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Shankar's Weekly - the foundation for political cartooning in India

It was in 1946, just a few months before Indian independence, when Devdas Gandhi (son of Mohandas K Gandhi), who was the editor of Hindustan times, called the newspaper cartoonist into his office and threatened to sack him if he continued his attacks against Congress leaders. Unable to continue in such oppressive work environment anymore, the cartoonist quit the newspaper and went on to start his own publication which laid the foundation for political cartooning in India.

 

That cartoonist's name was Keshav Shankar Pillai, India's foremost cartoonist who had started cartooning as a hobby since the early 1930s. In the 1940s, he took up an intensive year-long course on sketching, which helped him hone his skills further, and joined Hindustan Times, where he was hailed for his bold attacks against the establishments, and especially against British Viceroys.

 
 

But the moment he started attacking Congress leaders through satirical cartoons for their inefficiency & misdeeds, he was quickly shown the door. After quitting Hindustan Times, he started his own satirical magazine called "Shankar's Weekly" in 1948, which instantly struck a chord with the masses, as it was the only magazine which could sarcastically yet boldly take on the Congress Govt.

 
 

As per official records, he had published more than 4000 cartoons attacking Nehru's policies with rib-tickling caricatures & captions which spoke on behalf of the common man. He was thus referred to as the father of political cartooning, not only due to his pioneering efforts into bringing political cartooning in India, but also because of his role in inspiring next-gen cartoonists.

 
 

In fact, it was Keshav Shankar Pillai who had identified & hired talented young cartoonists like RK Laxman & Bal Thackeray, who built their foundations under Pillai's guidance at Shankar's Weekly (where they worked as employees). The magazine wasn't limited to political content alone, but also addressed various other social issues including conversions, which were used as political & religious tools by missionaries alike.

 
 

After 27 years of glorious ride, Pillai decided to bring down the curtains on Shankar's Weekly in 1975, as he felt suffocated due to extreme censorship during the Emergency. However, as the father of political cartooning, he had already set the ball rolling, as his trusted lieutenants like RK Laxman, Bal Thackrey, Kevy, Bireshwar & many other young cartoonists carried forward his legacy, and his influence can still be felt even today.

 
Story by
Guru Prasad

Guruprasad (or “GP” in short) is a Chief Engineer & Technology Mentor by profession and spends a...

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