By Tirthankar Mitra
90 years is ripe old age. But when renowned cartoonist nonagenarian Amal Chakraborti passed away on October 18 in the midst of puja festivities in Kolkata , legions of his admirers felt that his exit from the mortals’ company was untimely. Chakraborti’s fans included readers of Dainik Pratidin whose pages were lit up by his cartoons. And there were greenhorn and veteran scribes who were inspired by his cartoons.
An icon and a father figure to younger cartoonists, Chakraborti fitted his profession like a glove. He had no holy cows as his cartoons on dengue deaths and Women Reservation Bill pointed out. Amal had no fear of God or man, even if a human enjoyed cult status and a cartoon raising a laugh about him may invite reprisal from his followers. If his cartoon about goddess Durga and Mahisasur did not raise any eye brows, his take on Mao Ze Dong did.
It was the high noon of Left Radical politics in the state when the “Great Helmsman” ‘s pictures and messages greeted passersby from the house walls of what was then known as Calcutta. The cartoonist had a visit from a group of belligerent young men en route Jugantar his place of work after an Amal cartoon about Mao had appeared in that city daily.
Nothing more transpired than a heated exchange but Chakraborty refused to change his ways. The cartoonist could laugh at himself even if he was suffering. During his last illness, Amal in pain said that a worm was gnawing within a leg. Asked whether it owed allegiance to the State or the Centre, a gentle smile lit up his face though in retrospect it was a cruel joke.
The man who wanted to make cartoons even after he was nearing ninety, had started his career at an young age. It certainly started with a flourish as his cartoon named “Ganesh Envies his Father” sent to Children’s Art Competition was chosen to be felicitated by eminent cartoonist Shankar.
There was no looking back thereafter. After a short stint in a railway cooperative bank, his cartoons named “Tirjak” started appearing in Ananadabazar Patrika which he left after a disagreement. His works modelled after “Tick and Talk” was a popular draw in The Statesman, Calcutta for quite sometime. Amal belonged to an age when cartoons were often part and parcel of the lead news story.
Though not quite happy with the change of news presentation of changing times, he did not oppose it. Not being savvy with computer technology, an essential part of modern day page making in the dailies, he was big man enough to acknowledge his shortcoming.
Yet Chakraborti struck to his guns contending that social media cannot convey the feeling of having a look at the front page or perusing the editorial of a broadsheet. He was a thorough newspaperman albeit of a good old school. None will make and support the claim that Chakraborti’s strokes of pencil / sketch pens on paper were works of art. Certainly they were not.
In a state where politics is a grim business transacted in electoral battles which threaten to turn into killing fields in the blink of an eye, Chakraborti sought to bring in gentle humour. Such efforts were always intelligent endeavours.
Come rain or shine, the sight of Chakraborti’s cartoons seldom failed to stir the intelligent mind. The cartoons were aptly named “Amal Aloy” (In the light of Amal). Such was the outreach of Amal’s cartoons that it was said among the scribes that whenever something happens, the intelligent .man asked what does Amal say. Never mind, if this is take on the slogan of a famous daily whose office is a stone’s throw from Chakraborti ‘s place of work.
“Amal Aloy” cartoons cheered and put new thoughts in the minds of its admirers. In this respect, this was a focus on the skills and creativity of a man who unfailing in correct reading of the pulse of his readers – the masses.
A follower of Shankar Pillai, Amal never lost sight of the object and target of his cartoon. His skills unfailing married reality and humour whose results were all to see as the readers asked for more.
Small wonder, his works never overshot their mark. His cartoons were unfailingly bang on target. Drawn on uncomplicated lines sans leaving much white space and conveying unambiguous messages, Amal’s cartoons were popular and more. Till his last days, his works never failed to cross the line which separates the commonplace cartoon which tickles and is forgotten once the page is turned over from the one which is embedded in the readers’ memory in work and play. (IPA Service)