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Vibrant strokes of art


Facile with both hands, Gopulu has charmed readers with his illustrations for six decades.


An ambidextrous person is a rarity. An ambidextrous artist? An even greater rarity. Meet Gopulu, famous for his cartoons in Ananda Vikatan, but prefers to call himself an `artoonist.'

In 1941, Gopulu, a student of the Kumbakonam School of Art, came to Madras looking for a job in Ananda Vikatan. Maali of Ananda Vikatan was impressed with Gopulu's work, but did not offer him a full time job right away. However, he asked Gopulu to do a number of paintings for that year's Deepavali Malar. The first painting that Gopulu did was `Rama Pattabishekam.' Thus Gopulu's association with Ananda Vikatan had an auspicious beginning.

Between 1941 and 1945, Gopulu did illustrations for Graama Oozhiyan, a journal published from Thuraiyur, of which Triloka Seetharam was the editor. In 1945, Maali offered Gopulu a full time job in Ananda Vikatan. It was Maali who gave S. Gopalan the name Gopulu. Thus rechristened by a genius, Gopulu entered Vikatan, and for the next 20 years designed covers, did political cartoons, and illustrated several popular columns. He served under two editors — Devan and later Kothamangalam Subbu.

Devan's works

TOUCH OF THE MASTER: Elegantly sketched with left hand.

His illustrations of Devan's works are lifelike and natural. While Devan enchants us with his stories, Gopulu's illustrations further enliven them. There is as much variety in Gopulu's illustrations as there is in Devan's characterisations.

Gopulu's pictures of the doe-eyed, perfectly proportioned Mohana in Kothamangalam Subbu's `Thillana Mohanambal' show that the artist is a devotee worshipping at the altar of feminine grace and charm. There is vivacity in his work, which is undoubtedly due to the genius of the man, who gauged the mood of the era, and interpreted it through his art. His pictures capture the patriotism, the chivalry and the innocence of the era.

In 1972, Gopulu started his own ad agency, `Ad Wave Advertising Pvt. Ltd.' It was Gopulu who designed the logo of the Tamil magazine, Kungumam, and that of Sun TV too. The emblem of Shriram Chits — the little boy with his raised hand, is also Gopulu's creation. In 1994, just as suddenly as he had quit his job in Vikatan, he quit advertising and began to freelance for journals like Kalki, Amudhasurabhi, Vikatan and Kungumam.

Did he inherit his artistic skills from someone in his family? ``No,'' he says. ``Most of the people in my family worked for the Railways. I was the only one who went off the track!"

Sense of humour

Gopulu has a great sense of humour. He even jokes about the stroke that he had in 2002. "Maybe it was my obsession with strokes that led to my brush with a stroke!" he says.

But it was his art that helped him to recover. The stroke left his right hand paralysed. But the artist in him wouldn't give up. So even while in hospital, he sat propped up against the pillows, and taught himself to draw with his left hand! He was 78 at the time! Gradually, he regained the use of his right hand too. Thus he became an ambidextrous artist!

An avid reader, he shows me his collection of books that ranges from Visishtadvaita and Advaita to Tarzan books, the latter being a particular favourite. Some of his favourite humorists are Leacock and Thurber. He says he likes watching BBC and Pogo. What about the mega serials? A cartoon of his shows what he thinks about them.

The cartoon shows a bucket placed near a TV set, with the TV set weeping copiously into it! He has a passion for Carnatic music, an interest that goes back to his Kumbakonam days.

While in Kumbakonam, he was a regular at the Ayyaval utsavam, and also attended concerts in Tiruvaiyaru. He is a recipient of the Murasoli Award and the M. A. Chidambaram Chettiar Award.

In 2001 he was honoured with the lifetime achievement award as part of the inaugural function of the Indian Institute of Cartoonists in Bangalore.

When asked, "What did you most enjoy doing — cartoons, or oil paintings or line drawings?" he conters "Can a parent choose between his children?" Touché.

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