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Meet Mr. Sudhir Dar
Sudhir Dar: Cartoonist Extraordinaire
Mr. Sudhir Dar Mr. Sudhir Dar is one of India’s best-known cartoonists. With a career spanning over forty unforgettable years, Mr. Dar now lends his support to Microsoft BhashaIndia’s Indic Language Development initiatives. In a freewheeling interview, Mr. Dar speaks about life, humor, art, his inspirations, the future as he sees it, and (of course) cartoons.
Tell us something about your foray into the world of cartooning? Was it a conscious choice on your part?
SD: Well, I was fascinated with humor, particularly British and American humor, from a very young age. Growing up during the War years, it was the age of the British Raj and there were a huge number of British and American ships stationed in India. To keep the troops entertained, there were a huge number of musicals, comedy programmes and theatricals to give them a feeling of home. I was only in my teens and for me, this was a goldmine – a vast trove of British and American humor. We also read copies of Punch (My father was very fond of Punch and wanted us to be exposed to the best) and Saturday Evening Post (a fine family magazine from the United States, replete with the best of Americana) – both full of fine stories, humor and, of course, cartoons. That's how it all began. Simply through radio and magazines. In those days, I was greatly influenced by Shankar, who was a political cartoonist at the Hindustan Times. I found his work very fascinating. All these factors drew me into cartooning.
It's been virtually a lifetime in cartooning. How did this come about?
SD: I was working in All-India Radio in the late fifties as an announcer, when I met the News Editor of The Statesman who had come for a talk. During the talk, I drew a portrait sketch of him. He looked at it and said, "Why, you have made me look almost handsome". He asked me if I did cartoons and I said I did. He then asked me for examples of my work. I went to The Statesman's office a couple of weeks later with five cartoons and he told me, "Why don't you leave them behind and we'll have a look at them." The next morning I opened the paper and I saw all five of my cartoons in Page 3 of The Statesman. I was thrilled to bits. I proceeded to work in The Statesman from 1961 to 1967 and created a wordless cartoon series called "Out Of My Mind" which appeared every morning. It was a bit of a challenge because my Editor told me, "Anyone can be funny with words. The true test of a cartoonist is to be funny without words". My Editor also believed that I was modeling my characters on him as he had a rather long nose and my characters had very long noses. He had challenged me to create a wordless series saying that he would hire me if I created a wordless cartoon every day. Incidentally, "Out Of My Mind" ran for seven years! After the first year, the series appeared in the Calcutta edition as well and there was a big hue and cry. Delhi, where I had begun, reacted similarly. The series moved to Page 1 after six months of my first year. That meant one cartoon a day – a terrifying thought. But I took it on. When I walked down the corridors of the office the morning after the move to Page 1, the Editor walked up to me waving something over his head. It was a letter that said, "Dear Sir, who's out of his mind ? You or Sudhir Dar?" I was cut dead. I must have turned every color of the rainbow and the Editor was just standing back, enjoying the whole show. Then he said something very profound – "Young man, you're in the first page of The Statesman. Don't expect everyone to love you". This was a real test. An acid test. I went on with the series and the letters kept pouring in everyday. They were carried in the Editor's column. The first day after my cartoon appeared, the Editor's heading was "Out Of Our Minds?" One day, there were so many letters that the entire Page 3 was filled with letters. I was being damned by some and given a pat on the back by others. The bouquets and brickbats poured in for about three months. On one particular day, so many letters came in that the Editor's column in Page 3 stated, "Regretfully, this correspondence is now closed". My friends called on me that evening and said, "Congratulations. You've arrived".
Throughout your forty years in cartooning, you have played very different roles and drawn varied cartoons. How did they come about?

SD: They say, "Every clown wants to play Hamlet". During my Statesman years, I was dying to enter the political arena. It so happened that Rajender Puri who was then with the Hindustan Times had some problems. I did not wish to continue swimming in a fishbowl and wanted to diversify and grow out into a pond – maybe, even the ocean! So we switched floors, with Rajinder joining the Statesman and me joining The Hindustan Times. Thus began a 22-year stint, drawing seven pocket cartoons and about 3 political cartoons a week. Which was madness. Sheer madness. I would say the pace was set by R. K. Laxman. He was such a prolific producer and a compulsive drawer. His was a wonderful innings and I'm one of his greatest fans. After HT, I moved on to The Independent in Bombay where I worked for a couple of years. Vinod [Mehta], the Editor of The Pioneer, called me and lured me back to Delhi. I was with the Pioneer from 1991 to 1998, until Vinod left taking a lot of us along. Then I received an offer from Dileep Padgaonkar and I joined the Delhi Times. That wasn't really my cup of tea and it catered to a much younger audience. So, after a year, I called it a day. I had made up my mind that I
would hang up my drafts after forty years!
