Working Class Heroes
A consultant with Economic Times, Delhi, Rajkamal Aich picks up his tools every morning before heading to work and makes art. He draws Mishti Bose, also known as Jalebi Woman in squiggly lines. Armed with the superpower of dunking her enemies into sugar syrup after tying them into knots, this yellow clad superwoman drips saccharine goodness. He draws K Rangaswamy too. Known as Idlii Man, he can throw idliis with startling accuracy, straight into the mouths of his enemies to defeat them. And as the Indian Superheroes slowly come to life, he creates some villains too. With a sinister looking pack of fries threatening everyone in its path with obesity, little by little, he builds an army of characters- good, bad and ugly. He brings well-known faces closer to us and gives them Indian make-overs, making the Superheroes in India look absolutely stunning. And at times, he decides to play with his food too. By humanising and Indianising familiar ideas, Aich toys with nostalgia and gives us reason to think of some parts of our lives that are rapidly fading.
But for a man who has no intentions of exhibiting his work beyond the internet, you might wonder why he is creating art anyway. For Aich, the reason is quite simple. “I am not doing this to sustain myself,” he says. “I create art simply because of the fact that I believe art should be readily available to the masses to explore and enjoy. I create art to express my thoughts via the various mediums I play with. Coming from a family of artists and having five years of art training myself, I do not know how not to make art!” But for a man who already has a full-time job, isn’t the process of making such regular updates with no monetary gains tough? “Whenever people tell you that they aren’t doing something they really want to do because of the lack of time, know that they are mostly making excuses,” he begins. “In all the free time people have, they’d rather watch something mindless on YouTube or go to parties. I do all of that, I am familiar with the intricacies of relationships too, but that does not mean that I stop making art because I have no time.”
With the aim to convince people that it is time to accept cartoons as serious art, Aich has no intentions of shoving these characters in a comic or a graphic novel. “Sometimes, even one simple line can tell you all that needs to be told. So what is the point of over-complicating anything?” Instead he hopes that his works inspire people to create something of their own. “If I can create art and get appreciated, so can anyone. Instead of trying to defend definitions and norms, I think it is important to experiment and create,” he says.
While most of Aich’s works seem light-hearted, his series, Children of God shocks us by introducing to us Gods in their younger days, broken and vulnerable. This is Aich’s own way of talking about child abuse in the country. “People here in India keep talking about how they see God in children, so how can you explain the atrocities of child abuse? It can hurt your sentiment when you see illustrations of the Gods as victims, but you will choose to ignore instances of child abuse. That is something I cannot understand. And this was my way to letting people know that it is time for the realisation to dawn,” he explains.
Defined by squiggles and quirkiness, Aich’s works however aren’t as cheery as most think that they are. With each of his illustrations having the underlying motive of making his audience question their need to borrow foreign culture and shun their own rich heritage, he hopes that someday the art and comic critics of India will realise the difference between appreciating the popular and appreciating great ideas.
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