For 74-year-old cartoonist and flip book maker BV Panduranga Rao, Gabriel García Márquez’s oft-quoted words – “age isn’t how old you are but how old you feel” – seem to be a way of life.
Bengaluru-based Panduranga was seven when he made his first flip book in his hometown of Siddhalagatta. “I’d notice how the letters would jump on the corner of the pages,” he said. “So I started putting dots on the pages and moving them systematically. Then I started playing with arrows, skeletons, and a lot of cricket-related drawings. Being a fan of cricket, I understood the subtle nuances and technical aspects of the game. So I adopted these things in the drawings, which made them extra accurate and enjoyable.”
The man went on to make the smallest (0.5 cm x 1.3 cm) and biggest (20.75 in x 13 in) flip books, both of which have been featured in the India Book of Records and Limca Book of Records.
“At the time, I didn’t know that this was called animation, or that I was making a flip book,” said Panduranga. “I was just making them for my friends in exchange for chocolates!”
Panduranga’s fascination with line drawings and the world of cartoons took root in the 1960s, when he was working at the Bhilai Steel Plant in Madhya Pradesh (now in Chhattisgarh) as a senior manager. His mentor Pradeep Singh encouraged him to pursue drawing and contribute to the steel plant’s in-house magazine. For the next 25 years, as Panduranga’s designations changed – from being a manager to handling public relations for the plant to environment management – it was only his love for drawing that remained constant.
“Cartooning is a funny business, steel-making is serious work,” he said. “The two don’t go together. Even then, Bhilai was the perfect environment to make everyday observations and draw them. I made cartoons on different themes – satire, politics, environment, local news. Over time, thanks to the magazine and exhibitions, the cartoons caught people’s attention and I became popular as ‘Panduji the cartoonist.’”
Panduranga’s first exhibition was with the Kannada Sangha in Bhilai. “That has been my biggest opportunity yet,” he said. “I’ve completed 49 exhibitions since, and hope to have my 50th one at Kannada Sangha’s diamond jubilee celebrations later this year!”
Since Bhilai is a small town and cartoonists were few at the time, Panduranga’s work was noticed immediately. “I was given an opportunity to work with [the Hindi daily] Dainik Bhaskar between 1995 to 2001,” he said. “I regularly submitted my cartoons to them. While it didn’t pay, it gave me a solid platform for my work to be seen. Plus, not only was I improving my skill but also gaining recognition.”
Panduranga also began to study Hindi to ensure that his cartoons would be relevant to readers in Bhilai.
After retiring and moving back to Bengaluru, Panduranga’s artistic playground grew. He had time to focus on his passion for drawing, and technology entered his life too. “I didn’t know what a scanner does but now, my images come out beautifully,” he said. “I learnt Photoshop a few years ago and started colouring my drawings. Photoshop reduced 70% of my work because I was colouring by hand before. Another life-changer was email. Before, I would send out my cartoons by mail, it was tiring, expensive and I wouldn’t hear back from anyone for months. The internet has also taught me something new everyday and helped me put myself out there.”
Since retirement, his reach has increased from a few hundred people at exhibitions to the world at large, through his blog.
Of late, his passion for cartooning has given way to a new passion: making and breaking records. After making the smallest and biggest flip books, he went on to make the smallest and biggest calendars in the world. Then he created a record for “Most Exhibitions at International Cartoon Contests” and “Most recognised/awarded cartoons in a year”. He even entered the Limca Book of Records for “Most cricket players’ caricatures” with 209 caricatures of every cricketer from the 14 teams at the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup.
Panduranga’s caricature of Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, which he gifted to the former president, made its way to the Kalam museum in Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu. He has won awards at international competitions in Korea and Brazil. His work has appeared in numerous international magazines, with the most recent being Turkey’s Fena Mizah, where Panduranga’s work has been featured in 63 issues so far.
His most recent experiment is with anamorphic 3D illusion drawings, which he intends to make and break new records with.
“There’s definitely a feeling of craziness,” he said, laughing at his track record with making and breaking records. “I don’t want to discontinue the record process, so I keep doing something new. My principle has always been that if you have something good going for you, don’t leave it and break the flow. So instead of losing my interest, I just keep planning ahead for more records, awards, competitions and submissions.”
Panduranga feels that there is a dearth of opportunities for cartoonists in India. “More publications need to start encouraging novice cartoonists and help them improve and reach a higher level,” he said. He hosts cartooning workshops at the Indian Institute of Cartooning in Bengaluru, and helps people understand how to participate in local, national and international competitions and get recognition for their work. “I can’t make them into cartoonists in a matter of days,” he said. “But I can most definitely inspire them. I give my full force to that!”