New Delhi, Apr 16 (PTI) One panel shows two skeletons reading a news story headlined Electric crematorium for Delhi’ and wondering what would happen if there was a power breakdown, another depicts an impoverished man begging Indira Gandhi to give him back his “gareebi”.

The two cartoons, the first a commentary on the lack of even the most basic infrastructure and the other mocking Indira Gandhi’s ‘Gareebi Hatao’ programme, are but a small sampling of the late Rajinder Puri’s works. The cartoonist-commentator, who died in 2015, is described variously “pugnacious”, “unwavering” and “acerbic” by his friends and admirers, who gathered here last week for the release of “What a Life!”, a collection of his political cartoons.

The book, by author Arvindar Singh and filmmaker-critic Partha Chaterjee, features 130 political cartoons from 1960 till 2010.

The cartoons underscore the continuing relevance of many of the issues he took up and also the fact that Puri always dared to speak truth to power.

So, there’s a cartoon of former PM Indira Gandhi, showing Puri as a barking dog while she holds a sketch imagining herself as an angel and one of Jawaharlal Nehru as Napoleon making a retreat in Moscow with bodies strewn all around after the Indo-China war of 1962.

“Puri, just like other sensitive cartoonists, was a case of wounded humanity , said long-time friend, veteran journalist Vinod Dua, part of the panel to discuss Puri’s works.

I never considered him a humorist. He was a satirist,” he added.

Dua made special mention of the “Gareebi Hatao” cartoon, showing a poor man telling an imperious Indira Gandhi, “Please madam can I get back my gareebi? I have been miserable ever since it was removed.” This is to tell you that Puri anticipated ‘achhe din’ much before most of us did, Dua said, and many laughed.

Puri’s political activism and anti-establishment approach coupled with his sharp wit helped him hit bull’s eye, also the name of his column, his friends said.

The cartoonist was also famous for writing limericks below his cartoons.

He was pugnacious always anti-establishment and a firm believer in democracy. He used to say my job is to respect people’s verdict whatever it is and I would do it by according critical support to it’. He was also, if you want to use the word, nationalist in the true sense,” said eminent journalist Saeed Naqvi.

According to Naqvi, people should buy this book to see “politics in public life of 60s, 70s, 80s and so on .

Puri worked for The Hindustan Times and The Statesman, both as a cartoonist and writer, and even dabbled in politics. He was a founding general secretary of the Janata Party in 1977.

Though a trenchant critic of the grand old party, the Congress, Puri was not biased against any one party or individual.

It was probably why Nehru, often at the receiving end of Puri’s wit, got a much celebrated tribute when he died in 1964.

“The Void”, which showed a white silhouette of Nehru against a sea of people is also the cover page of the newly launched book.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.