Chennai: Remember Chandamama? Or would it be suitable to call it Ambulimama?
The classic Indian monthly magazine for children that started in 1947, famous for its illustrations, had a 60-year run before grinding to a halt in 2007. Although it was started in Telugu, Tamil was one of the important languages that the magazine came out in.
Taking the main features of Indian mythology, the magazine was developed by encouraging young writers and illustration artists. The only surviving member of the artist group that created Chandamama is Karatholuvu Chandrasekaran Sivasankaran, famously known as artist Sankar. He is also the creator of the unforgettable characters Vikram and Vetal.
Artist Sankar’s story is well-known.
His talent was recognised by his drawing teacher in school. He joined the Government College of Fine Arts in Chennai as his drawing teacher asked him to do so. There, he honed his skills with brush techniques and the ability to improvise even while using cheaper quality materials. He joined the then-prominent magazine, Kalaimagal , soon after he graduated from college. With hard work, he got a place in the Chandamama team. At a time when illustrators did everything and defined the looks of the magazine, he did line drawings with style influenced by Indian, Oriental, Middle-Eastern and European artistic traditions.
The present state of the legendary artist was not extraordinary. He lives with his wife and daughter and even at 92 years of age, sketches.
News Today spoke to him.
Here are the excerpts of the interview
Q. Having joined the Chandamama team, you created Vikram and Vetal. How was that experience?
A. I worked for Kalaimagal for a while and went on to work for Chandamama. There, I created the characters of Vikram and Vetal along with a few others. It was the talk of the town back then.
Q. Tell us about how your life changed after Chandamama.
A. It was extraordinary. I got my first scooter and life was running well. When people saw me working hard for hours, they would talk behind my back. I did not heed any of those talks. I believe in God and the Almighty helps those who deserve his grace.
Q. Now that you have kept the brush aside, what do you feel looking back at your career?
A. I was very fortunate to have worked with the most brilliant minds of the time. Illustration artists were highly respected. But the work was tough. Looking back at my work, there is a lack of recognition. My works are being copied by people with their name on it. That is not good.
Q. How has art grown in the present digital era?
A. Art was everything for me. The craze for art has increased because getting a copy of a work in easy nowadays. Seeing someone create something unique cannot be replaced. But the sad truth is that people who encourage art are very few in number.
Q. When did you stop doing illustrations?
A. I did not stop because I wanted to. It is a dedicated line. I had arthritis and so my fingers started swelling after a hour of work. It has been two years since I stopped doing any work. I stopped because my daughter asked me to. Believe me, I did not want to stop.
Q. Having contributed for over 65 years to the art fraternity, what was your peak moment?
A. I cannot name one. There are many. But working for Chandamama and creating Vikram and Vetal was a very proud moment. Also, I worked for Ramakrishna Vijayam for 34 years as well. That was a very good experience. There is no word called boring in arts. Every moment is special. Also, I quite liked burning the midnight oil to complete my work.
Q. Have you obtained any rights for your work?
A. No. I did not want any rights for my work. But it does not mean that people who worked behind the scenes should not be recognised. It was team effort. All the people who worked for the magazine must be recognised.
Sankar’s family took up where he left off in the interview. His daughter, Radha, said, “Many a time, he used to forget that he needs to eat. I would not see my dad for days at home. Even after working for the magazine for 55 years, he got paid Rs 20,000 when he retired. The brush is an extended part of his hand. He would do multiple projects just to keep the family running.”
“N T Rama Rao, the great actor, used to look into Sankar’s art whenever he worked for an epic character. Such was his artistic touch. When I forced him to stop doing illustrations, he refused to speak to me for two months. He then realised
that it was for his own good and warmed back again,” she added. His wife Girija said he would not talk for days in order to concentrate on his work.The sad truth is that Sankar’s illustrations are still being used in various regional languages. His family members state when they check the Internet, they find that the art work does not bear his name but another
person’s signature. His family is trying for a national award on his behalf at present. Artist Sankar was also an avid photographer. His early days at Vijaya Vauhini studio had given him the opportunity to make friends with
legendary actor Sivaji Ganesan.
He also used to take photographs for free if people approached him. Even after all these years, the artist refuses to ask for recognition firmly stating that he will get what he is destined to. Perhaps having worked for a magazine that was always bound by a common thread of moral values had influenced him to a great extent.