book excerpt Children

Drawing attention to wildlife threats with humour and art

Here is an excerpt from“Drawing Doomsday”, a chapter in the book “10 Indian Champions Who Are Fighting to Save the Planet” by Bijal Vachharajani and Radha Rangarajan published by Penguin.

With sixty lakh visitors annually, Guwahati’s taxi drivers are used to strange requests from tourists. But one found himself stumped. Cartoonist Rohan Chakravarty hopped off the aircraft and booked a taxi straight to the local municipal garbage dump. “It was to see Guwahati’s Greater Adjutant Storks, that have made the dump their home,” he explained. “Never in my life have I seen a more perplexed taxi driver.”

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It’s not only in Assam that Rohan finds humour and beauty in dire situations. It’s all in a day’s work for Rohan, who creates environment and wildlife cartoons under the name Green Humour. Whether it’s hornbills or Polar Bears, politicians or environmentalists, turtles or elephants, they’ve all been given a humorous twist by his pen.

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From dentures to green adventures

The only memory that Rohan has of his childhood scribbles is drawing rain and leopards. “While my love for leopards is unchanged,” said Rohan, “I’ve grown up into somewhat of a hydrophobe! If only watching frogs and snakes weren’t a thing of the monsoon!”

Drawing attention to wildlife threats with humour and art
 

What helped to inspire his interest in wildlife was that he and his brother Rohit, a chiropterologist (someone who studies bats), grew up on a steady diet of encyclopaedias and picture books that their grandfather gifted them—so they knew about ocelots and matamatas by the age of three!

Rohan studied to be a dentist. “I have never been a bright student, particularly of subjects I dislike,” he explained. “Dentistry fit into that bill. My mother has stood by every decision I have made in my life, except getting into dental college, and was very relieved when I made the switch to animation (initially) and later cartooning; she always knew that medicine wasn’t for me.”

When you ask Rohan what prompted him to move from molar to solar power, he responds with a perfect nature analogy. “In the winter of 2014, a kittiwake, a seabird not found in the Indian subcontinent, landed up on the coast of Maharashtra. It was a straggling vagrant, probably blown in by unpredictable winds, and obviously had no idea what it was doing in the Konkan coast. I too, was as aimless in my teenage years as that kittiwake. It was only when I met my first wild tigress that the kittiwake in me “kitti-woke” up, and decided to merge two dormant passions—wildlife and cartoons—and spring into action.”

Drawing attention to wildlife threats with humour and art
 

While Rohan’s mother was secretly pleased, his father had his reservations. Wildlife cartooning did not seem like a viable career choice. There are few cartoonists such as Patrick McDonnell, creator of the iconic series “Mutts”, who have managed to carve a name for themselves in this niche. And in India, most cartooning is political. But Rohan’s father quickly changed his mind, when a former patient confessed that the denture his son had made for her didn’t fit her.

When Rohan started out in around 2010, it was difficult to get publishers and readers to take cartoons on wildlife seriously. But he feels that readers have become more receptive over time. “I don’t know whether I should be thankful for this or not, but the fact that environmental issues are now so grave that they occupy the forefront of many minds, and this has helped my series gain the attention it needed,” he said.

Rohan Chakravarty

Rohan Chakravarty   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

 

Rohan did not study to be a naturalist. “There was a point in my life where I really wanted to become a wildlife scientist,” he said. “But I soon realised that I did not have the patience to wait for an owl to poop so I could dissect its pellets. I think that my aversion to academics (and a staple diet of Yash Chopra films) has helped keep the romance in me alive, something that’s very necessary for being an artist of any kind.” The way he sees it, rather than drowning animals in formalin to study them, he’d rather draw them to learn more about different species.

Field visits have helped him understand how cultural differences shape local conservation practices. For example, Neilingding, a military island that he visited in south-eastern China, has a designated sanctuary for an animal that most Indians have at least once had their kitchens raided by — the Rhesus Macaque!

Seriously funny stuff

Most environmental sciences books are very earnest when they talk about the planet’s diverse flora and fauna (well, it is a very serious subject). Newspaper reports about climate change, deforestation and wildlife crimes are frightening enough to make anyone want to curl up into a ball like a threatened pangolin, and environment policymakers often seem out to disprove their name.

People shy away from bad news (and there is enough of that around) so humour is a powerful weapon to make people engage with climate change.

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Printable version | Dec 5, 2020 12:03:40 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/children/drawing-attention-to-wildlife-threats-with-humour-and-art/article32942531.ece

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