Lines of excellence

For forty years Bashir Ahmad Bashir has been drawing cartoons, which many say is the soul of the Srinagar Times. The cartoons have many a times landed him in trouble with the establishment but he never buckled. Hamidullah Dar meets the cartoon man of Kashmir.

With a few strokes of his pencil, he can brew political storms. For the last 40 years, Bashir Ahmad Bashir’s cartoons in Urdu daily the Srinagar Times have earned him many enemies and thousands of admirers. His highly popular cartoons have landed him in trouble with politicians and rulers. Bashir, better known as BAB, had to face many court cases and several times had to face the wrath of the establishment.

Infuriated over two of Bashir’s cartoons, chief minister G M Sadiq banned the Urdu daily Srinagar Times for two months.

“Politics of Kashmir is unique. In mid seventies after mass rigging in the election I drew a caricature that showed voters of Jan Sangh, Jamaat-e-Islami, National Conference, Congress and other parties putting their votes into a magic (ballot) box that delivered all of them to Congress from its bottom side,” says Bashir. The cartoon may have elicited bouts of laughter from the public but for Bashir this was the first real nightmare. “That cartoon along with another one depicting the frequent incidents of fire in the countryside then infuriated Sadiq so much that our newspaper was banned for two months,” he adds.

National Conference leader Mirza Mohammad Afzal Beig fought their case in the High Court and got the ban lifted after 15 days. “Had we given up then, Srinagar Times would have not been there today,” Bashir says.

Very informal with his attire and long tresses BAB has a very affable, easy-go attitude. His cartoons convey the pulse of the latest news perfectly. Starting his career in 1970, BAB’s first cartoon highlighted the tug of war between two factions of Congress one headed by Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad and another by G M Sadiq. “I created two bulls, one having Bakshi’s head and another having Sadiq’s head. It attracted mass admiration,” says BAB.

When GM Sadiq banned his paper, opposition leaders like Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and Afzal Beig were all praise for Srinagar Times for “upholding the truth” but the honeymoon lasted only till NC was in opposition.

“They even supported us in getting the ban lifted. But then these politicians come to their true colours only in power. The very Sheikh and Beig who were so enthusiastic about our upholding truth, passed an order in the legislative assembly in 1977 directing us to appear before the assembly for my cartoon depicting members transacting business in the house like a fish market,” says BAB. He had made a cartoon depicting M as monkey, L as lamb and A as ass.

“This time Muzaffar Hussain Beig and Justice Bashir Ahmad Khan provided us legal assistance and we pleaded our innocence successfully before the assembly.”

That, Bashir says, boosted his morale. “I did not hesitate in making caricature of any politician thereafter. Those who were saying that cartoon is the soul of Srinagar Times, when they were in power showed that it was all done to meet their own political interests. Even Muzaffar Beig turned hostile when PDP came to power. It is an irony.”

For BAB creating a cartoon is an “honest effort in bringing forth the truth without any intention of bringing disrepute” to the person. It must, says BAB, have a tinge of sarcasm and humour blended into it so that the message is felt strongly with a smile. “My intention while creating a cartoon of any person is that he must understand the message, get happy over the caricature and admit inwardly that BAB has told the truth. And politicians who are impulsive react in a hostile way while as matured ones get the message across.”

Sometimes it would take him a whole day to come up with the subject for his cartoon and many times the subject he had in his mind for the whole day would be obsolete in the evening. “I later on started thinking and creating cartoons at around midnight so that I drew it around the latest news. People expect cartoon on a certain subject and I have to offer it to them the next morning,” says BAB.

BAB is drawing cartoons for the last 40 years. Even when outside the state, he used to draw cartoons and then go to airport to find any Srinagar bound passenger to deliver it to his newspaper office.

It usually takes an hour or two for BAB to draw a cartoon. For an ordinary person BAB is synonymous with perfection in caricature creation but that is not the case. “I have to give up many ideas as I can not execute them for my infirmity in drawing all the figures. I then look for alternatives,” he says.

Though known as a cartoonist, BAB is also a good editor. After the death of his elder brother Sofi Ghulam Mohammad, he has taken up the editorship of their family owned daily Srinagar Times. The transition from being a cartoonist to editing news items, columns and writing editorials besides creating cartoons out of the hard news may sound a tedious job but BAB is happy that every thing is going on smoothly. “I used to edit news items and write editorials earlier too but all that used to go into Sofi Sahab’s account. Now there may be change in the style of writing but there will be no change in the content and editorial policy of Srinagar Times,” says BAB.

Bashir is planning to launch an English weekly in next two months to “add diversity to the organization”. “If all goes well, we will change the weekly into a daily within next six months,” says BAB.

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