“It was a sunny morning at Nagzira Wildlife Sanctuary, and just within moments of entering the park gate, my eyes fell upon her. Her curvaceous body glistened with the droplets of the morning dew, and from water in the pool. As she lifted her lovely face, her sensuous lips emerged from the pool. My jaw dropped in amazement as she fixed her enticing gaze upon our jeep. Water droplets slipped off her long whiskers, her tail twitched gracefully, and I was in love with a lady from another species, unlike any from my own! She was a tigress bathing in a waterhole, and had opened a new universe for me to explore with my art. As an aspiring cartoonist I was dabbling with several themes back then, but drawing on wildlife began to give me a sense of creative contentment I never felt before. The brief romance with the tigress was my calling”
Something about how Rohan shares this encounter with his ‘lady-in-the-wild’ brings a big smile to my face, and a joy to my heart. I spend hours and days falling in love with the flora and fauna around me, but Rohan Chakravarty, adds a dimension that only he can bring, and he has been doing so over the last several years, with his outstanding work under the label, `Green Humour’.
People call him a cartoonist, illustrator, wildlife lover and he says that he can no more pick from any of the three titles as they have, ‘all been intertwined and enmeshed over the years, like the pair of earphones in your pocket’. Every sentence of his evokes a strong visual, a smile, and it’s exactly the marriage of these two elements that he uses as a tool to give a voice to all the creatures that surround us.
You all know how weak I go in my knees when I meet someone who brings wildlife to us with such love, honesty, passion and above all lends them a voice- where the creatures share what they feel, what they think about our government, what challenges they face, what views they have of us humans, and all this with rich humour!
When I read each of his illustrated strips, I feel like I am finally sharing this Earth with others, after the monotony of hearing human voices alone.
I had to get to know Rohan better, and I spared no effort in tracking him down, writing to him, wanting to know about his childhood, his work, his dreams and more. And the promptness and readiness with which he replied and shared about himself and his work, just doubled the love and admiration I have for him.
a. Childhood does play a role in shaping who you are. How was Rohan’s growing years?
His maternal grandfather had a keen interest in wildlife and hailing from Nagpur, took him and his brother on strolls to the city zoo as well as safaris to national parks. He says, `at the mere age of three, I knew about Ocelots and Margays (something that ‘normal’ three-year olds aren’t quite into), from a book on Wild Cats he gifted me, full of wonderful illustrations. So I credit him for instilling a love and curiosity for the natural world in me. My late pet dog Natwarprakash or Naughty who I grew up with, was the one who gave me a sense of humour’.
b. Shifting Careers: Dentistry to Cartoons?
In Rohan’s words, `the science of peeping into rotten mouths- dentistry, was not difficult for me at all to give it up!’
Going against the conventional careers was difficult, but he decided to move ahead. A year of internship with animation, and three years in Bangalore with a multimedia studio, even as he developed `Green Humour’ in his free time, formed the crux of his prep before jumping into cartooning full time. When mundaneness crept into his Bangalore job, he says, `like a juvenile buzzard leaving his nest, I was expecting to crash-land, but right then, Universal Press Syndicate chose Green Humour for web syndication under its platform `Go-Comics’ (the same that syndicated Calvin & Hobbes, Dilbert, Pearls and so many other international favourites), giving him the necessary boost; read thermal life!’
c. The real purpose: why cartooning, and how has it evolved for Rohan through the years?
“The bare, raw purpose of cartooning is to make mischief every day. This, I try to do with lighter comics that speak about animal behavior, their lifestyles and adaptations. With the more serious comics that deal with issues related to conservation and the environment, the purpose shifts to creating awareness and initiating thought, discussion, and eventually action. With my work being translated to several local languages, I am able to involve and engage people who encounter wildlife on a daily basis, and being true to creating a conservation message.”
d. `Comedy/humour’ is a very difficult genre. Sense of timing, right words, exact gesture, and then of course, balancing all these elements: I ask Rohan how he developed this funny bone?
“A lot of credit for this goes to evolution itself, for ensuring that the ways of wild animals are funny in the first place! For example, just watching a pair of frogs copulate is a pretty hilarious sight- a puny male mounted awkwardly on a lady thrice his size! I feel like there is a lot of untapped humour in the natural world, and I try to format it into a joke.
