Sudhir Tailang’s Birth Anniversary: Art of Laughing in Adversity
My favorite Sudhir Tailang cartoon is of the Reserve Bank of India tiger leaping out of the logo to attack the common man. It’s not the most easy cartoon to make. Because it’s easy to use a politician’s quote and likeness but it takes a special kind of wit and keen observation to make that kind of a comment on the state of the nation’s economy, and especially so on a subject like rate hike.
It was November 2014 when preparations were in full swing for Sudhir Tailang’s largest retrospective show in 12 years. Amidst all that chaos and action inside the gallery, Sudhir was recuperating from his first brain surgery to get a nasty tumor removed. But his resilience and determination was best understood on the opening night of this show when he made sure to be there in person.
“The show was called ‘Rajiv to Modi’ and Sudhir wanted me to fix life-size cut outs of all his Prime Minister caricatures to welcome his guests at the entrance of the gallery. The show was a phenomenal success with friends, colleagues, admirers and politicians from across parties, attending the launch,” says Sunaina Anand, Director, Art Alive Gallery. She adds, “He used to tell me there’s no place for tumors in my brain, there’s only place for humour.”
What followed next was a series of trips to the hospital followed by chemotherapy. The recovery was gradual. He longed to start making his cartoons again but the tumor came back. It was time for a second brain surgery followed by more chemo. When the persistent growth struck the third time, his body couldn’t take any more surgeries or chemo sessions. “My brain is roasted, Sahar. I’m stuck with this,” he said when I met him last October.
(Sahar Zaman wrote this tribute for late Sudhir Tailang when he passed away on 6 February this year. Today, 26 February, is his birth anniversary.)
Sudhir had undergone so much in the past year and a half, that I was amazed at how he remained calm and pleasant. Perhaps that’s the thing about cartoonists, they can see the humour and irony that is inherent in life. He still managed to crack his jokes, slap a few one-liners despite the knowledge that the tumor was determined to take him down.
Spokesperson for the Common Man
I missed him most at the launch of my recent art show. He had promised to come but unfortunately, he was already bedridden by then. In his last few days, he had lost his voice.
Jujhar Singh who interviewed him for his famous show ‘Art Talk’ at NewsX, remembers Sudhir as “Someone passionate about his work, which he called ‘a bridge between journalism and art’. He saw himself as a spokesperson for the common man.”
Photographer and close friend Raghu Rai felt it unfair for such a gentle soul to go so soon. He was just 55. “He had no malice. He could convey things about politicians so simply. It was magical. I took him to my Guruji’s ashram to help him… but it just had to happen.”
(Sahar Zaman is a newscaster, artist, curator and founder of Hunar TV – Asia’s first web channel on arts)