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Abu and From Kippers to Karimeen

>> Saturday, December 5, 2009




Sometimes, good things happen on the television. I was watching a programme on Jeevan TV few days back,a re telecast of a short film on Abu Abraham,the legendary cartoonist. I Knew Abu had died few years back,and so ,the curiosity kept me glued to the TV till the end. Abu was a small, wiry man, who looked, with his shinily bald pate surrounded by long gray hair, like a holy man. The interview with Abu was wonderful,and so was the location. Later I came to know that the interview was done at his Baker designed house "Saranom" at Trivandrum."Like my cartoons,there is lot of space in my house",he said."I wish I could draw like a child. It is very difficult to get that kind of simplicity and appeal". 


He had worked for almost 16 years in the UK,after a modest career in India with Bombay Chronicle and Shankar's weekly.He worked for newspaprs amd magazines like The Punch,The Sketch,The Eastern World,The Observer and finally,The Guardian. 
Abu was a quiet, contemplative person and in the early 1990s returned to Kerala because he said that everywhere else, he missed "the temple bells, festivals and the scent of jasmine, all the senses and tastes". 
In an obituary article, The Guardian (December 7, 2002) recalled: "His style of drawing was astonishing and singular. It was utterly contemporary but as lithe as the decorative linearity of the Mughal courts.... and as expressive as the hand movements of a classical Indian dancer...He 'walked tall while others crawled'. 


Abu was unsparing in his criticism and often earned much-admired disfavour for his commentaries on Indian politics, its leaders and society. During the Emergency, Abu remained one of the shining examples of professionalism and courage, and his cartoons of that period have a heroic status in the history of Indian journalism. . At a time when the press was censored, critics were being jailed and journalists were falling silent, Abu's cartoons came to be referred to as "single-line editorials".









 All along the interview I had glimpses of an elderly,bit overweight Europen lady in the background,and guessed it must be his wife.She never came in during the interview. I was curious. I also felt happy and relieved that at least ocassionally,we have learned to recognise and remember the legends of our times.






My curiosity led  me to the life of one of the most intriguing women I have seen.And from her comes 'From Kippers to Karimeen".It is something of an autobiography,written by Psyche Abraham ,Abu's wife,and published recently, after Abu's death.She is brave,not because she fought wars,but showed the courage to open up her life in front of everyone as a memoir.One can learn lessons...cant we?In todays world,with so much full of hypocrisy,it is hard to find women with courage to discuss their own personal lives.In a country like ours, a woman has narrated her life with three husbands,and the many lovers in between, and even an affair with someone new,while waiting for her lover to join her and marry her.It is not that there is much to applaud about her life,but the openness needs to be appreciated.
We see a woman who determinedly plots her own path through a society that still labels a woman with a past as a nymphomaniac and admires an adventurous man as a playboy. .The book is also a rare insight into a world gone by. Psyche’s accounts of life evokes a gentler Calcutta, Bombay and Delhi that today’s urban gridlocks rarely reveal.This is  also the life story of a child, a mother, an explorer, a home-maker, a worker, a lover, and a woman. Through her relationships, joys and tribulations, one comes to understand her enduring love for India.She says she finds herself a 'misfit' in her own hometown.
(Kippers are salted and smoked herring, found in the cold waters around the British coast and traditionally eaten by the English and Scots for breakfast. Karimeen is known in English as Pearl Spot and is found in abundance in the warm, brackish waters of  Kerala)


I planned to write on Abu,then thought it would not be complete if I dont mention his partner and wife.I am sure the narration would evoke some curiosity in to the book itself.Everybody has a story to say.Her name itself has a story. Christened Valerie Anne, it was one of her lovers, poet James Michie, who nicknamed her Psyche. Moralists may find fault with her, but her story is riveting, not just for the sexual escapades but for the comments she makes on the turbulent times she passed through.
 
Abu was legendary.Asked how he wants to be remembered,he said..'as a man who lived his life without creating trouble for others'.He earned his reputation through his skills and hard work.There was a simplicity in his looks,in his life, and in whatever he said. And we know Psyche through Abu.
 
Now,we are here not to judge others...


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