention, - a huge relearning effort began slowly.
Interest was driven by a growing dismay with Western cultural trends - the 'military industrial 'Complex, nuclear fears, student restlessness, 'Private Affluence and Public Squalor', womens liberation and the racial consciousness that began in Americas south. Further, there appeared in new publishing, clear evidence of an intellectual and literary richness that took us Western Turber and Updike people by surprise.
This was the subject matter of my cartoons. They parallel similar anguished observations from Vijayan.
But the scale of urgency he describes, I know nothing. The intimacy with mass tragedy threads through his book.
We of the class of 1929 cartoonists are joined by our respective politicians sliding about on local banana skins, but separated by some huge two-world divide. Two world absurdities it seems to me: one pursuing and defending endless growth, the other competing for the same growth with three times the population, terribly divided.
Post september eleven and Bali have pushed our worlds together. So what do the new cartoonists do about the current issues?
Terrorism was always tribal, Racial and religious, and the worst of it seemed to challenge the third world.
Will our cartoons overlap now? are we joined in absurdity? Is there an impatience in the third world that we have underestimated? Is the West now being asked to confront the effect of generations of colonial arrogance and misreading of History?
It will have to be a crash course if it is to make a difference now.
The wit and intelligence in Vijayan's A Cartoonist Remembers have triggered in me the above reflections. I recognise many of the political deceptions and opportunistic deviousness that generated his angry drawing. I have visited Asia many times trying to find some commonality. But global economic inequality remains intact and in being so, disfigures, as he points out, the society Vijayan draws and writes about. Finally it disfigures my society.
We need some super minds to make the connection between Vijayan's drawings and international economic imbalance in order to begin searching for a new sanity.
Those children he pictures in the oxfam ads deserve not to be so old so young..
Bruce Petty

Vijayan - Random thoughts and scattered quotes

O.V.Vijayan left us on the 30th March 2005.
The Andhra Pradesh Political Cartoonists Forum, on the 22nd of March, honoured him with Life Time Achievement Award.
Little quotes on Vijayan cartoons, pulled out from different sources for their exhibition during the occasion, are given below.
I accept my limitations. I am fully aware that this is no way enough, still – to begin with, to pay tribute to.
Goodbye, Vijayetta
With love,
Sundar, April 6, 2005

A brief biographical note: O.V.Vijayan was born in 1930 in Palakkat, Kerala. In 1954 he took a Masters degree in English Literature from Madras University and then taught for a while, before becoming a political cartoonist. Vijayan has worked for the Shankar's Weekly, Patriot, and The Statesman, freelanced for various publications including Far Eastern Economic Review, Economic and Political Weekly, The Hindu, Newstimes, Mathrubhumi and Kalakaumudi.

His fiction, translated to English has been published by Penguin India, his memoirs as a cartoonist by Rupa & Co, and his Malayalam fiction, non-fiction and cartoons by DC Books. He has won several prestigious awards including the National Sahitya Academy Award and the Padmabhooshan.

Between historical pessimism and imbecile revolution, there is a stretch of arid territory where the cartoonist retires to. It all begins in a lot of violence, and subsides as ingloriously as it had come. That is history. The cartoonist views it from his arid space and catches its absurdities and contradictions.
That’s how I have conceived of the peasant and his disturbed son – and their irrepressible questions.
His cartoons may not make us laugh. Even when the contours of Vijayan’s unique strokes tickle our imagination, the laughter, when it comes, comes salted with the inevitable sadness that their biting sarcasm evokes.
- Ashish Nandy, Social Scientist

O.V. Vijayan is a very unforgiving cartoonist; some might say he is almost too explicit in his determination not to let anyone get off the hook. He often uses very strong language too. During the sordid, self-seeking, horse-trading which followed the fall of Morarji Desai's government, he showed a porcine Indira Gandhi, with an equally piggy Charan Singh on one side and Jagjivan Ram on the other. Under the cartoon he wrote, "The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from, man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."
- Mark Tully, Journalist & Writer

