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Caricaturing Culture in India


  • 59 b/w illus.
  • Page extent: 370 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.7 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 954.03
  • Dewey version: 23
  • LC Classification: NC1710 .K46 2014
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Indic wit and humor, Pictorial
    • India--Politics and government--Caricatures and cartoons
    • India--Social life and customs--Caricatures and cartoons
    • HISTORY / Asia / India & South Asia.--bisacsh

Library of Congress Record

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 (ISBN-13: 9781107043329)

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Caricaturing Culture in India is a highly original history of political cartoons in India. Drawing on the analysis of newspaper cartoons since the 1870s, archival research and interviews with prominent Indian cartoonists, this ambitious study combines historical narrative with ethnographic testimony to give a pioneering account of the role that cartoons have played over time in political communication, public discourse and the refraction of ideals central to the creation of the Indian postcolonial state. Maintaining that cartoons are more than illustrative representations of news, Ritu Gairola Khanduri uncovers the true potential of cartoons as a visual medium where memories jostle, history is imagined and lines of empathy are demarcated. Placing the argument within a wider context, this thought-provoking book highlights the history and power of print media in debates on free speech and democratic processes around the world, revealing why cartoons still matter today.

• Proposes a new view of visual culture from India's colonial years to the postcolonial present • Presents an innovative interdisciplinary methodology combining ethnographic and archival research • Highlights the making of a modern sensibility by connecting politics and humour with ways of seeing, revealing the history and power of print media in debates on free speech and democratic processes around the world


Acknowledgments; Introduction: the empire of cartoons; Part I. Colonial Times: 1. Upstart Punches: why is impertinence always in the vernacular?; 2. Gandhi and the satyagraha of cartoons: cultivating a taste; 3. 'Dear Shankar … your ridicule should never bite'; Part II. National Times: 4. Becoming a cartoonist: Mr Kutty and Bireshwarji; 5. Virtual gurus and the Indian psyche: R. K. Laxman; 6. Uncommon women and common men: pocket cartoons and 'situated knowledges'; 7. Artoons and our toons: the prose of an Indian art; Part III. Global Times: 8. Crafty petitions and street humor; 9. 'All our gods and goddesses are cartoons'; Conclusions: timeless myths and timely knowledge; Notes to the text; Bibliography; Index.


'Ritu Gairola Khanduri breaks new ground in Indian studies with her captivating account of the political role cartoons and cartoonists have played in the country from the colonial period to now. Students of Indian political culture will find this book to be of enduring interest.' Dipesh Chakrabarty, Lawrence A. Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor, University of Chicago

'Ritu Khanduri's book is, on one register, about political cartooning and the history of politics in India; on another register, it provides us with a wonderful lens into debates on modernity, political society, and the state in colonial and postcolonial India. Khanduri makes a persuasive case that, far from being merely laughed at or dismissed as trivial, cartoons constitute a living archive of colonial and postcolonial history. This beautifully written book represents a stunning accomplishment and, I predict, will be discussed, debated, and admired by scholars in a variety of disciplines not just within but also beyond anthropology, media studies, and South Asian studies.' Purnima Mankekar, University of California, Los Angeles

'Written with elegance and verve, Caricaturing Culture in India: Cartoons and History in the Modern World is a deeply researched and exemplary study of newspaper cartoons as both a form and a source of political knowledge and everyday political commentary. Ritu Gairola Khanduri's delightful romp through nearly one hundred and fifty years of cartooning in India opens up an entirely new way of tackling some of the big questions in South Asian history and historiography: liberalism, democracy, and modernity. Her deft and rigorous analysis of cartoons together with their reception, the meaning people make of cartoons that generate laughter or cause hurt, sets the bar high for future studies of the media and democracy in India.' Mrinalini Sinha, Alice Freeman Palmer Professor of History, University of Michigan

'Who laughs at what - and who doesn't - is a striking reflection of social and political relationships in society. This is why Ritu Gairola Khanduri's refreshingly original book, Caricaturing Culture in India: Cartoons and History in the Modern World, which traces India's political history through political caricatures across the ages, is timely and important.' Geetanjali Krishna, Business Standard

'… Khanduri invites us to think through the questions she raises in each chapter. Caricaturing Culture in India thus offers interested specialists and advanced undergraduates an excellent opportunity to keep thinking, pondering, and puzzling over the big questions of modern history through the specific lens of Indian cartooning.' Matthew Rosen, Visual Anthropology Review

'The lens of political cartooning culture offers Khanduri a new standpoint from which to examine the political historiography of India and its tryst with modernity. Meticulously tracing the production and reception of political cartoons across a nearly one-hundred-and-fifty-year period, Caricaturing Culture in India draws out the various ways in which cartoons have been used as sites for the negotiation of self and subjectivity within the context of liberalism. In doing so the book speaks to our current dilemmas and offers a much-needed counterpoint to debates about freedom of expression and democracy that, in the wake of the Danish cartoon controversy and the Charlie Hebdo massacre, have made cartoons 'a litmus test for modernity and its others'. The book traverses several disciplinary boundaries and has much to offer to scholars of anthropology, history, politics, and media studies.' LSE Review of Books (

'Ritu Khanduri begins … with a fundamental question that neither journalists nor politicians nor scholars have known how to adeptly speak to: when recent insensitive political cartoons are followed by international protests and debates, and humour becomes a litmus test to draw boundaries between religion and political freedom, ultimately 'why do cartoons matter in this world?'. Through the book, she tells us the history and the daily story of why they have mattered in Indian cartooning's 150-year history and why they continue to flourish as part of Indian culture … The book is filled with critical, entertaining, and didactic cartoons by India's past and present cartoonists … An exceptional analytical resource for graduate and faculty alike. Khanduri's citations are plentiful within current conversations in anthropology and history.' Jennifer L. Jackson, American Anthropologist

'… a pioneering study of the rich and complex history and artistic concerns of the newspaper cartoon in India …' Himal Southasian

'[Khanduri] has interviewed many of India's most prominent cartoonists, and has done exhaustive archival research on the earlier generation of cartoonists who are no longer around to be interviewed. Though Khanduri's book went to print before the Charlie Hebdo event, she does give an account of the way in which cartoonists in India - particularly Muslim cartoonists - understood the debates that followed the publication of a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper.' The Aerogram

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