Anonymous artist recounts Modi government’s ruinous response to Covid-19 with wit and satire

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In an unexpected move, late in the evening on March 24, 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the world India would enter an unprecedented national lockdown at midnight to stop the spread of Covid-19. With barely about four hours to prepare for the curfew – which was initially only supposed to last 21 days but lasted for over 10 weeks – most Indians rushed to stock up on basic necessities or to return home. their hometown.

One person, however, saw the humor in this adversity and began to draw comics.

On April 5, 2020, PenPencilDraw posted its first graphic on Twitter, doing a dig at the short notice given before the lockdown.

Over a year later, the grip has become a benchmark for political satires and memes related to the pandemic in India.

PenPencilDraw – a name derived from “pen-pencil,” a generic Indian term for mechanical pencil – currently has over 26,500 followers on Twitter and over 15,400 on Instagram.

More recently, as thousands of Indians grapple with a deadly second wave of Covid-19, a graph by the handle, which showed the timeline of absurd claims by Indian lawmakers, went viral – shared not only on Twitter and Instagram , but widely distributed on WhatsApp Groups.

What they said when. Photo credit: PenPencilDraw

As hundreds of new followers flock to PenPencilDraw, the creator behind the handle has chosen to remain anonymous. In an email interview with Quartz, they said they were lawyers and learned to draw while on a sabbatical from work a few years ago, adding that their “foot drawings are a terrible gift” that they are not formally trained to do. art.

“I remain anonymous because it gives me some distance from work, which is good for the freedom of creation,” they said. “People who know me have been excited and a little too pleasantly surprised with what I’m doing. I hope to convert this into a fierce envy soon.

Be political

The mind behind PenPencilDraw grew up reading many comics and cartoons – they still do – and wondered what it would be like to do them. But it wasn’t until India’s lockdown was announced that they felt compelled to push thought into action. The initial inspiration for the handle and the artwork came from “the sheer nonsense of giving four hours’ notice for a full nationwide lockdown,” the designer said. “I still can’t understand this decision!”

But since then PenPencilDraw has addressed several controversial Covid tracker topics Arogya Setu app and dismantling of labor laws to the law on the prevention of illegal activities used to suppress activists and undercoverage of Covid deaths. Most of the work is decidedly political. One of the artist’s favorite games, which was “interesting and challenging”, is a snakes and ladders board game about the traps of the Indian vaccination system.

The tweet does not exist

“A lot of the work is tied in some way to what’s going on around us, so it can only be political,” they said. “It is a particularly dark time in India, and I am fortunate to have the privilege of channeling some of my frustration and anger (which many others feel as well) into art.”

The board game was one of two PenPencilDraw cartoons that were featured in The Economist in a story about Modi missing in action. (The other was for Modi’s Central Vista project.) “It’s nice to see other publications using the work to say something bigger,” the artist said.

Snakes and ladders. Photo credit: PenPencilDraw

The artwork has become much more popular than the illustrator ever imagined. So much so that PenPencilDraw followers often produce better punchlines or captions than existing ones.

“Someone pointed out that this cartoon about Friends should have been more aptly called MITRON, which of course is. on site, ”they said. “Another person suggested ‘Finding Namo’ for this cartoon, who is a super legend. “

Gain reactions from fans. Photo credit: PenPencilDraw

No subject is taboo for PenPencilDraw but they will not draw “anything that hits or pokes fun at any kind of suffering”. They also don’t like drawing animals to represent bad human behavior. “Snakes and vultures are magnificent creatures; stop comparing them to evil people! they said. “Other than that, there is really nothing off limits.”

Anonymity behind PenPencilDraw

Since dissent is often assumed to be anti-national in India, remaining nameless and faceless helps the artist gain “a (little) protection that anonymity offers from trolls and governments.”

After all, in early 2021, Indian comic Munawar Faruqui spent weeks in jail for a joke he didn’t even tell. And in December 2020, contempt proceedings were opened against Rachita Taneja, co-founder of the Internet Freedom Foundation and designer behind the Sanitary Panels account, for two stick cartoons that implied that the Supreme Court was biased in favor. of the BJP. PenPencilDraw stood in solidarity with Taneja through art.

Censorship is not just a matter of government. Even platforms have their own peculiarities. PenPencilDraw, for example, prefers Twitter.

“While Instagram offers more control over comments and a better format for multi-frame comics, it also deleted one of my pro-refugee rights cartoons by saying it amounted to a speech by hate (!) and that she was less respectful of privacy in general, “they said. Facebook, Instagram’s parent, has temporarily removed a Sanitary Panels comic criticizing the platform.

And although both have issues with trolling and online abuse, Twitter “seems to have a little more courage than Facebook to stand up to the government,” they added.

Twitter has tried to blindly resist following government orders in the past despite its strong weaponry. In February, Founder-CEO Jack Dorsey “liked” tweets related to the farmers’ protests. More recently, Twitter called the media manipulated a Congressional “toolbox” circulated by the ruling Bharatiya Janata party, after which Delhi police even attempted to raid Twitter’s Delhi office.

While India-based illustrator PenPencilDraw said they preferred not to reveal specifics of their age, gender or place of residence, they acknowledged that “all of these factors, including others like caste and religion, shape the outlook on life and the world. They definitely influenced what I find disturbing, scary, or funny. Going forward, they don’t have any concrete plans for the account besides the hope of “continuing to love drawing and bringing more Hahas and Hmm into the world.”

Some of the artist’s favorite comic book illustrators are Priya Kuriyan, Sandeep Adharwyu, and Surendra, among others. All of these creators, like PenPencilDraw, have also criticized the Modi government’s handling of the pandemic.

This article first appeared on Quartz.





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