The activist cartoonist (1934-2017)

He handed over his hearing aid to my son Amol and said that he would be now going to ‘out-of-coverage’ area’, recalls daughter Vaishali Deshpande. What a subtle way to go for veteran cartoonist and humourist Mangesh Tendulkar, who passed away due to bladder cancer on 11 July 2017 in Pune, at 83 years of age.

Born in Kolhapur, Mangesh Tendulkar`s family shifted to Pune in the early stage of his life. After his BSc., though he started working at the Ammunition Factory in Khadki, he could not be separated from his passion of the brush and writing, and he put his love for politics and social issues into his artistic work, wearing many hats as a cartoonist, social activist and author.

Since 1954, he caricaturised human foibles in an evolving Pune, chronicling the city through its steady transformation from a ‘sleepy’ township to a bustling city with metropolis pretensions. A series of 100 cartoons set forth his concerns and the preservation of Pune’s once-leafy environs with his trademark good-humoured, gentle skepticism.

Despite no formal training in cartooning, he mastered the nuances of the art and took it beyond entertainment, by highlighting various aspects and issues ranging from politics, art, civic issues, and environment on canvas. His succinct depiction not only evoked awe in readers, but also stirred their conscience. He effortlessly exemplified the big truth that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Mangesh is incidentally the younger brother of acclaimed playwright, screenwriter, and social commentator, the late Padma Bhushan Vijay Tendulkar. He credited his brother for his guidance in achieving success as a cartoonist, saying a volume by a French cartoonist in his brother’s collection spurred him on his vocation. In all, a total of 89 exhibitions of his cartoons were held. He was known for his take on various social issues through his cartoons. Every three months, he would hold an exhibition of his cartoons which would always have a new set of ten cartoons to look out for.

He was an author who also penned several books, including Bhuichakra, Sunday Mood (compilation of 53 articles and cartoons), and Kuni Pampato Ajun Kalokh among others. His book titled Cartoons was published in 2001. Among the several awards he was conferred with were the President’s Medal in 1980, Pulotsav award in 2003, Marathi Natya Parishad Award in 1993, and an award from Mumbai Marathi Patrakar Sangh in 1994.

Tendulkar expressed his straightforward views about various civic issues. The postcard cartoonist who cared about traffic safety, he was instrumental in creating traffic awareness in Pune city, and gave great support to the Pune traffic police, in the backdrop of a hyper-burgeoning Pune riven with traffic lawlessness. His several cartoons and caricatures based on the theme of traffic displayed at various junctions and signals in the city were great hits.

For the past 17 years, he personally stood on the busy Nal Stop on Karve Road, Pune, holding placards, and distributed nearly 10,000 postcards, illustrated with his trademark funny cartoons generally on Diwali day, with a traffic message to commuters. While some would show respect by touching his feet, he had confessed that, “there were people who did not even bother to roll down their car windows when I knocked.” Survived by his wife, a son and a daughter, his funeral was attended by social activists, politicians, associates and fellow cartoonists, who lamented ‘about the loss of a multi-faceted born artist and personality, whose words created ripples, though he was soft-spoken’.

– A. Radhakrishnan is a Pune based freelance journalist, short story writer, poet who wants the world to be happy always.