Vijayan brought a distinctly young voice to Indian cartooning. He had everything that was ‘‘anti’’ that went with the campus mood of the sixties and the seventies. His graphic idiom down to the speech balloon looked modern and defiant. He had considerable peer pleasure. Abu Abraham and Rajinder Puri had levelled up editorial cartooning and they were doing incredible caricatures in the anatomical mode. Vijayan chose geometry instead. He dismantled political figures into templates of circles and triangles.
- E.P.Unny, cartoonist, Indian Express
It is worth remembering that in the late ‘60s, when BJP’s former avatar, the Jan Sangh first contested elections with the ‘lamp’ as their election symbol, O.V.Vijayan had rushed up with a brilliant cartoon in The Hindu. It showed a ballot box with the ‘lamp’ emblem; the caption below read ‘Mein Lampf’. In a simple and urgent way he had alerted us, even then, to the clear and present danger. It is this kind of graphic alertness we need to develop today to expose all fascist meta-language.
- Sadanand Menon, Columnist
Vijayan sees people and situations from within. And the view from within is wretched, disturbing. Certainly his angst has been aroused by disillusionment with Communism, the god that failed. But the despair is equally induced by politicians, those gods with feet of clay. Some people are doomed to see the world from within—they write, draw, report,
work from within than observe from the outside. Their contribution is powerful precisely because the anguish of the sufferers permeate their souls. People who have experienced Indian politics from ground zero, from famine-stricken villages and battle zones, from legislatures and bombed sites, from wrecked huts and ruined homes, would share Vijayan's pain, his inability to raise laughs. The middle class can get defensive, say but there are a lot of good things happening too. Sure there are, but they don't substitute, make up for or cancel out the bad things.
- Anita Pratap, Columnist
Unlike R. K. Laxman, the great institution of the Times of India, whose cartoons usually raise a wry smile, Vijayan is more likely to provoke a grimace and a sigh. Yet in spite of the cynicism and hypocrisy that his drawings expose, his ordinary characters recognize the ruses attempted against them and battle on - a spirit that captures one of post-independence India’s notable virtues. Another of those virtues is the capacity to produce and tolerate artists like Vijayan.
- Robin Jeffrey, La Trobe University, Melbourne
At a time when political cartoonists are pulling their punches, getting on side with conglomeratized publishers, and kowtowing to the ever-widening grasp of political correctness-gone-mad, there are still people left like Vijayan, willing to target any group or individual bent on stifling freedom and the will of the people.
- John A. Lent, editor, International Journal of Comic Art, USA
…Vijayan carries the cross of pain, anger, disappointment on his frail shoulders. He raises concerns. He cuts through the cant and hypocrisy, the deceit and dishonesty of our time. He sees through the lies, the chicanery. In fact, it was Vijayan who brought to an end the age of genial cartooning and made savagery his baseline.

But he is no Eminem either. He is a balladeer of the spirit. Like Joan Baez who woke you to your conscience, he makes you look at the mirror and ask yourself who you are, what you stand for. Yes, his lines are cruel. He challenges you to think, to react and if you do not, he ridicules your helplessness and makes you even more angry.
- Pritish Nandy, Poet & Journalist
A powerful graphic journalist, an original story teller, a much-acclaimed columnist and political commentator, the cartoonist who brought a new idiom into Indian cartooning to reflect ultimate concerns, a critic fully aware of complex realities of the third world, a full-fledged political animal without bias who fought for decent amount of space for his cartoons, an intellectual who consistently raised the level of cartoon sensibilities, a brilliant writer who contributed to the theory of third world cartooning, a maverick who resorted to black humor to analyze and make his point, an extremely stylized artist who beautifully integrated words and visuals in English and Malayalam for subversion, a Gandhian cartoonist who promoted simple alternatives, the most daring, irreverent voice during the dark days of the Emergency…
- Sundar Ramanathaiyer & Nancy Hudson-Rodd, Edith Cowan University, Western Australia

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Sunday, April 03, 2005

O.V.Vijayan, 1930-2005

The cartoon is, ideally, word and picture, it is a talking picture, with its words chosen with poetic exactness. Even when the cartoon is a mere visual, deep down within it there is the experience of the word, and it is this experience that it ultimately communicates. The Indian psyche, despite the malnourishment of the Indian body, even despite low literacy, is refined. The Indian experience is so compelling that it precludes trivialisation. And we have an inheritance which could embody a new imagery, and make the Indian cartoon a thing of great serenity.

- O.V.Vijayan, A Cartoonist Remembers, Rupa & Co. , 2002
posted by Sundar, hoping to post some of his cartoons later