Tamil Nadu

Rohan Chakravarty’s new book ‘Green Humour for a Greying Planet’ conveys hard truths on conservation in comic strips

K Jeshi 23 July 2021 15:31 IST
Updated: 30 July 2021 12:45 IST

Be it the human-animal conflict, climate change, poaching, or hunting, author Rohan Chakravarty finds a comic character that makes us chuckle yet takes a dig at the innovative ways that man has wreaked havoc on planet earth

“I’m the grey slender lorris, a nocturnal primate found only in India and Sri Lanka,” announces the lorris himself in a comic strip that features in Rohan Chakravarty’s new book Green Humour for a Greying Planet (Penguin). The primate laments how ‘slender’ in his name refers to his chances of survival especially since his habitat is being incessantly destroyed by high rises. “Mind you. Being a smooth-coated otter is no smooth ride” cries another cartoon as it holds out a placard that spells out the list of conservation threats faced by otters from loss of habitat to dams, and destruction of wetlands for agriculture, to poaching for fun, and water pollution to name a few.

Rohan conveys hard truths on ecology, conservation, sustainability, wildlife biology, and even COVID-19 in comic strips that are funny and tragic. The book is a compilation of his cartoons and comic strips that have been appearing in various columns in the print and the web over the course of his 10-year career.

Rohan Chakravarty | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

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Be it the marine life of Mumbai (octopus and jelly fish, and the sting rays) protesting against coastal reclamation; the peregrine falcon diving at a whopping 390 km/hr, the fastest creature on earth, signing an autograph for the superman; the shorebird phalarope male setting an exemplary parenting example by taking care of the ‘babies’ and not judging his mate for her unconventional lifestyle (as she takes off on a Tinder date with a new mate!) or the charming zitting cisticola, whose call has been eloquently compared by ornithologist Dr Salim Ali to that of the ‘snip of a barber’s scissors’, the author comes up with a repertoire of comic characters using his wit and knowledge in wildlife conservation. He calls his cartoons “ a friendly handshake between the natural world and our minds.”

Excerpts from an interview

On lessons from Nature

Fireflies have been celebrating eco-friendly Diwali even before the festival existed. Macaques have been drinking fruit juice without straws all along. Leaf cutter ants have been into zero carbon agriculture since they evolved. I have always turned to Nature for life lessons (I still haven’t learned the art of spitting at my critics like the Spitting Cobra though!). If we can design cars and bullet trains inspired by wild animals, I am sure we can also find ways to be more sustainable inspired by their ways.

On quirky choices for the section on mammals, like for example a social media handle of tigers!

The chapters of mammals is a gateway to the lighter sections of the book, and with some really interesting creatures like otters, gibbons, tigers, pangolins and red pandas being the stars of this chapter, my job was made easier! Sometimes I fear that there’ll be a myriad wildlife at my doorstep one fine day demanding a percentage of royalties!

Your journey in conservation

I started birdwatching even before I started drawing wildlife cartoons. I remember that the first wild bird I ever saw as a newly initiated birdwatcher, was a laughing dove, and I find it quite metaphorical that I make (some) people laugh with bird cartoons today.I was volunteering for Kids for Tigers back in 2005 which eventually triggered my dormant interest in wildlife into an active one, and paved the way for Green Humour as a series. My mother Sulabha wore many hats (teacher, lawyer, journalist, writer), and even edited an environmental journal called Green Hope for a good part of her career. But what I am most grateful to her for is for passing on her rather outrageous sense of humour to me.

I have been influenced by several artists and the most prominent ones among them are cartoonists Gary Larson (The Far Side), Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes), Mark Parisi (Off the Mark) and Patrick McDonnell (Mutts), and the animator Genndy Tartakovsky (Dexter's Lab, Samurai Jack).

On man-animal conflict section that covers species like the world’s smallest monkey of Peru

The comic strip about the pygmy marmoset has an interesting story behind it. A reader from Peru had written to me saying that he refrained from buying a marmoset after reading my strip. It was the first time that I had managed to save the life of a wild animal with a comic, and I then truly started believing in the power of this medium. That led me to do more such cartoons where I speak of the plight of endangered animals.

On birds and their fascinating behaviour

Birds exude a mischief and character like no other kind of animal, and I must admit that I am very partial to birds as my muse! Bird behaviour has been one of the most interesting themes for me to explore with my art. My previous book Bird Business is a collection of 100 illustrated sequences of the behaviour of different Indian bird species.

On the ecosystem of coral reefs

I have had the sheer delight of snorkelling in the Coral Triangle, at the Flores Sea of Indonesia, home to some of the world’s most pristine reefs. While witnessing reefs was a magical moment in my life, it was also a startling one, as I was also witness to reef pollution and bleaching. It was then that I consciously started drawing more about the plight of coral reefs.

On making a political statement

A large section of my portfolio has been about the intersection of politics and environmental governance, and some of the comics, such as the Draft EIA 2020, have been important visual tools in protests against disastrous environmental policies. While my cartoons on wildlife biology are born out of coming across interesting trivia about wild animals, the political ones are conceived when a particular issue arises.

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