If we find TV Narayan contemplating the meaning of “introspection” in one caricature that sees him being crucified and wearing a loincloth with the words “Smile, help, think”, in another illustration he is seen on his work desk. With his long hair covering his face, Narayan hangs on a saw, leaving the readers with a thought: “Isn’t it strange to see every man think he’s doing his thing right.”
The three compositions along with more than 800 others comprise a book dedicated to the late creative design professional and founder of the creative agency Survival by Design, who passed away in September 2017 after battling cancer for ten months. “It is a tribute to him,” says his sister Roopa Srinivasan, who conceptualised the book with his wife Deepa TV Narayan. “These are his personal doodles that he did all the time,” says Deepa. For months the duo pored over thousands of doodles, caricatures and illustrations that Narayan had carefully but privately retained over the years. “He had showed me some of these but I did not know that he had so many,” says Deepa. It was only when the family was packing his belongings from his Mahim studio (in Mumbai) that they realised the mammoth archive he had built. The limited edition publication was conceived to share his work with family and friends. “It is not a commercial project, and only meant for those who knew him,” says Deepa.
While Deepa shares how the Kochi-bred graduate in law pursued a career in creative design, moving different cities — Bengaluru, Ahmedabad and Mumbai — she mentions how the publication presents his thoughts and feelings at a particular moment in time. His childhood friend and colleague Pramod Shankar recalls how he had named him “Killer”, his love for eating appams at roadside joints and how through the years of his battle with ALS, Narayan “made the journey lighter”. His colleague Madhusudan Naik describes his “eclectic” fashion sense and recalls how he described Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner as “Full Havoc”. Gogi, his brother-in-law, is grateful to Narayan for his advice, “learn to do with less” and Risha Srinivasan, his 12-year-old niece, shares how she “marvelled at Gary’s drawings and designs and his various ads”.
It was a deliberate decision to not refer to his professional work in the book. “There are different illustration styles. I felt with his doodles his entire spiritual and emotional growth was out there,” says Deepa. The family also opted not to have a chronological or thematic compilation. Apart from memories of him, Narayan introduces himself to the readers through his own works and words that we see accompanying the illustrations. Deepa picks a caricature where we see him with a guitar, shouting out, “Shut up and play your guitar”. “This is what he said when I would crib about something,” she says. She also shares the origins of the bearded Bill Cool, who recurs in Narayan’s caricatures. “My father used to ask him how are things, bilkul theek? That is how the character emerged. He wanted to make an animation movie with Bill Cool talking about Indian culture to kids in a cool style,” says Deepa. It is perhaps among the several projects that
Narayan had intended to complete and also among those that was testament to his wit and articulation.