BANGALORE: The recent New York Times cartoon about India's Mars mission has been generating much heat as Indians have protested its "mockery of the country".
The cartoon shows a farmer with a cow knocking at the door of a room marked Elite Space Club. Here two men sit reading a newspaper splashed with India's feat. The two of course remain oblivious to the farmer. The cartoon was carried along with an article titled India's Budget Mission to Mars. The newspaper subsequently issued an apology after a large number of readers voiced their displeasure over the cartoon.
However, Bangalorean cartoonist Paul Fernandes wonders about the intensity of the reaction. "It's not a particularly great cartoon to begin with. The cartoonist clearly doesn't know anything about the Mars mission or India, so why get so bothered over it? They were simply probably marvelling at the incredible feat that India has achieved and in this line of work, there's hardly ever an intent to offend anyone."
A few of cartoonists that City Express spoke to, however, believe that offence was intended. A trustee of Indian Institute of Cartoonists Narendra V G feels this reflects the West's envy of India's progress.
"They can't see India or China coming up or achieving something," he says, adding that since the publication has issued an apology, Indians should move on.
S V Padmanabha, cartoonist for a leading Kannada daily, finds it significant that the cartoon came out at a time 'when India is doing particularly well, with the success of the Mars mission'. Its publication, he notes, also coincides with Modi's visit to the US. "So perhaps it has been done to create a negative feeling or mar India's image," he adds.
Sathish Acharya, who reacts to politics, cinema, cricket and the world around him through his witty cartoons, is a little hurt. The leading cartoonist, the butt of whose latest works has been Modi, says, "Perhaps, the NYT cartoonist wanted to depict the huge gap that exists between the rich and the poor. But he's failed to see that India too has developed now and thinking of it in terms of symbols like snake charmers and cows isn't realistic anymore."
Nevertheless, he admits that Indian media gets far more offensive when it comes to self-mockery but readers are less outraged because 'we are talking about ourselves'.
Writer Nataraj Huliyar, also a former cartoonist, says intolerance runs high today. "A cartoonist is a dissident who holds up a mirror to society," he says. To him, a democracy is a country or society that provides maximum freedom to its cartoonists, among others.
"In America, cartoons poke fun at its President and Parliament," he says, adding that this tradition hasn't been lost in India either.
"Nehru used to laugh at cartoons, and all sensible politicians used to be fans of (R K) Laxman and appreciate Mario (Miranda); they knew how to laugh at themselves," he says. Now, with a new wave of national euphoria, Huliyar observes, leaders don't make sensible statements and instead resort to hate speech.
He further points out, "As The New York Times has said, this cartoon can also be interpreted in another way — that it's not just the elite who can reach Mars."
Andrew Rosenthal, editorial page editor of New York Times, wrote in a Facebook post: "The intent of the cartoonist, Heng Kim Song, was to highlight how space exploration is no longer the exclusive domain of rich, Western countries."
"Heng, who is based in Singapore, uses images and text - often in a provocative way - to make observations about international affairs. We apologize to readers who were offended by the choice of images in this cartoon."