Replete with serene backwaters and swaying coconut palms, the sleepy little town of Kayamkulam in Alappuzha district remains relatively lesser known when compared to the coveted tourist spots of Kerala.
Though it had once been an ancient maritime trading centre, little is known about the sylvan town, except for its close association with the legendary highwayman, Kayamkulam Kochunni.
The coastal town is also the birthplace of the renowned cartoonist, Kesava Shankara Pillai, who is more popularly known as Shankar.
Considered as the father of political cartooning in India, he had founded the political journal Shankar’s Weekly, which set the ball rolling for satirical commentary in an independent India until its impromptu scrapping during the 1975 Emergency period.
Lampooning even the most eminent personalities, not one political leader escaped the watchdog eyes of the creative cartoonist. Not only did his cartoons draw one’s attention to pertinent issues like corruption and poverty in the country, but they also managed to do with a hint of tongue-in-cheek humour in it.
Known for his love for children, the man had been the brainchild behind children-centric ventures like the Shankar’s International Children’s Competition (SICC), Children’s Book Trust (CBT) and Shankar’s International Dolls Museum. He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 1976 for his outstanding contribution in the field of art and cartooning.
As a tribute to the master and his unrivalled legacy, the Kerala Lalithakala Akademi set up a befitting memorial to Shankar in the form of a cartoon museum in his hometown in 2014.
The museum is first of its kind in Kerala and has been evolving as the premier cartoon study centre in the country over the last few years.
Constructed in the typical Nālukettu architectural fashion, the museum spreads over 15, 000 sq. ft. and houses an expansive collection of cartoons drawn throughout the lifetime of Shankar along with his drawing materials and tools.
The walls of the main arcade are adorned with frames of Shankar’s original works, some even going back to his early cartooning days in the 1940s.
Also, there are daily artefacts from Shankar’s life such as an old resting chair and wooden desk put out on display that opens up a window into the man’s private and domestic space.
Furthermore, one can find a magnificent assembly of dolls from Shankar’s original collection in the museum that is bound to fascinate not just children, but adults in equal measure.
Keeping the artistic vision of Shankar and spirit of art in tune, the authorities have lined up the museum premises with wooden sculptures and installations by students from art colleges and institutions across the state.
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The museum also showcases the artworks by kids from across the world, which includes the entries of the annual SICC. The displayed works offer quite an impressive sight, with the extent of creativity and unusual ideas that the kids as young as five-year-old have showcased in their drawings and sketches.
If you happen to pass by Kayamkulam, make sure you take a detour to the museum for a peek into the nascent political cartoon scape in India and more importantly, a trip down the Indian history that is laced with satire and humour.
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