Kolkata's French Connection: A Cartoonist Killed in Charlie Hebdo Attack

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Kolkata's French Connection: A Cartoonist Killed in Charlie Hebdo Attack

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A sketch by cartoonist Bernard Verhlac, known as Tignous, on how he perceived Kolkata's noise, drawn when he was in the city in 2005.

Kolkata:  There is a curious connection between Kolkata and the Charlie Hebdo tragedy in Paris. One of the cartoonists shot dead on Wednesday was in Kolkata in 2005, during the book fair, and spent two weeks there, caricaturing it. The cartoonist was Bernard Verhlac, best known as Tignous. What struck him most about Kolkata? How noisy it was, noise he will never hear again. (Paris Makes Charlie Hebdo 'Honorary Citizen', Support Pours In)

Neela Majumdar was president of the Alliance Francaise du Kolkata in 2005, and remembers Tignous's visit like it was just the other day. He was about 48 years old then and had come along with two other French cartoonists for the book fair. He had brought his wife along. She was pregnant then. (Slain French Police Officer Inspires New Protest Refrain: 'I Am Ahmed')

"The then director of Alliance, Nikolas Blasquez, had invited these same cartoonists when he was director in Kenya. So he obviously knew them very well. He convinced them to come to Kolkata. And after that, they loved it so much, I think Tignous was even planning to come back with Nikolas to Calcutta for his love... For doing some more work on her," recalls Neela Majumdar. ('I am Charlie,' Says Mark Zuckerberg)

Her fondest memory is a kind of an autograph book, in which she requests friends and acquaintances to write a few words. Tignous had not written, he had sketched - a Lord Ganesh with four arms. "Poor Mother Teresa had only two arms," he had scribbled next to it.

And what did Tignous draw? Kolkata's famed Coffee House on College Street, an ambassador car being taken for repairs on a 'thela gari' or hand cart and finally the noise that was, for him, quintessential Kolkata. Some of his Kolkata cartoons were put together in a publication during the book fair. It was called Tut Tut Pouet Pouet, reflecting the honking of car horns. Neela has just one copy of that.

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(A cartoon by Tignous, showing an Ambassador car being taken for repairs on a hand cart, which he drew in the city in 2005)

Another person who recalls meeting Tignous in Kolkata is the current French consul general, Fabrice Etienne. He was in the city then on a book-writing sabbatical. The book fair was where he met Tignous, spent time with him at several parties during the fair and interacted with him - something he will never forget.

"For the whole French public, those cartoonists were really famous. We used to know Tignous from our childhood. He was part of our childhood," said Mr Etienne. "For me, it was not just 12 people being killed in France that day, it is the heart of our democracy," he declared. ('I Shook His Hand': French Salesman on Run-In with Massacre Suspect)

In the Tut Tut Pouet Pouet publication, there is a sketch of the four cartoonists who had come to Kolkata in 2005. Tignous is the first man from the left. Who did the sketch is not known. It could have been Tignous himself. In that publication, perhaps the most evocative drawing today is the one of a typical Kolkata band party going home after a long day of playing music, perhaps at a party, perhaps at a wedding. The silence in the sketch is deafening. The music, for Tignous, has ended. (In France, Muslims Fear Backlash)



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