A cartoonist’s tribute: Ajit Ninan, 68, a true legend in Indian cartooning

Ajit Ninan, who produced thousands of masterpieces in his long career, inspired several generations of Indian cartoonists.

BySatish Acharya

Published Sep 08, 2023 | 2:33 PM Updated Sep 08, 2023 | 2:33 PM

Ajit Ninan created Detective Moochhwala, an eponymous Indian magazine comic strip. (Sourced)

Mysuru, Sep 8 (PTI) Renowned cartoonist Ajit Ninan, best known for the ‘Centrestage’ series in India Today magazine and ‘Ninan’s World’ in The Times of India, died at his flat here on Friday, 8 September. He was 68.

“He passed away early this morning in his apartment. I think it’s a cardiac arrest,” a family member said.

Ninan leaves behind wife, two daughters and two grand-children, sources said.

Ninan, who was living in Mysuru for the past two years, was alone at home. His wife, who was not keeping well, had gone to their daughter’s place in Goa, sources said.

One of his popular cartoon characters was ‘Detective Moochhwala’ in the children’s magazine Target.

 

Every time a government targets a cartoonist, there is one particular cartoon that goes viral. It shows a bunch of jail inmates laughing hysterically while looking at a drawing of a pot-bellied jailer in underwear. And the caption reads, “Never put a cartoonist behind bars.”

This was drawn by the legendary cartoonist Ajit Ninan.

But for cartoon lovers who have followed Ajit Ninan’s work, this wasn’t his best creation. He has created thousands of masterpieces during his long cartooning career.

His best work

An iconic Ajit Ninan cartoon. (Sourced)

An iconic Ajit Ninan cartoon. (Sourced)

He’s inspired many generations of cartoonists through his cartoons and illustrations in publications like Target, India Today, Outlook, and Times of India, to name a few.

Personally, I was introduced to his illustrations in India Today, especially political illustrations and caricatures.

I used to spend hours looking at them and try to learn a thing or two from the master. He had this special knack of simplifying a celebrity’s face, without losing any resemblance.

When he quit India Today, I felt sad because I thought the magazine gave him the best canvas to portray his art.

He continued his cartooning journey with Outlook and later TOI, but, personally, I missed the political commentary in his work.

Also Read: Obituary: Gaddar’s name was an ideology, a slogan for downtrodden

My interactions with the legend

I had two interactions with him, both memorable ones.

A couple of years ago, on Twitter, he rubbished the colouring style in my cartoons. I was a little upset, initially, at the thought that he chose to single out my colouring style without giving feedback about the content of the cartoon.

Ajit Ninan's first cartoon was published in the late 1960s. (Sourced)

Ajit Ninan’s first cartoon was published in the late 1960s. (Sourced)

But I soon realised that his comment was right and that I needed to work on my colouring technique.

The last interaction I had with him was on WhatsApp.

An English daily had replaced my cartoon column with a photograph, after I refused to change a cartoon on China’s aggression in South Asia. I shared this experience on social media and many cartoon lovers came forward to support me and subscribe to my cartoons.

Somehow Ajit Ninan got my number and messaged me on WhatsApp, expressing his fondness for my cartoons and volunteering to support me financially. I was touched and hugely honoured. I politely refused to accept money from him, as his gesture was priceless for me.

We loosely use the word “legend”, but I strongly believe Ajit Ninan was truly a legend in Indian cartooning. He lives on, not only through his works, but also through the works of the many cartoonists he has inspired.

Also Read: Obituary: Congress’ ‘man of the masses’ in Kerala Oommen Chandy

(Satish Acharya is a self-taught cartoonist, who is also passionate about cricket & cinema. He has been contributing to different publications & portals for the last 20 years.)