In the past few decades I have attended many book-release functions. But the one I participated in at Mumbai last week was truly unique.
The nature of the book was unique, and so was the individual who had given birth to the book.
I have known Nana Chudasama since the early seventies when my friend and party colleague late Makarand Desai of Gujarat introduced me to him. Since then we have been meeting often enough to bind us together in ties of mutual esteem. The University Convocation Hall in the Fort Area of Mumbai was jampacked that day. The cream of the city was present, both in the Hall, as well as on the dais. The Hall was so crowded this evening that my daughter Pratibha who had accompanied me to the function had to remain standing for nearly half an hour.
The book has been titled History on a Banner. The well known writer Shobha De has commented, “There have been just two significant voices that have accurately reflected the hopes and frustrations of the ‘aam aadmi’ in Mumbai – R.K. Laxman’s and Nana Chudasama’s. R.K. Laxman is famous because of his cartoons. Nana is famous because of his banners.”
For over three decades now, for occasional visitors to Mumbai like me, a drive along Marine Drive has been as much an attraction as a glance at Nana’s latest Banner on the current situation.
I always remember the day when Babasaheb Bhosale had been named A.R. Antulay’s successor as Maharashtra C.M. In the capital’s political circles everyone was asking : “Who’s Bhosale?” I saw Nana’s banner the next day saying “Computer selects C.M. alphabetically : A.R. Antulay, Babasaheb Bhosale”.
Nana’s book was released on 17th June. Most of those present at the function may have received the invitation card carrying Nana Chudasama’s picture and the title of the book: “History on a Banner” only a week or two earlier. But I cannot forget that Nana’s wife Munira had come to meet me more than a year back to tell me about her plans to have a book published compiling all the witty and wise observations put up by Nana on the banner, always on display on Marine Drive.
Munira said that whenever the book was ready, the family would like me to release it.
The gathering at the University Auditorium had come not only for the book they had come to honour Nana on his 77th Birthday.
In his Foreword to the Book, M.J. Akbar recalled Stalin’s famous question: “How many battalions does the Pope have ?” Moral leaders, Akbar wrote, do not count the weapons in their arsenal. “They measure the power of their values and challenge the force of authority with the strength of their convictions”.
Nana commands respect precisely for the same reason.
Addressing the distinguished gathering that day, I said for me the month of June always brings to memory June, 1975. And I am of the view that lovers of democracy must never forget what happened thirty five years back in that June. Not even under British rule did Government’s opponents and the press have to face such repression. More than one lakh persons were put behind bars.
References made this day to Nana’s inimitable sense of humour and to cartoonist R.K. Laxman made me recall that during the Emergency, not only journals critical of the Establishment were forced to close down, but that the country’s only Cartoon Weekly had to fold up.
Shankar’s Weekly’s last editorial was captioned “Farewell”. In the piece Shankar wrote that day even the word Emergency did not figure. But there cannot be a severer indictment of the Emergency than this. I quoted it to the audience at the function.
“In our first editorial we made the point that our function was to make our readers laugh – at the world, at pompous leaders, at humbug, at foibles, at ourselves. But, what are the people who have a developed sense of humour ? It is a people with certain civilized norms of behaviour, where there is tolerance and a dash of compassion. Dictatorships cannot afford laughter because people may laugh at the dictator and that wouldn’t do. In all the years of Hitler, there never was a good comedy, not a good cartoon, not a parody or a spoof.
From this point, the world and sadly enough India have become grimmer. Humour, whenever it is there, is encapsuled. Language itself has become functional, each profession developing its own jargon. Outside of the society of brother-economists, an economist is a stranger, floundering in uncharted territory, uncertain of himself, fearful of non-economic language. It is the same for lawyers, doctors, teachers, journalists and such-like.
What is worse, human imagination seems to be turning to the macabre and the perverse. Books and films are either on violence or sexual deviations. Nothing seems to awaken people except unpleasant shocks. Whether it is the interaction of the written word and the cinema on society or not, society reflects these attitudes. Hijackings, mugging in the dark, kidnappings and plain murder are becoming everyday occurrences and sometimes lend respectability by giving it some kind of political colouration.”
Mukesh Ambani lauded Nana as the city’s original tweeter. Listed below are some of his ‘tweets’ of the emergency era :
22 September, 1975
1975 WAS WOMEN’S YEAR
BUT ALL YEARS ARE HERS
14 March 1976
NEW PACK OF CARDS
21 March 1977
MRS ‘I’ BECAME
PEOPLE SAID GOOD-BYE
June 22, 2010