Abu Abraham (1924-2002): The Cartoonist Who Drew Truth

Abu Abraham (1924-2002): The Cartoonist Who Drew Truth

Abu Abraham, the renowned Indian cartoonist, journalist, and author, left an indelible mark on political satire and commentary. Born on June 11, 1924, in Mavelikara, Kerala, Abu’s journey through life was remarkable. Over his 40-year career, he used his wit and artistic talent to dissect the complexities of politics and society while maintaining his unwavering commitment to rationalism and atheism.

Abu Abraham

Full Name: Attupurathu Mathew Abraham

Date of Birth: June 11, 1924

Date of Passing: December 1, 2002

Pen Name: Abu

Occupation: Cartoonist, Journalist, Author

Early Life: Born in Mavelikara, Kerala, India to A.M. Mathew and Kantamma.

Education: Studied French, Mathematics, and English at University College, Thiruvananthapuram.

Notable Works: Cartoons for various newspapers and books including “Games of the Emergency,” “Abu on Bangladesh,” “Private View,” “Arrivals and Departures,” and “Penguin Book of Indian Cartoons.”

Career Highlights:

  • Worked for The Bombay Chronicle, Shankar’s Weekly, Blitz, Tribune, The Observer, The Guardian, and The Indian Express.
  • First political cartoonist for The Observer.
  • Member of the Rajya Sabha (Indian Parliament’s upper house) from 1972 to 1978.
  • Received a special award from the British Film Institute for the animated cartoon film “No Arks.”

Personal Life: Was a lifelong atheist and rationalist. Married twice, first to Sarojini and later to British-born wife Psyche.

Legacy: Known for his impactful political cartoons and contributions to Indian journalism.

The Early Years

IMG 7929 - Abu Abraham (1924-2002): The Cartoonist Who Drew Truth Abu’s artistic journey began at the tender age of three when he started drawing cartoons. His early aptitude for art would set the stage for a lifelong passion and career. After completing his education, which included French, Mathematics, and English studies at University College, Thiruvananthapuram, and achieving recognition as a tennis champion, Abu graduated in 1945. Little did he know that this academic background would be a foundation for his future career.

From Bombay to London

In 1953, a serendipitous meeting with Fred Joss of the London Star would set Abu on a transformative path. Joss recognized his talent and encouraged him to move to London. At 32, Abu arrived in London in the summer of 1953. He wasted no time selling cartoons to prestigious publications like Punch magazine and the Daily Sketch. He also contributed content to Everybody’s London Opinion and Eastern World under the pseudonym ‘Abraham.’

IMG 7949 - Abu Abraham (1924-2002): The Cartoonist Who Drew Truth

In 1956, after having two of his cartoons published in Tribune, Abu received a personal letter from David Astor, the editor of The Observer, one of the world’s oldest Sunday newspapers. This letter offered him a permanent position as The Observer’s first-ever political cartoonist. Astor, recognizing the significance of his work, asked Abu to change his pen name, as ‘Abraham’ might imply a false slant on his cartoons. Thus, the name ‘Abu,’ a schoolboy nickname, became his official pen name.

Abu’s work at The Observer earned him the reputation of being “the conscience of the Left and the pea under the princess’s mattress.” He was not just a cartoonist but a political commentator with a keen eye for dissecting the world’s complexities. During his tenure, he also produced reportage drawings from around the world, capturing iconic figures like Che Guevara during a visit to Cuba and even sharing a nightclub with Fidel Castro.

Abu Abraham

Return to India and Political Involvement

1969 Abu decided to return to India, accompanied by his first wife, Sarojini, and their two daughters, Aysha and Janaki. He took up the position of political cartoonist at the Indian Express, a role he held until 1981. His impact extended beyond the realm of cartooning, earning him a special award from the British Film Institute in 1970 for his short film, “No Arks,” based on the story of Noah’s Ark.

Abu’s political engagement didn’t stop at drawing. From 1972 to 1978, he served as a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian Parliament. However, his fearless approach to commentary would put him at odds with the political establishment during a turbulent period in Indian history.

The Dark Days of the Emergency

1975, the Indian Emergency was declared, and the freedom of the press was suspended. This marked a challenging and dangerous time for journalists, including Abu. His uncompromising stance and critical commentary led to a falling out with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who was in power then. As a result of his fearless criticism, Abu couldn’t publish many of his political cartoons during the Emergency.

IMG 7937 - Abu Abraham (1924-2002): The Cartoonist Who Drew Truth

The culmination of this challenging period was publishing the book “Games of the Emergency” in 1977. This book contained the political articles and cartoons Abu couldn’t print during the Emergency. It was a testament to his commitment to truth and free expression, even in adversity.

Prolific Works and Impact

Throughout his career, Abu Abraham was not limited to drawing cartoons. He was also a prolific writer and editor. In addition to “Games of the Emergency,” he authored several books, including “Abu on Bangladesh” (1972), “Private View” (1974), and “Arrivals and Departures” (1983). His editorial work extended to the “Penguin Book of Indian Cartoons” (1988), where he curated a collection of cartoons from India.

Following his departure from the Indian Express in 1981, Abu freelanced, syndicating his work to various newspapers. He even ventured into a new strip cartoon, “Salt and Pepper,” which displayed his philosophical musings and showcased his versatility beyond political cartoons.

IMG 7935 - Abu Abraham (1924-2002): The Cartoonist Who Drew Truth

In 1988, Abu returned to his roots in Kerala, where he continued to draw and write until his death on December 1, 2002. His passing was marked by a two-minute silence in the Rajya Sabha, and he was cremated with full state honors.

