By Mrityunjay Chiluveru
I met Mohan about 20 years ago when I was 20 years old. When I last saw him 20 days ago, he lay there motionless in the critical care unit of Care Hospital. Memories came rushing. Nah. I was caught in the whirlpool of memories, memories that would drown me. Memories so vivid that I live them now or perhaps always.
During my school days, when I happened glance at his cartoons published in Udayam, (a Telugu daily which is not being published now), I wondered how posh and royal the cartoonist would be, and how difficult it would be to even get his appointment.
While I was studying eighth class, I stumbled upon the NTR caricatures done by Mohan in ‘Udayam’ Telugu daily, and I fell in love with them. I covered my school textbooks with Udayam newspaper copies. Just to ensure that the Mohan’s cartoons were on the cover and more than lessons in the book, I was interested in his cartoon on the cover. In fact, the text book lessons did not disturb my study of the cartoons.The funny caricatures of NTR and Rajiv Gandhi made David Copperfield flee the field! There were days when I collected Udayam daily papers at Rs 2 a Kg just to have a collection of Mohan’s caricatures of NTR. There is no gainsaying to reiterate, I was obsessed with Mohan’s caricatures of NTR and this obsession continued till my post-graduation too.
Then I left my parents in my village and came to Hyderabad in search of Mohan in 1996. I found that Mohan used to work from Dr Neeraj Raj’s Med RC, a multimedia office in Red Hills, and went there hoping to meet my idol and was I shocked? There was this common man clad in Maroon coloured checks shirt who walked out of the room. He was so down-to-earth that he was wearing slippers. Indeed I was shocked and would later realise that I failed to relate the richness and sophistication of his drawings and to his appearance. The galore of surprises were to continue further. I was flummoxed to see him sitting on a simple wooden table in Andhra Prabha office.
It was rather amusing to find Mohan sipping his ‘one-by- two’ chai on the roadside bunk in the company of ‘kid’ cartoonist gang. He used to take us out for lunches, introduce the paintings and cartoons of world renowned artists.
I spent three years with him in Red Hills and LIC colony Flat no.73. Any artiste who came to the city would land in the company of Mohan, for he was like a magnet that would attract iron filings, a guru with whom a shisya would instantly relate to (Mohan would never agree to be called a guru), a human being who would instantly resonate on the same wavelength of a fellow human behing. For us ‘kid’ cartoonists, our addresss became very simple: ‘so and so cartoonist, C/o Mohan’. Not just cartoonists, Mohan’s office used to be rocking with artists, journos, singers, writers and all such souls. Every day was nothing short of a celebration, a festival, a party brought alive with cartoons, drawings, and songs.
For the simplicity of this lanky person, his contribution to the cartoons segment in Telugu newspapers was phenomenal. For the readers who got used to RK Laxman’s work, Mohan’s line was different and pleasant. The smooth necklines and the slender waist lines took shape of beautiful women in his drawings and the single most significant contribution to cartoons is that he brought a sort of aggression into Telugu cartoons blazing a new trail and breaking the trend of traditional contemporary political cartoons. He rendered a unique ‘Teluguness’ to the delicate lines of the Japanese and Chinese masters influenced by the Zen and Buddha. Incidentally, Mohan was the man who introduced 2D animation in Hyderabad.
‘If only for money, why draw only cartoons? Can as well start a chit fund company’, he would question me. ‘Every artist should contribute something to the society from what he believed through his work’, he would enlighten me.
Mohan used to like my father Late Chiluveru Ramalingam’s Ikkat Art and used to tell everyone that my father was a master weaver who could weave any images onto the cloth. An artist who worked in the team of Steven Spielberg told me: “there is a perfect line hidden in the hundreds of lines you scribble.” I told him: “But the only man whose single line comes out perfect is Mohan sir.” And none could master Mohan’s line so far.
Every moment of the six-decades plus life of Mohan was utmost creative. I happened to be part of his creative journey from the Red Hills office to Banjara Hills via Barkatpura.
I am honoured. That a mesmerizing man called Mohan walked on the Earth during my time and that I walked by his side is a fond memory. For life.