A comic book on snakes by the man behind Green Humour

Rohan Chakravarty   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

It isn’t often that you come across a comic book on snakes. Then again, it isn’t often that wildlife cartoonist Rohan Chakravarty ties up with wildlife conservationist Romulus Whitaker to write one.

“My knowledge of snakes is pretty basic,” the artist who does columns for multiple newspapers and magazines, in addition to his blog greenhumour, clarifies at the very outset. So when Romulus Whitaker got in touch with him in winter last year, “I had to sit with him”, says Chakravarty.

What followed was a series of sessions between the Nagpur-based cartoonist and the Chennai-based conservationist, resulting in a book titled Making Friends With Snakes (But From A Distance). A collaboration between Rohan, Madras Crocodile Bank and Pratham Books, it tells the story of three children and the two snakes they fall into conversation with. Though written and illustrated completely by Chakravarty, the book’s raisin d’etre stems from Whitaker: from the concerning frequency of snake bite-related deaths in the country and Whitaker’s desire to do something about it.

A comic book on snakes by the man behind Green Humour

“Around 60,000 people die of snake bites every year in India: most of them children, most of the incidents taking place near agricultural fields,” says Rohan. Ironically, all these deaths are caused by only four among 300-odd snake species that inhabit the country. “Herpetologists call them ‘the big four’: common krait, spectacled cobra, Russell’s viper and saw-scaled viper.”

That leaves hundreds of other snake species that barely cause harm, yet bear the brunt of a terrifying reputation. Hence, the intention behind this book is three-pronged: to undo the misconceptions that children have against all snakes in general; to explain the difference between venomous and non-venomous snakes; and to educate them about the venomous ones they need to be careful of.

All this, the book manages to do in 16 pages. “The story is simple, and there are just five protagonists. Two of them are snakes: a cobra called Naagin and a rat snake called Dhaman,” says Chakravarty, explaining how he chose a commonly recognisable venomous and non-venomous snake each as his characters, and named them what they are colloquially called in the hinterlands. “There are three points of focus in what the snakes tell the children: how they can identify different snakes that are common everywhere in India, how they can figure out if they are venomous or not, and how to avoid them.”

A comic book on snakes by the man behind Green Humour

It sounds easier said than done: not only did the book need quite a bit of research, it is also Chakravarty’s first narrative story (although creating snarky, intelligent animal characters is his forte). “The story had to be kept simple because it is for children. There are pages dedicated to each of the big four, on how they behave, attack and bite differently,” he reiterates. The script, he says, is derived from educational and promotional videos made by the Crocodile Bank. It is, after all, a cautionary notice in comic book form.

Adds Whitaker, who is also project manager (India), of the Global Snakebite Initiative, “We think that taking the message of snake conservation and snakebite mitigation awareness to children, especially in rural India, is vitally important. We have been working toward raising such awareness for a long time. Rohan’s wonderful work and our collaboration with Pratham Books [an earlier collaboration is A King Cobra’s Summer by Janaki Lenin], we hope, will be spread far and wide across India.”

To that end, the book is currently available online on Pratham’s free platform Storyweave. The publishing house is also translating it into nine languages, including Hindi, Tamil, Gujarati, Tibetan and Odia.

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Printable version | Jul 30, 2021 8:35:51 AM |

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