How did an officer of the Bhilai Steel Plant become one of India's most prolific cartoonists? In a word, passion. Panduranga Rao, or Panduji, was soon publishing his works at the Bhilai plant’s in-house magazine and holds the record for the most solo exhibitions, a laurel that coincided with his golden jubilee. At the age of 75, Panduji is still going strong, catching up on the latest tricks in technology to stay at the top of his game, writes Abilash Mariswamy
He is fondly called "Panduji, the cartoonist," the name evoking images of a character from mythological comic strips. But Panduji is a derivative from the more official sounding, B V Panduranga Rao, and in a way reflects the dual life that he led for years, one of a cartoonist and also that of an officer of the Bhilai Steel Plant.
His cartoons on politics, society, the industrial environment, sports and other subjects related to every day life have won him recognition worldwide and gained him entries in the India Book of Records and Limca Book of Records.
Having set a record for the most number of solo cartoon exhibitions and for making the biggest (20.75 in x 13 in) and smallest (0.5 cm x 1.3 cm) flip books, which were featured in the India Book of Records and Limca Book of Records, Panduji's first and 50th exhibitions were held at the Kannada Sangha in Bhilai, the latter coinciding with its diamond jubilee celebrations.
"I was really happy and that year was, in fact my golden jubilee too," he smiles. Panduji's caricature of late President, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam has made its way to the Kalam museum in Rameswaram and he has won awards at international competitions in South Korea and Brazil. His work has also been published 60 times in Turkey's Fena Mizah magazine. His age is clearly a number to him as at 75, he is busy experimenting with anamorphic 3D illusion drawing, which he hopes will help him set new records.
"I started somewhere, I worked at something else and I accomplished something entirely different. There have been so many twists and turns along my journey. But my principle is simple. Keep working hard, sometimes it might work and sometimes not, but you will certainly learn something new along the way," he says.
It was when he was 14 that he made his first drawing, of a deer for a Dasara exhibition. "It was the first drawing I submitted and it was selected. When my grandparents took me to the exhibition, I was very happy to see my drawing on the wall," recalls Panduji.
Destiny, seems to have been at work as it was during the seven months that was he was jobless after doing his Diploma in Mechanical Engineering in Bengaluru in the 1960s that he joined the Kala Mandir to take drawing and painting classes. A few months later, he was appointed assistant manager in the Bhilai Steel Plant.
But he carried his art with him and began contributing to its in-house magazine. "The magazine and exhibitions caught people's attention and I became popular as Panduji the cartoonist," he recalls.
His passion for cartooning set him on the path of making and breaking records. He has figured 16 times in the Limca Book of Record and in 2010 registered his first India Book of Record entry. Recently, he created a record for the most recognised/ awarded cartoons and most exhibitions at international cartoon contests. He also entered the Limca Book of Records for having done the largest number of caricatures of cricket players. The record was for the 209 caricatures he drew of 14 teams that participated in the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup.
It was his other love, cricket, that helped them set the last record. His interest in the sport saw Panduji play for Bhilai several times. He also officiated as the Madhya Pradesh state panel cricket umpire in division matches, inter-steel plant tournaments, and all India tournaments in the years between 1980 and 2001. After his retirement, on his return to Bengaluru, he was appointed president of the Karnataka State Cartoon Association in 2001.
"Work, cricket and drawing cartoons was my life those days. Thankfully my family has backed me in all my interests. I have done nothing. It's God who has helped me and it's only because of Him that I have been able to do all this," he says about his achievements.
He believes that while opportunities do come one's way, it is patience that helps achieve one's goals. "There are many opportunities today to encourage young cartoonists and give them a platform in the country. But people want to become stars overnight without enough experience and skills," he laments.
Despite his advancing years, Panduji continues to participate in cartoon competitions around the globe and is keeping abreast with technical advancements in the world of art. "I did not know how to photo shop and scan the drawings. But I have learnt now and this has reduced half my work. I have also created blogs to put myself out there, " he tells you, his enthusiasm undiminished for his work that continues to fetch him laurels both nationally and internationally.