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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Uncommon encounter with the creator of the common man

When I was a journalist in Bombay (in the pre cretaceous era), I worked at the Evening News of India, when Pritish Nandy was its editor.

It was a brief stint marked by a series of professional disasters, and the one that I remember rather vividly was my encounter with the legendary R.K. Laxman, the man who created the common man.

As a newbie, I was given the charge of the funny pages that contained the not-so-difficult crossword (as compared to the cryptic cypher that the Times of India published in the morning) and the mandatory comic strips.

The main strip that dominated the page was Lee Falk’s Phantom.

Pasting bromide prints of comics strips, and the crosswords wasn’t a particularly involving task, and one performed it with little or no involvement.

That was a mistake that I soon realized. The funny pages have a dedicated readership which cuts across the newspaper’s demographics.

One morning when I was about to start my shift, and was walking from the editorial to the art department, I was called by a stern looking man wearing a plain white shirt that wasn’t tucked in. It took a moment for me to realize that I was face-to-face with India’s best known cartoonist.

“Do you do the comics page?” he asked.

I could only nod.

“You’ve got the Phantom sequence wrong. What should be in print today was in print yesterday.”

I had stopped breathing.

“You should be careful. There are many readers of that comic strip,” he said, and then briskly walked away.

I never saw him again, and soon the tabloid closed down. 

I moved on to other publications but that momentary encounter with the legend stays etched in my memory. 

Laxman died 26 January 2015. 

Here's a memorable tribute by Radha Rajadhyaksha: 'Nothing in my life has been intentional, it's all accident' 

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