K.C. Sivasankaran : The Chandamama Illustrator

Via The Hindu

In fantasy land, King Vikram and Vetala may still be trying to win against each other, but in real life, they have joined hands to pull off a major victory against change. They continue to remain on the pages ofChandamama, even though the fortunes of the magazine — synonymous with childhood for several generations of Indians — have fluctuated in recent decades, from being closed down for about a year in the late 1990s to changing hands in 2010. 

What’s, however, more heartening is that the man who created the theme picture for the popular series — showing the sword-wielding King Vikram carrying the corpse on his shoulder through a cremation ground — continues to do illustrations forChandamama, unmindful of the vicissitudes of his own life or that of the magazine. 

Sankar is 87 today: that not only makes him the oldest in the Chandamama team but also the only surviving member of the original team — led by none other than its founder, the legendary B. Nagi Reddi — that steered the multilingual magazine to a combined circulation of nine lakh in the mid-1980s. 

It was at the Muthialpet High School, where Nagi Reddi had also studied, that the drawing teacher discovered Sankar’s talent as an artist and often made him come on Sundays — together they would correct the sketches made by the other boys. “‘Look! I asked them to draw a cat but it looks like a rat. What if the inspector of schools comes tomorrow? We will get a black mark.’ In return he would give me drawing books, pencils and erasers. It was he who advised me, ‘Son, do not go for BA or MA. I know your value. You must join the arts school.’” 

Immediately after passing out, in 1946, he joined the Tamil magazine Kalaimagal on a monthly salary of Rs. 85. By 1952, he was earning Rs. 150, but that wasn’t sufficient to support a large family, so he was also moonlighting for other magazines, making another Rs. 150. That year, Nagi Reddi hired him for Chandamama, on a salary of Rs. 350: on paper it was shown as Rs. 300 only because Chithra, the chief artist, was drawing Rs. 350.
He may have enriched countless childhoods, yet Sankar lives a modest life. But he has heard stories that make him feel rich: his favourite being that of a young shepherd in Orissa, who preserved his hard-earned copy of Chandamama by rolling it up and inserting it into the hollow of a bamboo. “You know, his ambition in life was to be able to draw like Sankar and Chithra,” says Sankar with the excitement of a child.

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