These days, Rohan Chakravarty is fascinated by Giri’s geckoella (Cyrtodactylus varadgirii). The creator of Green Humour, a cartoon strip with sharp insights into wildlife and ecology, first became aware of the gecko while working on a biodiversity map of Mumbai during last year’s lockdown. The map’s interactive avatar, done for the Ministry of Mumbai’s Magic, a citizens’ movement to protect the city’s ecology, went live last week.
Chakravarty’s satirical, educative and informative takes on the environment and wildlife, politics, and now covid-19, have won him a loyal following even amongst science and ecology circles in India and abroad. His fourth book Green Humour For A Greying Planet, published late last month, is a compilation of his work. Over the past decade, his cartoons have found space in a host of news publications as well as the Universal Press Syndicate, the American comic syndicate platform that also has comic strips like Calvin And Hobbes, Garfield and Pearls Before Swine.
Today, he is one of the few cartoonists focused on conservation issues. Forest and wildlife departments have been impressed enough to ask him to create mascots for—as well as maps and illustrations for information centres at—national parks and sanctuaries. In fact, it was the “generosity and kindness of the science circle and wildlife enthusiasts” that made his first show in Bengaluru possible in 2015, enabling him to take up cartooning full time.
As it happens, Green Humour owes its origins to a tigress. It was 2005, and Chakravarty was a first-year dentistry student when he spotted a tigress bathing at a watering hole in Maharashtra’s Nagzira wildlife sanctuary, he recalls during a Zoom call from his home-town, Nagpur. The tigress finds mention in his new book, with a sketch on the dedication page. It wasn’t till 2010, though, that Chakravarty started Green Humour, while working at an animation film studio in Bengaluru.
Through it all, his own sensibilities have evolved too. Earlier, he would use male characters in his cartoons. “I started receiving complaints from readers that I wasn’t being inclusive of other genders and communities. It helped me experiment and bring in new perspectives later on,” says Chakravarty, who is deeply influenced by cartoonists Bill Watterson (Calvin And Hobbes) and Genndy Tartakovsky (Dexter’s Laboratory).
Chakravarty hopes people will enjoy his book, already into its first reprint. “Only if they enjoy will readers be open to taking away a lesson or two about nature and wildlife conservation,” says the 33-year-old, who lives in Hyderabad.
He knows there is a long way to go. For while the pandemic may have enhanced concerns about ecology, the big picture hasn’t changed. “It takes an environmentally literate government to realise this. I don’t think India has it yet. Look at the kind of policies the government has passed in 2020 alone; it really doesn’t show any signs of taking this seriously,” says Chakravarty.
He points to the draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) rules, the infrastructure projects planned at the Mollem national park in Goa, clearance for the Dibang valley dam in Arunachal Pradesh, and the trees that will be lost to the Union government’s Central Vista project in Delhi.
What does give him hope is that more youngsters are becoming involved. Even the tone is changing, from scientific and serious to inclusive and diverse. He cites the opposition to draft EIA rules and the Mollem projects.
“Both these developments happened during the lockdown when protests on the road were not a possibility. The youth made it possible to protest digitally and that was a big success,” he says. The Mollem projects were cancelled in April, and the draft EIA notification is at present on hold.
He is conscious of the political and social environment he is working in; it doesn’t deter him but he does believe every cartoonist today should have a lawyer. “It’s a gloomy environment to be a cartoonist in but there are also ways to circumvent this. The way I see it, it’s like an evolutionary arms race between censorship and the artist. The better artist you are, the more creative ways you will find to circumvent censorship barriers,” says Chakravarty. Trolling is an inevitability but he is “somewhat proud” that he gets attacked by all circles—“right-wingers, liberals and even vegans”.
For him, success lies in enabling local communities to take pride in their region and its wildlife. For instance, when his maps and illustrations evoke “a sense of guardianship...a very important connect to make for any illustrator”.
Like Watterson, Chakravarty too wants to create a niche. “He secretly rebelled against the publishing world, went against merchandise, all popular methods of publishing, and created his own niche. And that’s something I would like to do with my work as well.”