I am an extremely grumpy and asocial person outside of my canvas, so comedy becomes all the more difficult for me at times. Thankfully, I keep meeting funny and interesting creatures on treks and nature trails quite frequently, and that ensures a regular supply of references.”
e. Inspiration: What brings Rohan joy and harmony to produce such work?
We all need our fuel, and for someone producing such intricate work everyday, where does it come from?
“One great source of motivation is reading the work of my predecessors who I am in complete awe of. Two of the greatest cartoonists who have ever lived, in my view, are Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes) and Gary Larson (The Far Side). The more I read their work, the greater the urge is to come up with new comics. You know how amazing you feel when you listen to your favourite song at the start of a morning or when you smell bacon frying? I experience the same feeling when I work on comics. There is a strange, inexplicable euphoria in seeing your ideas take the shape of art.”
f. Rohan’s work is as diverse as the species he brings to life. What sort of projects inspires him?
“Illustrated maps of biodiversity hotspots- a series I call ‘Cartotoonography’ is something that I have been focusing my efforts on of late, developing these for various organizations working with wildlife and communities, such as the Wildlife Trust of India, WWF (India and Bhutan) and ICIMOD. When taking up commissions I try to select assignments that benefit not just wildlife but communities as well.”
g. Young India is torn between what the world and parents view as career `achievements’ and what they `really’ wish to do. By disrupting the way cartooning is viewed, Rohan has shown how one’s `little brown job’ can be commercially successful. He shares his thoughts, `wildlife’ style:
“It is a parent’s responsibility to ensure that the child pursues a career of his choice and not go by templates created by society. If every prehistoric fish restricted its off spring from straying ashore, evolution would never happen. It is the same principle here!”
He adds, “Before you choose your career, ask yourself this question- If I were a dog taken off my leash and let out the door after years of being contained indoors, would I want to do this? If it is a yes, go for it!”
h. His dream in the coming years, and what he wishes to be known as?
“To be able to take time off my schedule to work on some ideas for illustrated books that I have been planning for ages now, to travel and explore a lot more, and to quickly get to see a dolphin in the wild’, is his dream.
He believes he is a poor-team worker, and cannot work with people bending over his shoulder, `pack-hunting is a job for wolves, a bear cannot do it. I can’t even think with my pants on, and so that leaves me with only one option- to draw cartoons sitting at home, alone. So what do I wish to be known as- `That grumpy ol’ jerk who loves animals.”
Rohan is a rare species who with his `little brown job’ bridges the gap between humans and the wild. He ensure that Life around us does carry a voice, that can neither be silenced or overlooked.
As humans, we are a part of this collective ecosystem. With every species we eliminate or endanger, we eliminate or endanger a part of us, as it is a circle of life after all.
And yet, it is in people like Rohan and `Green Humour’ that I find the goosebumps of hope.
Each time you meet someone with an unusual skill or talent, don’t perceive it just as a hobby. Nourish and nurture it, and let life decide what it wants to do with that skill. Nothing in Nature is without a purpose.
- Green Humour’s work make for fabulous gifts for kids and adults alike. If you are a teacher, please invest in his `wildlife maps’ for the school. Website: http://www.greenhumour.com/
- Rohan takes up commissioned work if it is meaningful and interesting. The next time you want to curate a gift for your colleagues and employees, why not with a touch of humour and meaning to it.
- For everyday dose of his work, bookmark the following: https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=green%20humour http://www.gocomics.com/green-humour/2016/09/06
- Spread the word about his work in as many ways as possible. When he exhibits his work in galleries, please take your children/family/friends and expose them to his work.
- And if he inspired you to buy a sketch book, some pens, colours and restart your `little brown job’ that you had locked away in your heart somewhere, then a big `yaay’ to that.
(All images, courtesy: Rohan Chakravarty, greenhumour.com)
Thank you for reading. Please share this post with children, family, friends, acquaintances who work with wildlife, and I hope ‘Green Humour’ continues to bring Nature into your life everyday, as it does into mine.