(Eminent Journalist & Editor of Dainik Hindustan)
He bit the Worm,
God's only son,
Into two writhing halves…….
(Ted Hughes; from A Childish Prank)
LITERALLY the word 'KAAK' means a crow; the lowliest (and perhaps the ugliest) among the birds; invited only to death feasts. And yet the crow it is, who is feared and respected for its immense powers perseverance; its uncanny ability to smell and expose rot with its raucous voice, whenever he spots it.
Kak (real name he says he has forgotten) was trained to be and was a mechanical engineer for twenty years. Today he is one of the best cartoonists we have in the Hindi Media. His Everyman ever-present in his world, reminds one of Laxman's Babu. But unlike Laxman's Babu, he is not there only as a silent and somewhat bewildered spectator, but as a loud and raucous commentator in a purely Desi Tradition. In fact his 'Desiness' is a persona, behind which lurks a first-rate ability to spot all delusions of grandeur, hypocrisy and corruption, and expose their rotting roots (Desi or Vilayati) with merciless precision. In the first cartoon in the book, his protagonist is flying over the Lal Quila saying: “He has left after promising to catapult us all to the heights of the Red Fort Walls, "aur Yahan landing ki problem aa rahi hai.” In another he is singing on a harmonium while news paper headlines in the background announce multiple deaths and murders in Punjab. The ghazal he sings in Mehdi Hassan's 'Patta patta buta buta hal hamara jane hai'.
Kak's women have been created by a typical Indian male chauvinist in his own image. The toothless, Bhauji (sister-in-law) is straight out of the traditional Devear-Bhabi lores, sharing jokes, admonishing, playfully teasing and ridiculing her mischievous Devar. She is larger than life in her earthy humour and observations. The other woman is young. Initially she was a curvaceous sweepress, but after some 'friends' pointed out that the character had sexist and casteist overtones, she was changed to a fantasy. She is an effective springboard for Kaak's protagonist though, to lampoon the average Indians' male libido.
It is rarely that a Hindi cartoonist is able to attract among his admirers, both the average reader and the cognoscenti. The preface to Kaak's collection, by Vinod Bhardwaj, an eminent Hindi poet and film-critic, is a testimony to his appeal to all sections of Hindi reading public.
Kak reserves some of his most acid comments for the English speaking brown-sahibs. His protagonist, like all Hindi wallahs, alternately hates and imitates their quirks and accents, often to great merriment of his Bhauji. In one, he quotes Sam Pitroda's much quoted statement about their being nothing wrong in the latter day Gandhians sporting denims and T-shirts. The cartoon depicts our Desi Bhai protagonist in an awfully tight and ill-fitting pair of denim jeans and a hideous T-shirt (with a heart on the pocket) saying- “Hi Sam' Gandhi ka Atma Kaisa Feel kar Raha hoga.”
Like Charlie Brown, ultimately the appeal of Kak's persona, lies in his ability to laugh and feel ashamed at human folly. At the end of the book a fat and jolly drunk is shaking hands with our man saying “Happy new year…..Hic” and the protagonist winks at the reader, holds his nose and says in his flat Desi accent 'shame to you'. An excellent book thoroughly enjoyable. One would recommend it heartily to all readers with a genuine sense of humour.