While the politicians laugh at how easily they used a controversy over a 1949 cartoon by K. Shankar Pillai to banish all political cartoons from NCERT textbooks (with the UPA chairman Mrs Sonia Gandhi apparently wanting “Not just the cartoon. No. The whole book” to be banned), we revisit the final editorial in Shankar’s Weekly where this cartoon was first published. Shankar's Weekly was shut down with its final issue 31 August 1975 due to Emergency declared by Mrs Indira Gandhi, on whose back rode a beast called Censorship.This is the final editorial Shankar wrote for the weekly he had founded in 1948
We started with an editorial 27 years ago. We will end with another.
The world was different in 1948. The Cold War had not taken the sinister overtones that it later did. The atom bomb was in our midst and there was scare of war. But there was no apprehension that life would be wiped out from the earth in a nuclear holocaust.
The United States was riding high with sole possession of the atom bomb. Communism was to be rolled back by its strength and Time magazine’s brave words. But monolithic communism was already breaking up. In 1946 Yugoslavia was expelled from the Cominform.
Less than a year after Shankar’s Weekly was born, Mao Tse-tung took over mainland China, for ever changing the dimensions of international affairs. While Europe was still struggling to get over the aftermath of a ruinous war, Asia stood up for the first time as independent entity.
Soon after Africa emerged from colonial darkness. The old imperialisms watched uneasily at Bandung and Afro-Asian solidarity. Perhaps there was something in Nehru’s non-alignment after all.
The world of today is very different. The Cold War is still there but played according to already laid ground rules usually. West Europe has been integrated in a sense, although the sense of nationalism is still strong. Africa by and large has not steadied itself except in one or two countries.
White supremacy is still unchallenged in South Africa and Rhodesia. Asian politics has become uncertain largely due to Sino-Soviet rivalry. Latin America seethes with unrest, but the CIA and multi-nationals are trying to contain discontent. Economically, the world is somewhat better off than 27 years ago despite runaway inflation and drought and so on. But the quality of human life cannot be said to have shown any qualitative change.
This is what brings us to the nub of the matter. In our first editorial we made the point that the our function was to make our readers laugh – at the world, at pompous leaders, at humbug, at foibles, at ourselves. But, what (sic) are the people who have a developed sense of humour? It is a people with a certain civilised norms (sic) 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-cartoonists, 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.
But Shankar’s Weekly is an incurable optimist. We are certain that despite the present situation, the world will become a happier and more relaxed place. The spirit of man will in the end overcome all death dealing forces and life will blossom to a degree where humanity will find its highest purpose discharged.
Some call this God. We prefer to call it human destiny. And on that thought we bid you good-bye and the best of luck.
Published on Sunday, 31 August 1975