Christel Devadawson, a writer and professor, is the head of the English department at Delhi University. Through her work, Devadawson, who studied at St Stephens College and then at the University of Cambridge, explores visual popular culture in its various forms, especially in the context of South Asia. In her 2014 book, Out of Line: Cartoons, Caricature and Contemporary India, she traces the development of graphic satire in independent India, and studies the work of noted cartoonists, such as RK Laxman, Abu Abraham and Shankar Pillai. Devadawson analyses the political relevance of these cartoons and cartoonists, and characterises political satire as form of national “lifewriting”—a way for the nation to self-document and record its own history. Last week, during a discussion at the Indian Languages Festival Samanvay, she talked about RK Laxman, and the role of political cartoons as a language of critical thinking and expression.
In this interview with Surabhi Kanga, an assistant editor at The Caravan, Devadawson discussed the current state of political satire, its relation to public discourse and how criticism might be changing in the age of the Internet.
Surabhi Kanga: What do you think is the importance of political satire in a democracy such as ours? How did you pick up satire as a subject of study?