A Legacy of Fearlessness and Truth

Abu Abraham’s legacy extends far beyond the pages of his cartoons and the articles he penned. He was a symbol of fearlessness and a tireless advocate for truth and rationalism. His cartoons were not mere illustrations but incisive critiques of the world’s political and social landscapes.

IMG 7930 - Abu Abraham (1924-2002): The Cartoonist Who Drew Truth

In an era when free expression and journalistic integrity were threatened, Abu stood his ground and continued speaking truth to power. His uncompromising commitment to his principles, regardless of the consequences, made him a true icon of journalism and political satire.

Today, Abu Abraham’s work serves as a timeless reminder of the power of satire and the importance of defending freedom of expression. His cartoons, whether they depicted the turbulent times of the Emergency or the broader human condition, continue to provoke thought and inspire discussion.

Abu Abraham’s life and work are a testament to the enduring impact of fearless journalism and the enduring power of art to challenge the status quo and hold those in authority accountable. In a world filled with complexities and contradictions, Abu’s cartoons remain a beacon of truth and rationalism, lighting the way for future generations.

Abu Abraham Gallery

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Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about Abu Abraham, the Indian cartoonist, journalist, and author

1. Who was Abu Abraham?

Abu Abraham, whose full name was Attupurathu Mathew Abraham, was an Indian cartoonist, journalist, and author known for his contributions to various national and international newspapers. He was a prominent figure in the world of political cartooning.

2. When and where was Abu Abraham born?

Abu Abraham was born on June 11, 1924, in Mavelikara, Kerala, India.

3. What were Abu Abraham’s early interests and talents?

Abu Abraham began drawing cartoons at a very early age, as young as three. He displayed an early talent for art.

4. Where did Abu Abraham study, and what did he graduate in?

Abu Abraham studied at the University College in Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), Kerala. He graduated from the university.

5. How did Abu Abraham start his career as a cartoonist in London?

1953 Abu Abraham moved to London after meeting Fred Joss of the London Star, who encouraged him. He began selling cartoons to publications like Punch magazine and the Daily Sketch and contributed material to various magazines. His career in London started under the pen name ‘Abraham.’

6. How did Abu Abraham become associated with The Observer newspaper in London?

Abu Abraham’s association with The Observer began in 1956 when two of his cartoons were published in Tribune. The editor of The Observer, David Astor, offered him a permanent job as the newspaper’s first-ever political cartoonist. Astor suggested changing his pen name to ‘Abu’ to avoid misinterpretation.

7. What were some notable events and people Abu Abraham encountered during his career?

Abu Abraham produced reportage drawings from around the world. During a visit to Cuba, he met and drew notable figures like Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. His work and experiences covered a wide range of political events and personalities.

8. When did Abu Abraham return to India, and where did he work?

Abu Abraham returned to India in 1969. He worked as a political cartoonist for The Indian Express until 1981. He was also nominated as a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian Parliament, from 1972 to 1978.

9. What significant event led to the book “Games of the Emergency” publication in 1977?

The publication of “Games of the Emergency” in 1977 resulted from the Indian Emergency declared in 1975. During this period, the freedom of the press was suspended, and Abu Abraham fell out of favor with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The book contained political articles and cartoons he could not print during the Emergency.

10. What were some of Abu Abraham’s notable works and publications?

Abu Abraham authored and illustrated various books, including “Abu on Bangladesh” (1972), “Private View” (1974), and “Arrivals and Departures” (1983). He also edited “The Penguin Book of Indian Cartoons” (1988).

11. What did Abu Abraham do after 1981?

After 1981, Abu Abraham worked as a freelancer, syndicating his work to several newspapers. He also started a new strip cartoon called “Salt and Pepper.” His daughter, Ayisha Abraham, noted that this strip cartoon shifted focus from political themes to more philosophical and philosophical subjects.

12. Where did Abu Abraham eventually settle before his passing?

Abu Abraham moved back to Kerala, India, in 1988. He lived in Trivandrum with his British-born wife, Psyche, and continued to draw and write until his death on December 1, 2002.

13. What recognition did Abu Abraham receive for his work?

Abu Abraham received a special award from the British Film Institute in 1970 for his animated cartoon film “No Arks.” His contributions to political cartooning and journalism were widely acknowledged.

14. How would you describe Abu Abraham’s personal life and relationships?

Abu Abraham had multiple relationships, including two marriages. His second wife, Psyche, and his daughters, Ayisha and Janaki, were mentioned in the provided text. His relationship with Psyche was characterized as a loving and harmonious one.

15. What was Abu Abraham’s attitude and philosophy toward his work and life?

Abu Abraham was described as a rationalist and atheist. He emphasized the importance of asserting freedom in one’s work and believed cartoonists should be liberals and radicals. His work often reflected his beliefs and his response to world events.

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Written by Tor Alosson

I am a passionate writer with a deep love for exploring diverse topics. My writing endeavors span a broad spectrum, allowing me to delve into various subjects enthusiastically and curiously. From the human experience's intricacies to the natural world's wonders, I find joy in crafting words that bring these subjects to life. My creative journey knows no bounds, and I embrace the opportunity to share my thoughts, stories, and insights on everything that piques my interest. Writing is my gateway to endless exploration, a realm where I can freely express my thoughts and ideas and connect with others who share my appreciation for the written word.

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