Fleet Street’s Star of India
Mark Bryant describes the life and works of Abu Abraham, the Observer’s first ever political cartoonist.
Fleet Stree has been a magnet for journalists around the globe ever since the world's first daily newspaper, the Daily Courant, was published in London on March 11th, 1702. And among the foreign journalists who have come to these shores over the past 300 years have been a number of cartoonists and caricaturists, especially after the advent of Punch in 1841 and Vanity Fair in 1868. Celebrated expatriate political cartoonists who settled in London in the twentieth century included Will Dyson (from Australia), David Low (from New Zealand), Vicky (Victor Weisz, a Hungarian from Germany) and Bill Papas (a Greek from South Africa). Most had European ancestry but one who did not became the first ever political cartoonist on the Observer - the world's oldest Sunday newspaper (founded in 1791). Born in India, his name was Abu Abraham.
The son of a lawyer, he was born Attupurathu Mathew Abraham in Tiruvalla in the state of Kerala, at the southernmost tip of India, on June 11th, 1924. After studying French, Mathematics and English at what is now the University of Trivandrum - where he was also tennis champion - he graduated in 1945. He then moved 800 miles north to Bombay (now Mumbai) where he became a reporter on the Bombay Chronicle and its afternoon sister paper the Bombay Sentinel (1946-51), drawing cartoons in his spare time for Blitz magazine and the political journal Bhnrnt.
In 1951, at the invitation of Shankar (Keshav Shankar Pillai, 1902-89) - then India's most famous cartoonist and himself also from Kerala - Abraham moved further north again, travelling some 700 miles to New Delhi where he joined the satirical English-language journal Shankar's Weekly, working as a staff cartoonist and occasional writer.