From your years of experience in the world of cartooning, do you think that art is an effective means of communication?
SD: Oh yes, very much so. In fact, in cartooning, you can get away with murder. Especially in political cartooning, where you can literally get away with murder. As a cartoonist, you can make some very strong statements through your work. It is a very, very powerful medium. You must know how to use it. You must be very subtle, yet direct in your approach and pack a punch with a dash of humor. Some cartoonists can do it more easily than others.
Do you think computers should play an important role in cartooning?
SD: Well, I was a total novice when it came to computers and I didn't believe that a computer could help here. This is a gift of a kind – a God-given gift. As a cartoonist, one must use one's hands and mind and not turn to a machine to do one's work. Although the younger generation of cartoonists is doing some interesting work and a variety of other things using computers, I'm very conservative when it comes to drawing cartoons. I feel that you have to do it with a nib. I'm an old-fashioned guy in that sense. And I enjoy that. There's a certain depth involved. I used to get some very fine nibs from Germany, ranging from the breadth of a human hair to about five times its breadth. It was all about how you handled the pen. With a little bit of pressure from the hand, you could create whatever you wanted. It did take a long time to master this art but it was very invigorating.
Your thoughts on the current cartooning scene?
SD: It's sad that today there is a drop in standards. I'm rather unhappy with the cartoon scene now. We had a glorious innings – Laxman, Abu [Abraham],Vijayan, me, Rajinder Puri. It was a glorious period. We were considered the second generation of Indian cartoonists. Shankar, Bhanu, Ahmad and Shishanti formed the first generation whom we looked up to. Laxman was the oldest and led the pack. We've seen the best days and it’s been a rewarding life. To be at the front page of a newspaper for forty (in Laxman's case, fifty) years is incredible.
Has cartooning as a passion ended for you? Any regrets?
SD: Now I'm doing all the things I hadn't done. A lot of books have appeared. I never had the time to do books before. I did a Calendar of the Year for the World Bank's Water and Sanitation Program. I met some people from the World Bank recently and they told me, "You're our ambassador for the World Bank. Your calendar hangs in every room of the World Bank.” Apart from that, I did a Diary for the Department of Tourism called, "A Journey Through India with Sudhir Dar". I also did a Diary for the Ministry of External Affairs, a campaign for the Life Insurance Corporation and things like that. Then came Microsoft.
How did your association with Microsoft BhashaIndia begin?
SD: When Microsoft approached me about a campaign, I really didn't know anything about their Indian Language program. It stunned and interested me immensely. I could see its potential, its reach and the impact over time. Imagine what a magnificent and powerful tool it would be in the hands of people who have never had an opportunity of this sort. I think what we need to ensure now is that computers be made available at lower prices so that people can buy computers for themselves and their children. If computers are made available to farmers and artisans, imagine what an incredible world will open for them at their fingertips.
Do you think art can play a role in the cause of Indic Language Computing?
SD: There are some things we can express through art which can reach the common man. It is a dialogue with someone whom you may not know, but is out there. There are so many who have never seen a computer other than in a newspaper or the television. You can use art to reach out to him, to understand his needs, his problems, his aims and ambitions. India is already a pacesetter in Information Technology. With the opening of the possibilities of regional software, it would be mind-boggling.
You held an exhibition in Agra recently. Can you tell us something about it?
SD: I was delighted when Microsoft called and invited me on board to be a part of the campaign for regional language software in the Hindi belt. We had several sessions where we discussed several topics and themes. It was a very rewarding experience and I felt highly energized because it seemed like a revolution in the making. I felt I was part of that revolution. We were bringing technology as a weapon to the common man to help him shape his own life and career.
In your view, what languages require attention with respect to Indic Language Development?
SD: Well, with Hindi being the language spoken among the largest percentage of the population, it should certainly be given the pride of place. But, apart from Hindi, we mustn't forget Urdu. Bengali must also be remembered. It's a very powerful and beautiful language. I believe that software must be provided for all the major languages, especially South Indian languages. It is mind-boggling what the South can produce with this tool in their hands. As it is, the South leads the North in so many ways. In terms of intellect, I think that the South is way ahead. With a tool like this, I can't even imagine what the South can do. I would say there is a huge virgin field lying ahead of Microsoft and this must be nurtured and irrigated.
In a nutshell, what does the future hold for Indic Language Computing?
SD: I'm not sure I could find the appropriate words. Looking at this venture, five or maybe ten years from the present, if I was to describe it in one word, the word would be WOW!

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