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Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer Laxman (24 October 1921 – 26 January 2015) was an Indian cartoonist, illustrator, and humorist. He was best known for his creation The Common Man and for his daily cartoon strip, “You Said It” in The Times of India, which started in 1951.
Laxman started his career as a part-time cartoonist, working mostly for local newspapers and magazines. While as a college student, he illustrated his older brother R. K. Narayan’s stories in The Hindu. His first full-time job was as a political cartoonist for The Free Press Journal in Mumbai. Later, he joined The Times of India, and became famous for The Common Man character.
K. Laxman was born in Mysore in 1921 in an Iyer family. His father was a headmaster and Laxman was the youngest of eight children: namely, six sons and two daughters. His elder brother is novelist R. K. Narayan. Laxman was known as “Pied Piper of Delhi”.
Laxman was engrossed by the illustrations in magazines such as The Strand, Punch, Bystander, Wide World and Tit-Bits, before he had even begun to read. Soon he was drawing on his own, on the floors, walls and doors of his house and doodling caricatures of 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 was the work 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
— R. K. Laxman
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 J. J. School of Art, 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 enrolment 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.
Laxman was first married to Bharatanatyam dancer and film actress Kumari Kamala Laxman, who began her film career as a child actress named “Baby Kamala” and graduated into adult roles under the name “Kumari Kamala” (“Miss Kamala”). They had no children and after their divorce Laxman married a woman whose first name was again Kamala. This was the author and children’s book writer Kamala Laxman. In a cartoon series named “The star I never met” in film magazine Filmfare he painted a cartoon of Kamala Laxman, with the title “The star I only met!” The couple had a son Srinivas, who worked for a while with The Times of India too.
In September 2003, Laxman suffered a stroke which left him paralysed on his left side. He recovered from it partially. On the evening of 20 June 2010, Laxman was admitted to Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai after being transported by an air ambulance from Pune.
In October 2012 Laxman celebrated his 91st birthday in Pune. During a private gathering at his residence, Laxman cut the cake and was presented a DVD of a documentary titled The Brainy Crow by his fan Rajvardhan Patil, depicting the life and survival of the favourite bird of the cartoonist. Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, who had a past association with Laxman as a cartoonist, sent birthday greetings to him, family sources said. Scientist Jayant Narlikar and Symbiosis University chancellor S. B. Mujumdar also came to greet him on the occasion.
Laxman died in Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital in Pune on 26 January 2015 (India’s Republic Day) at the age of 93. He was hospitalized on three days earlier for urinary tract infection and chest problems that ultimately led to multiple organ failure. He had reportedly suffered multiple strokes since 2010.
A cartoon that Laxman had made following the successful landing of Mangalyaan on Mars was posted by the Indian Space Research Organisation on its Facebook and Twitter pages on 27 January. Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced that Laxman would be accorded a state funeral and a memorial would be built in his honour. Laxman’s body was kept at the Symbiosis Institute’s Pune premises near the “Common Man” statue and his body was cremated at the Vaikunth crematorium.
Laxman is survived by his wife Kamala, son Srinivas, his daughter-in-law and his granddaughter Mahalaxmi Laxman