This dentist-turned-cartoonist uses humour to talk about wildlife conservation. See pics
A caricature of an Indian Hive Bee carrying pollen baskets is accompanied with the message, “Carry your own shopping bags”. A Bactrian Camel, sauntering with his double hump, advises, “Carry your own water bottles to avoid using plastics”.
Witty, non-preachy and extremely relevant, dentist-turned-wildlife cartoonist Rohan Chakravarty’s messages on wildlife conservation makes an immediate connect with his readers and leaves an impact. Humour, after all, has the power to make even the most complicated message easily accessible, understandable and digestible. Thirty-years and “18 grey hair strands”-old, Chakravarty has a web column of his cartoon strips (www.greenhumour.com), apart from columns in two newspapers. He has done illustrated maps for national parks and wildlife sanctuaries — both national and international — and does a comic strip for a Turkish children’s magazine. He is also working with WWF-India on a children’s book and has just received the RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland) Earth Hero Award for his portrayal of critical wildlife issues through comic strips in India.
Of course, none of it came easy. Admittedly, Chakravarty took up dentistry only because in a small place like Nagpur where he comes from, medicine and engineering are still the only two professions that are considered “respectable”. He soon gave it up, realising it was not something he enjoyed. A trip to the Nagzira wildlife sanctuary in Maharashtra, however, opened up a door to self-discovery.
“My interest in both wildlife and cartooning was a dormant one, until I met my first wild tigress, bathing in a watering hole in the sanctuary. A feline gaze has been proved to be magical, and it’s even more so when they are that of a tigress. It was a catalyst moment, and made me decide to switch careers,” he said. Things looked clearer even as the path ahead was full of challenges. As if it were not enough that a cartoonist may take a long time to find his footing, in India it is even more so if your subjects are not politicians but wild animals. Open any newspaper or magazine, and chances are the cartoon strips you see are political in nature.
“It was a struggle. I had to do a day job as an animation designer for a film studio in Bangalore for three years to sustain myself before I could take the plunge into full-time cartooning,” he said. Although his work repertoire includes cartoons on all wild animals and birds, Chakravarty admits that he focuses on animals other than tigers and elephants from the conservation point of view.
A comic strip on his web column for example illustrates 12 New Year resolutions, based on 12 different, lesser-known animals and their unique characteristics. One resolution suggests, “Adopt organic fashion accessories” and illustrates a heap of grass balancing between the horns of a Barasingha. “Convert plastic waste into home decor” says another and shows a fancy nest of the Vogelkop Bowerbird. These birds are known to build beautiful shelters to attract mates. Another resolution admonishes haughtiness over hand-me-downs. “Quit being a snob about second-hand clothing. It’s sustainable fashion!” says a hermit crab. The seemingly simple one-liners with beautiful illustrations create awareness about these lesser known animals as well as brings home the point of how little changes can help conserve the environment.
“Our minds are accustomed to retaining and responding better to messages when presented in a visual format. When these messages are humorous, you respond even better,” Chakravarty explains. “Cartoons in wildlife work in three easy ways — they spread the message on conservation without preaching, break down scientific jargon into understandable visual information, and develop love and curiosity for wildlife among laymen.” A visual of a snake shedding its skin — the scientific term is called Ecdysis — to moult into a new one, accompanied with hashtags #newyearnewme, #makeover, pretty much illustrates the point.
Planning for the future, Chakravarty says, is for cubicle-based jobs, and he takes each day and assignment as it comes: “I have two conditions — impact of the project on awareness and conservation, and how much fun will I have doing it.” The years of hard work and self-teaching are paying off, he goes on to say, although new challenges come up every now and then. “A recent challenge is trolling from a certain section of readers online. A lot of my cartoons talk about the ruling government’s callous attitude towards conservation, which does not go down well with loyalists. Having said that, the general response has been great.” With the firm backing of his family — including “five stray dogs and two creepy house geckos, one at the window and the other in the letterbox” — Chakravarty looks ahead to creating bigger ripples, one witty-smart comic strip at a time.
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