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Interview with Suraj 'Eskay' Sriram

Post by: Sonia Safri

Last week BookChums got the opportunity to moderate the launch of Suraj 'Eskay' Sriram's latest offering- Indira Gandhi – The Final Chapter.

A book of illustrations, this, it lampoons the political figure through witty cartoons. It draws a satirical portrait of the Indian leader, while humorously depicting certain behind-the-scenes political and social affairs in our country.

The book launch was a wonderful experience and so was the interaction with the author.

For those who haven't yet 'google-d' him - Suraj Sriram was a freelance cartoonist in Mumbai from 1976 to 1984. Known in the media circles as 'Eskay', his editorial cartoons and illustrations have appeared regularly in most leading newspapers and magazines published in the city. He left for the United States of America in 1985, where he freelanced as a cartoonist (in Massachusetts and Rhode Island) and also taught cartooning in schools, colleges and design institutions. He is a member of the National Cartoonist Society of America and has received awards for his editorial cartoons from the New England Press Association.
Currently back in India, his editorial cartoons continue to be published weekly and monthly in leading business papers in Boston, USA.

What followed the book launch was an insightful interaction for our readers exclusively!


What made you choose Indira Gandhi as your subject? How did the entire ideation come about?
Indira Gandhi was and will always remain an iconic figure in the political history of this country. Any book review about her will always generate interest. During my career as a freelance cartoonist I had done innumerable editorial cartoons and illustration that in a collective fashion could well be a visual history of the period when India Gandhi came to power in 1980 till the time she was assassinated.


What kind of research did you have to undertake to pull out this brilliant piece of satire?
During the '70's and early '80's, computers were a rarity and I at least had never heard of the internet existing in India. There was no 'Google' that one could browse to get references, visuals or other information. Consequently, to translate a news item into an editorial cartoon or illustration, you had to depend totally on the visual information already absorbed and stored in the data bank of your brain. Often, one had to rummage through various picture clipping stored in the drawers of your drawing desk, a time consuming task. Once the news item had been digested, the process to match it to an appropriate image or setting had to be done, a challenging and creatively a very intense activity. At some point of time during this process, wherein you had sifted through various visuals, you had the 'Eureka' moment. The cartoon was born.



The country recently saw Anna Hazaare going on a hunger strike and people all over the country conducting candle light march, as a sign of protest against corruption and to implement the LokPal Bill. The bill had been pending for the last 42 years. So be it Indira Gandhi or other politicians and government officials/netas/babus/ the "aam aadmi" is still at the receiving end of it all. What is your take on the current political scenario of the country?
My gut response is that nothing is going to change. The current crop of politicians strutting the halls of power and ably assisted by their 'dirty tricks' departments are in no hurry to effect change. The skeletons popping out of the cupboards of almost every politician or government office, agency or department, and the recent interview with the founder of  Wikileaks shown on TV, is indicative of how deep the cancer of corruption has spread across the country. The Lok Pal bill, by itself, is just a band aid and will be rendered  meaningless unless the enforcement agencies that do the follow up get some teeth and are rid off political interference and influence. Parallel action is needed for police reform, banning of criminals from getting elected and the right to recall errant politicians. Also, the youth and middle class that participated in the recent movement will need to extend their commitment to the cause and continue to keep the pressure and momentum going.  I haven't seen much of that happening or being reported by the media. Armchair activists on Facebook who sometime ago were shrill in their support of Hazare have shifted their attention to Jaitpur, and soon may shift to some other issue that crops up shortly.


So, what would you have to say about the "aam aadmi" today? The mango people of the 21st century?
Other than the utterly destitute or those with a super strong conscience, I have a feeling the 'aam aadmi' has decided that since corruption at all levels is here to stay, then ' if you can't beat 'em, join 'em'. They have become de-sensitized to corruption as most of them are in some way party to it and take it in their stride in their day to day existence. That is perhaps why we don't see people taking to the streets in a collective movement as an ongoing crusade.


What, according to you, is the basic difference in the humor that Indians indulge in as compared to their American counterparts?
I will confine my comments to editorial cartoons published in the English language. The general perception is that the humour of Indian cartoonists, which perhaps is patterned on the British,  uses irony, sarcasm and cynicism. The work of R.K.Laxman, Abu and others exemplifies this. As against this,  American humour tend to more slapstick. Indian cartoonists tend to be subtle and sarcastic whereas their American counterparts tend to be more obvious. However, one cannot generalize. After all, we too have our beloved Mario Miranda whose slapstick creations kept us in splits of laughter in days gone by.



Who would be your next target? Any other official/neta to be scrutinized?
Unfortunately, nobody. I am now concentrating on my next book which will be a compilation of never before published cartoons and comic strips, totally non-political, that will be pure unadulterated fun bound to make you laugh and chuckle.



Your advice to budding cartoonists of the country?
The recent contest organized by Times of India titled 'Day in the life of India' shows that the country has a large number of people with excellent cartooning skills. I presume most of them are youngsters. My only advice is that in addition to their drawing skills they must also hone their thinking skills. They must read about, understand and reflect on all the political, social and economic issues that confront the country. They must also be fully aware of events on the international scene and that impact the nation. They have to be net-savvy and do online searches for information and visuals that will help in creation of powerful images/cartoons that convey a subtle but compelling message to the reading public. And lastly they must develop a philosophy that is consistently reflected in their cartoons/illustrations.



Indira Gandhi - The Final Chapter, I say, is one of the most recommended books of our time.

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