On July 10, The Times of India published an interesting picture that speaks for itself. Whenever international leaders meet, it is almost mandatory for them to gather for a group photograph. One often wondered who decided where each of the leader must stand. Who stands in the first row? In the back row? And in the front row who stands next to the US President? The Times of India’s picture is revealing. Obviously it is a matter of protocol. Cards are placed on the floor to indicate who stands where. The picture shows a hostess removing the cards once the leaders stand at attention. And where does, one thinks, the Indian Prime Minister stand? He stands in the back row at the farthest end, no doubt indicating his standing among leaders of Group 5 and Group 8. It is somewhat sickening. Standing in the front row with President Obama are South African President Jacob Zuma, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, not to mention German Chancellor Angela Markel. Is India’s Prime Minister’s ranking so low that he can’t stand in the front row?
There was another picture published a few days earlier which again showed Dr Manmohan Singh assigned to the back row whereas the Chinese President was in the front row next to President Obama. It is true that China has now become an economic power and the United States is heavily in debt to China. Money is power. But nevertheless one feels a little squeamish to see the Indian Prime Minister given a low standing. Perhaps it has not occurred to Dr Manmohan Singh who is a humble person. But even then he must remember that he is not there as an individual but as India’s Prime Minister. And that makes all the difference. Humility is all very well but what is involved here is India’s pride. In the media, anywhere in the world, the question invariably is who deserves attention.
Some weeks ago, a distinguished Indian mathematician, Rajeev Motwani, met an untimely death due to accidental drowning in his California home swimming pool. Hardly any newspaper took note of it. The question was: Motwani, who? The Hindu (June 11) not only took note of the death but wrote a touching editorial commenting on Motwani’s contribution to the world of theoretical computer science and how it influenced the development of algorithm-based search technology. As The Hindu noted, “today it is taken for granted that the vast World Wide Web (www) can be searched in seconds to yield the most relevant results for a keyword but the groundwork for that breakthrough was laid” by Rajveev Motwani, teaching at Stanford University. Prof Motwani, an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, reportedly created a sensation in mathematics in 1992. Wrote The Hindu: “But it was his humility, accessibility and generosity of spirit that made him such a beloved mentor.” The paper added: “The message of his life-time is timeless: a good teacher is always open to inquisitive minds, is available to his students without thought of material award or quid pro quo and is willing to share knowledge selflessly.” A beautiful thought.
It is not just veteran scholars that the media marginalises in its coverage. Even leading cartoonists of the country remain unrecognised, unless it be an RK Laxman. In May this year, a conference of the Indian Institute of Cartoonists was held in Bengaluru where veteran cartoonists of the country were honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award for their contribution to the art over the decades. Among those honoured were EP Unny, Kaak (Harishchandra Shukla), Vasant Sarwate, Prabhakar Raobail, Teevee (T Venkataraman), Toms (VT Thomas) and Madan (MK Govinda Kumar). Not many are known to readers of the English media because they draw for newspapers in the Indian language media. There is, for instance, KR Swamy, who has drawn—believe it or not!—as many as 15,000 cartoons for Kannada newspapers. Swamy does not claim to be a full-time cartoonist. By profession he is an engineer and worked for over three decades for the Karnataka Electricity Board. For him, cartooning is a hobby which, however, he pursues with relentless dedication. He told The Hindu (March 28): “We have plenty of artistes. Technology makes work easier but what is lacking is originality. And they have no fresh ideas. A combination of ‘drawing’ and ‘literature’ is what defines a cartoonist.” Swamy’s own cartoons bear an unmistakable stamp of humour and at the same time, they make you think. As The Hindu described his work: “With a cartoon of a tree and birds, he puts across the issue of eating up of greenery and how it poses a threat to the survival of living species. He explores relationship in a series of cartoons—the meaning of love and how it matures with age.” Swamy started drawing cartoons, as he went through the pages of Shankar’s Weekly edited by the legendary artist and cartoonist Shankar Pillai. His icon was SK Nadig, though. So devoted to drawing cartoons that this electrical engineer became that he took all the trouble to get a diploma from Raye Burns School of Cartooning, Cleveland, Ohio.
The Indian Institute of Cartooning has established the Maya Kamath Memorial Award of Excellence and at its last meeting in Bengaluru, the first prize was bagged by Sundeep Adhwaryu of Outlook magazine. Ramadhyani of Navika, Shimoga, won the second prize while the third prize was bagged by Shankar of Sakshi, a Telugu daily. A special award went to Muhammad Zahoor, a Pakistani cartoonist working for Peshawar’s Daily Times. Mujeb Patla from Bengaluru was adjudged the best “budding cartoonist” of the year. Maya Kamath on whose name the Memorial Award was set up herself was a well-known cartoonist.
The award-giving function, incidentally, was very poorly covered by the Indian media, which only shows the low-rating cartoons have in today’s media world. In his time, Shankar of Shankar’s Weekly was a celebrity in his own right and politicians vied with one another to get his originals. One of his fans was Jawaharlal Nehru, no less. Nehru did not mind Shankar poking fun at him and next to Chalapathi Rao, Shankar perhaps was the only media man Nehru was close to. If one remembers aright, RK Laxman was honoured with the Padma Vibhushan Award, and justly so. How, one wishes, some of the lesser-known but no less talented cartoonists would similarly be honoured! Time was when cartoonists had a field day and their work was splashed on the front page next to the lead story (columns four, five and six). They deserve better treatment.