A Gallery of Laughter!
If you are strolling down Bangalore’s M G Road near Trinity Circle (or are caught in the perennial traffic jam that has almost become a permanent feature of that place), chances are that you will miss the small, nondescript lane which leads to the Indian Cartoon Gallery.Located in the basement of Midford House, the gallery – an initiative of the Indian Institute of Cartoonists is perhaps a one of its kind in the country, as it is wholly devoted for cartoons.
When I visited the gallery for the first time in 2009, I got the opportunity of meeting the man behind it all – Mr. V G Narendra, the Managing Trustee of the institute. Seated in his office adjoining the gallery and offering piping hot coffee, Mr. Narendra recounted the fascinating story of the Indian Cartoon Gallery.
“It all started with that!” he said, pointing to a framed cartoon hung on his office wall.
The cartoon depicted a rampaging bull holding Deve Gowda and his rival by the horns (one on each!) with a caption in the local language. It was published in Kannada Prabha, a newspaper with which Mr. Narendra has been a staff cartoonist since 1987! A cartoon loving businessman happened to see the cartoon in the paper and sent his congratulations to the cartoonist with a desire to meet him. A breakfast meet ensued in which Mr. Narendra and two of his colleagues apprised the businessman about the activities and future plans of the Indian Institute of Cartoonists that they had founded in 2001. Till then, the institute did not have a formal office and was being run from Mr. Narendra’s home. With its activities increasing day by day, continuing this arrangement for long was difficult. When the businessman heard this, he immediately donated over 2000 square feet of space in a prime locality of Bangalore and that is how the present Indian Cartoon Gallery, replete with an adjoining office and a 75-seater Conference Hall, was born!
“Have your coffee, it’s becoming cold!” Mr. Narendra said, as he continued to recount the journey of the gallery which has now become his life.
The first cartoon exhibition was inaugurated by the then Governor of Karnataka in 2007 and went on for three months, earning the gallery a place in the Limca Book of Records. Thirty four cartoon exhibitions have been held till date after that – including those of greats like R K Laxman, Mario Miranda, Shankar and even the British cartoonist David Low, widely regarded as the father of political cartooning in the 20th Century! If this was not enough, the Institute has held several big cartoon contests since last year including an international caricature contest which saw prize winning entries from countries like Iran! Other activities of the Institute include maintaining a library of books on cartoons, archiving cartoons of different cartoonists for posterity and organizing annual cartoonists’ conference for facilitating interactions between cartoonists and cartoon lovers.
“The true barometer of a country’s democracy is the freedom it accords to its cartoonists, they say” Mr. Narendra added, explaining the inspiration behind the institute’s mission to promote cartooning in India.
“We are providing a platform to cartoonists, both professional and amateur, to encourage them to showcase their talent before a wider audience. The institute is a non profit organization and provides financial assistance to cartoonists for organizing exhibitions at the gallery. Besides, there is no entry fee for cartoon lovers visiting the gallery!”
“Come, let’s take a round of the gallery”, Mr. Narendra said.
At that time, the gallery was hosting an exhibition of works of seven cartoonists whom the institute had felicitated with lifetime achievement awards. We suddenly heard bursts of laughter from the other end of the gallery. Some cartoon lovers were enjoying being lost in the world of cartoons, happiness writ large on their faces.
“That makes it all worth it!”, I heard him say.