K.C. Sivasankaran : The Chandamama Illustrator
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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