Kashmir’s preeminent cartoonist BAB talks to Umar Mukhtar on his popular drawings since 1969
KASHMIR LIFE (KL): How did you became a cartoonist?
BASHIR AHMAD BASHIR (BAB): Initially I was not planning to be a cartoonist. It happened by chance not by choice. My parents wanted to see me as a doctor and I too seconded their views. But there was an artist in me which used to make me restless. Since I was fascinated by the picturesque surroundings of Dal Lake and Zabarwan hills, I began to draw and make sketches.
Latter on there was a turning point in my life when in 1969 my brother Sofi Ghulam Mohammad editor and Founder of The Srinagar Times told me to join office and help him there. Though he was acquainted with my art and one day he told me; “We should introduce something new in our newspaper.” We made a sketch of Sheikh Abdullah then and pasted it with the news item. It was a new thing those days, probably the first newspaper which carried a cartoon in Kashmir. This is how I became a cartoonist.
KL: How many cartoons you have drawn so far? are there any unpublished ones as well?
BAB: I do not exactly remember the count but I know I draw one every day. Yes there are some cartoons in my possession which have never been published. There are many reasons of not publishing them. We often had to face the pulls and pressures and sometimes the environment is not suitable. Sometimes to avoid jeopardizing my own life I decided to keep some cartoons to myself. But I will publish them at appropriate time so that people will know what I had kept within me.
KL: How often do people get offended by your artwork?
BAB: Yes, there are many such instances where I had to pay a huge price for my artwork but I never made any compromises on my principles. I was dragged into court thrice for my work. Even the Srinagar Times was banned thrice by the government.
In 1981, once the J&K Assembly members fought each other, threw invectives at each other and tore down each other’s clothes. The next day, I made a cartoon where I described MLAs, as monkeys, lambs and donkeys.
This cartoon irritated the lawmakers and next day Speaker directed me and the editor to be present in the house. Next day I went there to defend my cartoon and I was asked to apologise, I refused. I told them that I have exercised my ‘right to freedom of expression’.
The very next day I drew a cartoon where I gave them a clear message that I cannot be cowed down by such threats. I drew a cartoon with my head in my hands and wrote a line “Sar Kata Sakte Hein Leakin Sar Juka Nahi Sakte.” This cartoon was the answer to the demand of the lawmakers.
KL: You said in your childhood you were fascinated by the beauty and that brought out the artist hidden in you but what exactly made you a satirist or a political cartoonist?
BAB: It was basically the political scenario in Kashmir that shaped my way of looking at the things. Whatever was happening on the political turf, I used to draw that through my cartoons.
KL: Which cartoon shot you to public fame?
BAB: I drew a cartoon where I depicted two bulls locking horns with each other. The head of one bull was representing Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad’s faction and another representing faction led by Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq. This was made in context of the tug of war between the two factions.
Everybody talked then about my cartoons. People used to see my cartoons daily: “Aaj Ka Cartoon Kya Hai? Also this is the cartoon which was made an excuse to ban The Srinagar Times.
KL: You are being called as a political cartoonist and a satirist.
BAB: Yes, I like to be known with such tags. Basically these are the tags which I should be proud of. I do satire but I have never targeted any one personally.
KL: Which cartoon is close to your heart?
BAB: There are many cartoons which have got appreciation from many sides. At different times there had been different cartoons which were close to my heart. It all depends upon the atmosphere around and the feedback you get. Every day I make new cartoons I think that this one is the best.
KL: How do you do the theme selection for your cartoons?
BAB: It is like a spiritual thing. It comes naturally. I sit, take pencil and the paper in my hand and then draw the cartoons. Basically art is God gifted. We just need to be constructive in our approach and should not waste what God has bestowed upon us.
KL: Can we say that your cartoons stand as a witness to the history of Kashmir?
BAB: I have drawn cartoons since 1969. Whatever happened since then I have drawn that through cartoons. I have reported all the major and minor incidents through my art.
KL: How artists are seen in our society? Do they get what they deserve?
BAB: Some people do not take the artists as serious but now the trend is changing. People acknowledge the art and endorse it.
KL: When are we expecting to see your unpublished work?
BAB: I am basically writing a book, may be next year that may get completed. I am going to publish all the work that I have done.