Yusuf Lodhi, an accidental but acerbic cartoonist, who introduced a new form of political caricature in Pakistan, joined the world of journalism in 1969 as assistant editor of Peshawar Times.
An article by Seher Gul – Vai Ell and his master – in The Friday Times describes him as “something of a bon vivant, the consummate anti-establishment liberal.”
Lodhi joined the Frontier Guardian in 1972. For the next two years he and the newspaper landed in trouble because of anti-establishment views. The editor went to jail a number of times as the newspaper was banned in 1974.
At the same time Vai Ell’s book Bhutto My Master, a book of cartoons harshly criticizing Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s authoritarian style of governance, was banned by then NWFP government.
Vai Ell was also arrested in 1975 in connection with the murder of Hayat Khan Sherpao – elder brother of Aftab Khan Sherpao – who died in a bomb blast in Peshawar. However, the cartoonist was released after a few months.
As an editor of Frontier Guardian, Lodhi had, according to the article, hired “a temperamental cartoonist who had the habit of disappearing without warning. One day the man failed to turn up, and Yusuf Lodhi was in great need of a cartoon, so in desperation he drew it himself. That was the day editor Yusuf Lodhi began to be assisted by a cartoonist called Vai Ell (a play on his initials YL). This pseudonym was for many years thought to be that of a very pretty French woman. Vai Ell went along to promote that belief, much to his own amusement.”
Vai Ell joined Outlook in 1974 as special correspondent. However, the same year his interview of Abdul Wali Khan, then chief of National Awami Party (NAP), led to a ban on Outlook.
Mahir Ali says: “A substantial portion of Vai Ell’s enduring fame owes itself to the early years of the Bhutto era when his cartoons adorned the covers of periodicals such as his own Frontier Guardian and Outlook.”
By the time in 1979 when Vai Ell joined The Muslim he had authored more books – Sag Aza, There was a little girl, and Dushman Asman Apna. The NWFP government also banned Sag Aza.
In 1980 Vai Ell became graphic designer for South, London and from 1981-85 worked for Dawn. He also worked for The Nation, Frontier Post, Herald, and The Star.
He received a number of awards, including Scandinavian International in 1983 and Helsinki International (1985). However, Vai Ell refused to receive the APNS award which was to be given by the Chief Martial Law Administrator.
In Vai Ell on Faiz, Lodhi illustrated the verses of Faiz Ahmed Faiz.
(Sources: sajjanlahore.com, shahid-saeed.org; thefridaytimes.com)
Pakistan Observer, December 14, 2016
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