Morparia’s Demanding Wit

Noted playwright Vijay Tendulkar provides an appreciation of the man he calls ‘My favourite cartoonist’. 

In a world where even the daily newspaper has to be ‘feel-good’, the cartoonist remains the one true social critic. Hemant Morparia, a practising Mumbai radiologist, who draws cartoons on the side has evolved a style that puts him in the bracket of the likes of Shankar, Laxman and Unny. Noted playwright Vijay Tendulkar provides an appreciation of the man he calls ‘My favourite cartoonist’. 


What’s in a cartoon? Blank space, strokes of a pen and a few words.  Sometimes there are no words at all. Only space divided by lines. And a point to make. It is this point that is the soul of a cartoon. It has to hit you like a bullet between the eyes and make you reel for a while. Reel with laughter or surprise or the stunning impact of a smart slap.


But it must. That’s the bottomline.


Take a look at this cartoon by Morparia, my favourite cartoonist. It has no human figures.  Only words spread over a piece of map. The map is of Gujarat. Easy to recognize because of the open mouth like shape which we have come to identify as a part of our country. But there’s something odd about this map of Gujarat. Instead of its usual cities and ports, this Gujarat has Bosnia, Rwanda, Chechnya, Beirut, Belfast and the Gaza Strip-places that are actually far apart from each other and belong to different countries. Here they appear in Gujarat. All these places are known for atrocities, killings, massacres. This cartoon appeared at the peak of the Gujarat carnage. That’s Morparia: with his timeliness, simplicity, economy and brutal directness. This is when the writer in me turns green with creative envy at this brilliant cartoonist.



Morparia is influenced by no one. He has evolved a style of his own from the days that he ’tooned for Science Today and The Illustrated Weekly. However, in a way, he reminds me of that other great cartoonist, Shankar, from the same era as Laxman. Interestingly, at one time, I was attracted to Laxman’s draftsmanship and disciplined style. Later, however, when I had an opportunity to go back to that time and their work, Shankar’s individuality appealed to me more—he did not draw as well and as neatly, but was brilliant at making his point.



Shankar’s caricatures were his forte. Morparia’s faces and figures do not have a specific ‘Morparia-touch’. However, his imagination is sharper, his line is livelier, and his use of colour adds to the effect of his drawing. And what makes his cartoons ‘complete’ is his deft use of words and situations to point out to us every morning the many incongruities of life-ranging from the absurd to the atrocious.



In a cartoon that he made after Bollywood’s underworld connections came to light, we see a character holding a placard with BOLLYWOOD written on it. A dagger-wielding gangster type stands menacingly nearby, holding another placard over part of the old one. Now it clearly spells trouble: DAWOOD.


Another cartoon shows a poster that says: ‘Art of Living’. Below this, written not-so-prominently, are the words ‘within one’s means’. A couple walking by says, “Aha! Now there’s a course we need to take”. In one sweep, Morparia has taken off on a current fad and on the current consumerist trend.



Often a cartoon delights you with its subtle exaggeration. This too is Morparia’s speciality. When Shiv Sena leader Narayan Rane insisted that his gun-toting security men be allowed on board a plane with him (while mere mortals cannot carry even a nail-cutter), Moparia’s pen sent fighter jets for Rane’s protection on the following day!



In these times, when ‘maximizing profits’ seems to be the unquestioned goal everywhere, creative people are the most vulnerable. Morparia’s daily cartoon space (in the Bombay Times, Pune Times, Ahmedabad Times, Baroda Times, Madras Plus) has recently been reduced, boxed in by advertisements. Laxman’s cartoon too has been summarily shifted. Morparia, a creative soul and not one to throw his weight around, continues to make the best use of this space. To him, it’s a restriction, but a challenge as well.  I, as a fan, feel the pinch of this humiliation; and as a reader, I have said so. But who’s listening?



In this new era of liberalization, art, humour, social commentry are being pushed out or white-washed. Now the reader, the viewer, the listener must be fed on a palatable, easy-to-digest diet. I fear that the razor-sharp, demanding wit of the cartoonist—the Morparias, the Laxmans, the Unnys—is being fast replaced with canned laughter on the idiot box that tells us: ‘This is funny. You may laugh now.’


Morparia’s pen, hopefully, will continue to simply jab us in the ribs. And leave the rest to us.




This story was originally featured in our December 2002 issue

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