Gajaman standing in front of the grocery shop is aghast that he has forgotten  the list of goods his wife asked him in the morning to bring home after work. Suddenly he sees a damsel walking swinging her buttocks. It immediately reminded him that wife asked him to bring pumpkin. He sees another dame coming donning a tight blouse. He remembers young king coconuts in the list. The list is yet not complete. Then comes a skinny girl in short frock exposing her lean legs. Oh, he remembers firewood to the surprise of the shopkeeper. That is how the cartoon strip goes.

Now Gajaman is 44. Camillus who drew Gajaman is 77. Camillus’ cartoon career completes 50 years. For five decades he kept the readers enthralled.

In Sinhala Gajaman means elephantine man. Camillus likewise is a colossus among cartoonists.

We let him unfold his story……

“I was born in Negombo on December 1, 1939, as the first child after nine years. My full name is Kurukulasuriya Eligius Camillus Perera. My home is near Negombo shore and in my childhood I used to draw on the seasand and even on the walls of my home but fortunately no one stopped me.”

“When I was a small boy, a teacher used to pass my home on the way to a watering hole. He was very fond of me. One day he drew pictures of an elephant and a parrot on the wall. I also drew exactly the same pictures to his astonishment. He advised my parents to encourage my artistic talents.”

“In my school days, I would draw sketches of my classmates on the blackboard. Once I played a prank on the principal too. I drew a caricature of my principal who was a cigar-smoking, well-built Tamil person. My class teacher seeing this reported me to the principal who summoned me to his office. I was shivering but the principal took it in good humour.The same prank again.There was a teacher who was bandy-legged. I caricatured him also on the blackboard. He took me to the canteen and treated me with a bun and cheerfully advised me not to draw him afterwards.”

“After my SSC exam I faced a practical exam to enter the Haywood College of Fine Arts where I was asked to sketch a picture of a live nude man which I drew well and was selected to the course. When I related this episode to my art teacher he was aghast and prevented me pursuing Haywood studies because he considered it was not in keeping with our culture . It was a good turn in my life in hindsight. Had I pursued that curriculum I would have been an artist rather than a cartoonist.”

“While looking for a job I applied for a post of tracer in Puttalam Kachcheri. I was asked to draw a model of a building in half an hour but I failed to draw even a line. Nevertheless, I was called for a viva voce. Seeing my past drawings they offered me the job.”

“The most famous cartoonist at that time was Aubrey Collette who was at Lake House. My ambition was to be another Collette. With that in mind I got a transfer to Colombo. I drew a cartoon to the Sarasaviya  Magazine edited by Wimalasiri  Perera on the  theme of Andare’s poem ‘Mata ra nodun tho marila vatiayan’ (woe be unto you who did not give me toddy) in 1964 which was published. But regularly I submitted cartoons to the paper which were never published since then.”

“Then I joined the Dawasa Group, its then editor was D.B. Dhanapala. David Karunaratne who wrote the ‘Hella’ column asked me to draw a strip cartoon for that column next day. I had no clue what a strip cartoon was. A friend of mine who owned a bookshop in Pettah explained  to me what a strip cartoon showing me one in a book. I was selected to draw regular cartoons of ‘Thepanis’ to the column.”

This is how Camillus’ cartoon career started 50 years ago.

“For the Thepanis cartoon I was not paid a single cent. I was in financial doldrums. So I joined Janatha evening newspaper edited by D.F. Kariyakarawana and contributed Don Sethan cartoon strip to the paper and subsequently added Semona, Meraya, Lapaya, Godwin Aiyya characters to the Don Sethan family. The cartoon strip was published on the cover page. Paper vendors insisted the publishers to print the cartoon in an inside page because readers only had a glance at the cartoon but not wanted to buy the paper since readers only wanted to look at the cartoon as it was so popular.”

When Don Sethan became popular, Camillus reached the peak of popularity. The editors who turned Camillus away now pleaded with him to draw cartoons to their papers.

“Then I started to draw Dakkoth Padmawathi for the Sarasaviya magazine and Mr. Lovris for the Evening Observer newspaper publishing my cartoons six days a week continously.”
“By now, the Sathuta cartoon magazine was started by the Lake House.I created Gajaman character for the paper which was published in the centre page. I drew a cartoon during the New Year depicting Gajaman chasing a swine to kill for meat during the auspicious time. The message I wanted to put across was how people kill animals for their own pleasure even during auspicious times against the culture.”

Lake House could not see through the message. They accused him of hurting the feelings of Sinhalese and interdicted him. Learning his predicament Chinthana Jayasena of the Ada Newspaper invited him to subscribe to his paper.

Siribiris, Don Sethan, Dakkoth Padmawathi characters regularly featured in the Ada newspaper. He started Magodisthuma strip in the Sathuta paper. The word Magodisthuma coined to give a humorous meaning to Manthrithuma (parliamentarian). The word Magodi meaning scam came to the Sinhala vocabulary since then.

“I left the Siththara magazine due to differences of opinion and started a publishing house of my own. I launched several papers including the Sathsiri which featured Gajaman. Most of those publications give much weight to education,” Camillus revealed.

Another milestone in Camillus’ life was that Upali Thennakoon, founder editor of the Rivira newspaper, called on him at his office to invite him as a regular cartoon contributor to the Rivira Weekly. He has been contributing ‘Camillus’ and ‘Camillusge Mehew Rate’ cartoons for the last ten years continuously.

Now, Camillus is well contended with his life.

“People love jokes, but, trying to  amuse people is not so easy. The President, the former President and all the cabinet ministers are very friendly with me. Ridiculing is not my cup of tea. Humour and satire is my passion. So far I have drawn zillions of cartoons, all of which are to be exhibited in the forthcoming exhibition titled ‘Fifty Years of Camillus Cartoons’ at the BMICH on November 25, 26 and 27.”

May people of Lanka be lucky to enjoy another fifty years of his cartoons. We at Rivira Group wish him well and long life.
(savithri@ | Pic by Chamila Karunaratne