Four things make Vasant Sarwate stand out in the world of cartooning.
First of all he is a doyen of non-political Indian cartooning. Secondly, though he has been practising this art from a young age, it was after his retirement from active service, when he could devote all his time and energy to this passion, that he really flowered in the true sense. Thirdly, he is one of the few practising cartoonists to have written extensively and comprehensively on this delightful art.
Fourthly, he is as acclaimed an illustrator as he is a cartoonist.
Born on Feb 3, 1927 in Kolhapur in Maharashtra, Sarwate graduated in civil engineering from the Pune University. For over 30 years, he worked with the Associated Cement Cos Ltd, retiring as Chief Design Engineer in 1987.
Sarwate developed a passion for cartooning even as a youngster, and his first cartoon appeared in a then well-known Marathi magazine in 1944, when he was barely 17.
When he began working, Sarwate did not give up this passion. Within the confines of his office too, he doodled constantly. Retirement in 1987 gave him the time and freedom to fully indulge in his first love. His work was prolific.
Over a span of more than six decades, Sarwate has made an immense contribution as both cartoonist and illustrator to many prestigious publishing houses in Marathi like Mouj, Popular, Majestic and Rajhans.
He has created over 4,000 cartoons that have appeared in major periodicals like Mouj, Deepavali, Lalit and Maharathstra Times among others.
As well as designing book jackets, he has also illustrated numerous serious as well as humorous literary works of eminent Marathi authors like P.L. Deshpande, theatre doyen Vijay Tendulkar and Dnyanpeeth awardee poet Vinda Karandikar.
Sarwate’s caricatures of literary celebrities are rated as masterpieces.
Apart from writing extensively and comprehensively on various aspects of the art of cartooning, Sarwate has been instrumental in introducing outstanding foreign cartoonists to Marathi readers through his articles.
Among his books are four collections of his cartoons, four collections of his articles on cartooning (of which one is in collaboration with Madhukar Dharmapurikar) and a collection of his best cartoons.
His illustrations for Vinda Karandikar’s book won the Central Government award for best illustrated children’s books.
Exhibition of his illustrations, caricatures and cartoons have been held in 15 cities, to wide acclaim.
Praise from the literati has been lavish. According to art critic and author Dnyaneshwar Nadkarni: “Wit is the soul of Sarwate’s cartoons, and they do not trespass into the territory of politics which is the area most other cartoonists in the country cover. His is a finely spun wit, somewhat literary in its origins and always mischievously satirical… Such qualities speak of a sophistication which is rare in non-political Indian cartooning… A series in which thumb impressions are used to represent diverse features of the human anatomy suggests the height of invention and contains the very essence of visual wit.”
Playwright Vijay Tendulkar wrote that “Vasant Sarwate is as significant as a writer as he is as a cartoonist.”
According to cartoonist Ponnappa, his works are “Absolutely delightful.”
It is a pity that Vasant Sarwate is not as well known outside the Marathi world as he deserves to be.