Obituary: Enver Ahmed

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The Independent Online
Enver Ahmed, cartoonist, born Rawalpindi 1909, cartoonist Hindustan Times 1946-92, died New Delhi 12 July 1992.

ENVER AHMED, the Indian cartoonist, was the creator of 'Chandu', the hugely popular turbanned and paunchy central character of a cartoon strip which titillated and amused millions of Indians every morning for over three decades.

Through Chandu, the embodiment of an average Indian, Ahmed commented sharply on national and international events, but without giving offence. And, although he earned his reputation as a political cartoonist, he preferred to stay away from politics in the Chandu strip, carried for over 30 years by the Hindustan Times, north India's most powerful and most widely circulated English- language newspaper.

A staunch secularist, Ahmed opposed the partition of India and the formation of the Islamic state of Pakistan in 1947, which he daily made apparent through his cartoons, attacking Muslim League leaders for wanting a separate Muslim nation. In one cartoon, soon after Lord Mountbatten announced plans to partition India, Ahmed showed a disturbed Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Pakistan's founding president, telling Liaquat Ali Khan, his eventual successor, 'Now that we have got it (Pakistan), what are we going to do with it?'

Ahmed's caustic cartoons attacking the Muslim League - especially during sectarian riots in the months preceding partition in which millions died and billions were displaced - led to his being put on the 'hit-list' of Islamic fundamentalist groups in 1947. Solicitous friends took him to Mahatma Gandhi for advice and the latter suggested Ahmed leave India immediately. He went to England but continued to work for the Hindustan Times, returning to India a year later after Gandhi's assassination in January 1948, and his cartoons continued to appear in the paper until a few days before his death.

Ahmed was born in Rawalpindi (then in India) in 1909 and graduated in Science from the Government College in Lahore. Initially, he worked as a chemical analyst in a sugar mill but left for Lucknow, in modern-day Uttar Pradesh state, in 1933 to join the advertising section of the Pioneer. Pioneer was a leading daily newspaper which in earlier years had numbered Rudyard Kipling and Winston Churchill among its reporters. Ahmed's exceptional draughting talents were spotted by Desmond Young, the editor, and within a few months he became the paper's cartoonist.

This was the height of the era of India's freedom struggle led by Mahatama Gandhi and the Congress Party against the British, and the widely circulated Pioneer, founded in 1864, strongly supported imperialism. Ahmed found himself unable to support the Raj, while lampooning the British in his cartoons, and he left to join Dawn newspaper in New Delhi in the early Forties. Dawn, which later shifted to Karachi after partition and is today one of Pakistan's leading English dailies, was anti- British and allowed Ahmed an unfettered canvas. Some of Ahmed's most memorable cartoons were drawn during this period.

Dawn's support for the Muslim League, however, ran against Ahmed's philosophy and in 1946 he shifted to the Hindustan Times, a nationalist newspaper with overt links with Congress and Gandhi. Here, Ahmed happily defended swaraj, or self-rule, and continued as the paper's cartoonist till his retirement in 1961. Shortly after, Ahmed renewed his association with the Hindustan Times through the earthy Chandu, dressed only in a loin-cloth and modelled on a close friend.

Suave and gracious, Ahmed, with his upright figure and mane of silver hair, was a distinctive personality in New Delhi's journalistic circles. He was a highly reserved man and was considered, even by those he lampooned, to be part of a dying breed of gentleman journalists.