The Indian Institute for Cartoonists started by Bengaluru’s VG Narendra turns 20 this year

Some of the leading cartoonists, including RK Laxman and Mario Miranda have been associated with the institute

The location of the two-decade-old Indian Institute of Cartoonists (IIC) is surprisingly modest. It is almost like a meeting spot for a secret group.

A few metres into Midford Garden road near Trinity Circle is the Midford Garden House with a board that says ‘Indian Cartoon Gallery’. If you miss the little red arrow mark on the board that points to the basement, you would probably look for the gallery in the other areas of the building.

On a Monday morning, there are no visitors at the gallery, hosting IIC’s 172nd exhibition.

There are 58 cartoons, by professionals and amateurs from India, on display. Looking at them, one wonders if this underground club-like setting is appropriate in a way. For, no one and nothing is spared from criticism and ridicule. The government, the opposition, Goods and Service Tax, Donald Trump, Rajinikanth, and of course, the more topical Coronavirus.

“This is a free space for cartoonists across all ages and levels to display their works,” says VG Narendra, who started IIC in 2001.

Narendra, 73, started reading newspapers in his late teens. Growing up in Dharwad, he read the Kannada dailies more than the English ones. More than the articles, the cartoons caught young Narendra’s attention. “They were entertaining and humorous but also gave an idea about what is happening in the society,” he says. “I used to look forward to them every day.”

Soon, he started drawing them. A few got published in the local dailies. Narendra wanted cartooning to be more than just a hobby. So, after his graduation in BSc Physics in 1969, he left for Mumbai. He found a job at the Free Press Journal, where RK Laxman and Bal Thackeray had worked. His work caught the attention of the legendary cartoonist Shankar Pillai, who ran Shankar’s Weekly

. Pillai employed and mentored him. He worked for the publication for two years until the Emergency in 1975 forced it to shut down.

After returning home the following year, he founded the Karnataka Cartoonists Association. He wished for a national-level organisation for cartoonists. “The artists had the Lalit Kala Akademi. The writers had Sahitya Akademi. So, why not something similar for cartoonists?”

He discussed this question with Mario Miranda, one of the country’s best-known cartoonists and illustrators. With his guidance, Narendra started IIC in 2001. SM Krishna, the then Chief Minister of Karnataka, gave ₹5 lakh for a two-day national convention and exhibition. Over a hundred cartoonists across the country participated.

IIC, however, had no premises until Ashok Kheny helped it get the 5,000 sq ft Midford House basement. So, where did it operate from until then?

“My two-bedroom house in Nandini Layout,” jokes Narendra. He is grateful that IIC now has its premises. Over the last 20 years, it has organised over 170 exhibitions, teach over 500 aspiring cartoonists, build a library of over 3,000 books on cartoons, and attract hundreds of leading national and international cartoonists.

“We are planning a building for IIC, which we would like to call the House of Cartoons, a six-month course for budding cartoonists and more workshops. There is still a long way to go.”

The veteran adds, “It has become more challenging for cartoonists to express their criticism. Despite this reduction of freedom, there is an increase in enthusiasm among youngsters for cartooning.”

IIC will organise an exhibition from October 23 to November 16 to commemorate the 100th birth anniversary of RK Laxman.

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Sagar Biswas

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