Conservationist Who Saves The Earth With Wild Laughter Lines



Award-winning Indian cartoonist Rohan Chakravarty relates more to animals than people.

By Leena Ghosh

Not so long ago, a tigress bathed in a waterhole at Nagzira Wildlife Sanctuary. This spectacle drew cries of wonder. Some spectators took pictures. Unbeknown to the spectators and the spectacle, at that moment, a cartoonist was born. This is the story of cartoonist Rohan Chakravarty, winner of WWF International President’s Award for Young Conservationists.

On route to becoming a dentist, Rohan’s career path took a dramatic turn when he met his first tigress in the wild and decided to drop the excavators in favour of pen and paper. He says, “I have always been into the habit of making mischief with pen and paper, but it was only when I met my first tigress in the wild that this mischief assumed a direction and motive. Although I was studying to be a dentist, cartooning and wildlife kept me sane and helped ward off frustration in those horrifying days of peeping into rotten mouths. After finishing my course, I gave it up, decided to merge the rum and coke of my life (cartoons and wildlife), and they sure have mixed well,” Rohan exclaims.

The journey from dentistry to doodling wasn’t as dramatic. He had a day time job in a multimedia firm in Bangalore for three years before taking the final plunge as a full time cartoonist. Rohan explains, “One cannot just jump into cartooning for a full time career, especially in a country like India, where your choice of career is governed by things as absurd as the careers of your peers and your matrimonial prospects. I needed a day job to see myself through as a cartoonist, and worked for three years with a multimedia firm in Bangalore, first as the animation designer and later, as animation director. This gave me the financial backing to develop my series Green Humour and to have it taken seriously. Eventually, I held my first solo exhibition in Bangalore, which turned out to be a commercial success, and by then, the Universal Press Syndicate, too, had chosen Green Humour for international syndication on their website Gocomics (making it the only series of comic strips from India to be distributed by a major international syndicate). This gave me the push to quit my day job and plunge into cartooning fulltime.”




For as far back as he can remember, Chakravarty has been doodling on various topics, but he has always been drawn to wildlife. “I am sure I have been sketching right from the day I was conceived. I do vaguely remember Mother coughing up balls of charcoal from remnants of my doodles in her womb, but I can’t really be sure. I have dabbled a lot, especially during my animation days, having done cartoons on everything from politics, social issues, movies and showbiz, but nothing gave me the sort of creative contentment that drawing wildlife did. I guess I just relate with animals much better than with people,” he adds.

With over 400 published works (on Green Humour), Chakravarty, probably, has one of the largest online compilation of comics. And he often draws inspiration from personal experiences. “I am an irritatingly restless character, and nothing makes me more restless that seeing a particular animal or bird and not knowing anything about it. The best way to learn more about animals, for me, is to draw about them. That helps keep my series going and unintentionally brings in a sense of discipline into my schedule.”

That is not to say that he, like any artist, does not experience a creative block, but he has a unique way of overcoming it. It is a five-step process. “Inspiration is like a fat gecko on the wall. When you are looking for it, it hides behind the clock. When you least expect it, it falls on to your lap. I experience creative blocks just about every other day. There are five essential stages in dealing with a creative block – 1. Sulk. 2. Brood over how your career is on the verge of complete collapse. 3. Take a look at the deadline. 4. Panic. 5. Get back to work.”

Jokes apart, Chakravarty feels strongly about the need to protect and nurture the environment and hopes his work will eventually influence people’s decisions. He points out, “I try to cover as many environmental issues as possible in my comics, issues — of national and international scope. There are, of course, some that I gravitate more towards. Population control is one such issue. In India, there is very little serious discussion about population control and I hope to change this with my comics. The illegal trade of wildlife is another issue I feel strongly about. I hope that my comics will succeed in changing people’s perceptions about wild animals.”

Outside of comics, Chakravarty has been a part of many environmental projects as an illustrator. “Other than comics — mostly done for my weekend columns with newspapers, I collaborate with organisations over projects on wildlife conservation and awareness as an illustrator. I have done illustrated posters and maps for organisations in India and abroad, such as the state forest departments of Karnataka, Arunachal and Madhya Pradesh, WWF India and Bhutan, the Heart of Borneo Research Programmes, Wildlife Trust of India, the Rare Species Trust in the UK and others. My upcoming projects include comics and illustrations for the Save our Seas Foundation in the Seychelles, a few children’s books on Indian wildlife, and many more illustrated maps on Indian wildlife.”

With so much going on, fans of Chakravarty’s work will have to wait for an anthology. “I am currently juggling packed schedules. An anthology of comics, that was in the pipeline, has had to be put on hold. If only I had a Giant Pacific Octopus for an intern,” he exclaims.

Before Rohan signs off, he has a few words of advice for cartoonists trying to make it in the age of social media. “I increasingly see young cartoonists trying too hard to be ‘hip’ and in-with-the-times, even compromising on good writing to sound ‘cool’. Maybe, it works better with the readers of today, but I prefer the old-fashioned approach, where a lot of emphasis was laid on the quality of art and writing. In my view, that ultimately separates an artist from the rest of the crowd; quality, rather than how many ‘likes’ and ‘thumbs-ups’ your stick figure meme has got on social media, which you have proudly been passing around as a ‘cartoon’. But then, I am no Reuben winner, so take me seriously at your own risk,” he concludes.