Before being a cartoonist/graphic novelist, I am a citizen first. A citizen with the freedom to have feelings — if not the freedom of free speech. Now, the former is far easier than the latter. I have the freedom to have feelings and the freedom to deal with those who hurt my feelings.
And on that note, I want Sarojini Naidu arrested. Posthumously, but so be it. In an All India Radio broadcast, Naidu once referred to Mahatma Gandhi as “this tiny creature whom once in a mood of loving irreverence, I called Mickey Mouse of a man.” Can you imagine? Naidu called Bapu a Mickey Mouse because of his big ears! On Gandhi’s 70th birthday, the Civil and Military Gazette, Lahore, published a caricature on the same lines. It is said Gandhi had a good laugh. A good laugh over a political cartoon? Totally unacceptable.
So I reiterate my stand. I want Naidu arrested, the Gazette banned and Gandhi booked for conspiring with those who hurt my feelings for him. But alas, that is unlikely to happen, not because the three are dead but more importantly, my sentiments do not have a mob following, nor does it have any institutional political validity. Had that been there, the newspaper house would’ve been brought down, effigies burnt, streets crowded with fellow sentimentalists coochie-cooing with the media.
Besides being hurt, I could also become famous. Once again, the freedom to express would be far easier than the freedom of expression; which brings me to the point I began with, that of a cartoonist.
Late on April 12 evening, young workers of a political party arrived at a housing society in Kolkata to deal with a professor. He had dared to forward a political cartoon to his contacts from his housing society’s email account. It is a crime, isn’t it? The midnight knock does not need a uniform anymore, it’s a civil prerogative. The Emergency of the 1970s makes a daily comeback, embedded in 21st century democracy. The mindset is clear: before the lawmakers arrive, the issue needs to be handled in its own way. The young workers intimidated the professor so much that he confessed that he had political affiliations of another colour. Soon, the lawmakers also arrived and arrested him.
I stared at my drawing board. Politics and cartoons are two different things, I must remember. In fact, the state’s chief minister said on TV that the mind should be used for good things. So am I to understand that the political cartoon is a product of a perverted mind?
Later on TV, a beautiful social worker asked the anchor innocently: “Why do cartoons always have to be so critical? Why can’t they show something nice?” The crisp cotton sari-wearing ladies of Kolkata! They are surely telling me something I missed all this while: beware or else the sentiment of the masses will prevail. Put off the lights, close the windows. It happens all the time in Mumbai, where two political parties are led by two political cartoonists. The lovely contradictions that make our democracy so endearing.
But it’s not Mumbai alone. Like me, everybody knows that political parties often benevolently practise the theory of ‘expression of mass sentiment’. I am scared to look back at my drawing board now. I look out at the streets below — they are vacant. The walls are bare. Nothing compared to the ones in Kolkata: full of multi-coloured political graffiti, the raw satire and the crude caricatures. Walk around the city and you’ll realise — when a cartoon can be so defamatory — what damage would those walls be doing to the moral fabric of that metropolis? Those walls need to be whitewashed — and so does our democracy.
Maybe, I too, could draw cartoons for a greeting card company, “something nice”. Oh dear! it’s midnight now, I hope nobody knocks. Oh, it’s shubho noboborsho!
(Vishwajyoti Ghosh is the author of Delhi Calm, a graphic novel. His weekly cartoon ‘Full Toss’ appears in Hindustan Times every Sunday)
The views expressed by the author are personal