Sketches From My Trip To India

Recently, I spent two weeks embarking on a speaking tour of India on behalf of the U.S. State Department (check out all my blog posts here). Although the schedule was busy and sometimes hectic, I did manage to find some spare time to do some sketching of my trip:

The main thing most American’s notice when they arrive in India is the poverty. When I arrived in Mumbai and Delhi, the crowds of beggars were impressive, with newborn babies pressed against the windows of whatever car I was in as the desperately poor pushed through traffic on the streets. They followed me down the street wherever I walked in Mumbai and Delhi – but not in Kerala.

Probably the second biggest impression for me, and for most Americans in India is the crazy traffic. The disregard for traffic laws is awesome – combine with driving on the wrong side of the road there is a constant sense that my car is hurdling toward a head-on collision. India’s traffic is wonderful drama. I’m still shaking.

I gave speeches at schools all over India, and they all had a funny, common sequence of events. First, I would be invited for a cup of sweet tea with the Dean of the school or teachers, while a room crammed with students waited patiently until we were quite late for my talk. Then it would take ten to fifteen awkward minutes, after we’re already late, to set up the projector for my Powerpoint presentation.

After my presentation the students rush up to the front of the room, asking me to do sketches, which I’m usually happy to do. Sometimes I’d be given more tea, groups of girls would tell me about how they all knew my work already, because my cartoons appear in their high school textbooks in India (something I’d like to see). The college talks in India were great fun.

The food in India was wonderful – I think I was steered to the best places to eat, and the food was truly great. I can’t get used to eating with the fingers rather than a knife and fork, though.

I thought about eating with my fingers at a local favorite India restaurant here in California after I got back, just to show what I had learned, but my local manners got the better of me.


Cartoonists in India Struggle

I spent yesterday in Delhi speaking to packed rooms of intense students at Amity University and at the International School of Media and Entertainment in Noida.  Speaking to the college audiences here is great fun.

In the evening I met with about twenty Indian cartoonists at the American Center in Delhi; the handsome group in the photo below:

What was remarkable about the meeting is that all of the Indian cartoonists wanted to make the point to me that their careers are in peril.  Cartoonists in India feel they are being squeezed out by timid editors who are afraid of the reactions of government officials and powerful patrons who fear negative reactions to strong opinions in editorial cartoons.  The cartoonists told me about job losses and repeated stories about how the only work is for illustrations, at very low fees.  They paint a grim picture.

They were all aware of a recent issue here where historical cartoons are being edited out of text books.  They knew about Aseem Trivedi and other cartoonists who are facing prosecution, but they describe the problem more as self-censorship, and a fear of the adverse attention that cartoons draw.  A number of them described the situation as the “death” of their profession.

Frankly, I was surprised by the tone, looking at the newspapers here it seems that there is a lively debate, and I see Prime Minister Singh savaged in cartoons every day.  The newspapers are filled with stories of the current government coal scandal with wagging fingers pointed this way and that to blame for every social and economic problem.

That said, I had a great time with the cartoonists, I got to see much of their work, I was flattered that they all knew my work, and I was impressed at their professionalism and commitment to our art form.  There is a lot of talent and promise in India for cartoonists, even though the mood is glum.