Published: 23rd September 2020
Here's why cartoonist Rohan Chakravarty's Green Humour page will get you thinking about conservation with a laugh
In Rohan Chakravarty's world of comics, animals have tongues as sharp as knives and they use them to tell you about their woes in a way that forces you to sit up and care. Are you ready to plunge in?
Ever had the chance to spot a bearded vulture whose delivery of dialogues from Hamlet will put even a seasoned theatre artist to shame? Or a woke elephant who reads the newspaper? If your answer to the above questions is yes, then you are familiar with cartoonist Rohan Chakravarty's brand of humour and comics. This illustrator has mastered the art of anthropomorphism, which in layman's terms means attributing human traits to animals, and through it, he doesn't just simplify conservation issues but also humanises the plight of animals in a way that makes us understand that they are at the receiving end of everything man-made. For example, the lament of the grey slender loris who feels that the 'slender' in his name refers to his chances of survival especially since his habitat is being incessantly destroyed or how the Malabar grey hornbill and other endemic animals protest against the railway lines through the Western Ghats. It's like his comic strips lend a voice to the voiceless so that we can empathise and stand with them. "I always envision my comic strips as a friendly handshake between wildlife and a layman," says Rohan, effectively summing it up.
It is this 33-year-old who has become India's favourite wildlife buff-cum-cartoonist by not only running the popular Instagram and Facebook page Green Humour, but also illustrating for a few leading dailies and weekly newspapers and magazines. His interest in cartooning began when he was pursuing his Bachelor's in Dental Surgery in Nagpur, his hometown. And when he signed up for Kids For Tigers, an outreach programme of the magazine Sanctuary Asia, wildlife and nature caught his attention. Two things happened then. His dormant interest in wildlife was awakened and his comics found a new aim — simplifying the jargon around conservation and using cartoons as a means to do it.
About Arctic wildfires | Courtesy: Rohan Chakravarty
Describing his journey as "meandering", the cartoonist, who is currently settled in Hyderabad, tells us that his four-year stint at a multimedia company in Bengaluru, doing a job centred around animation and illustration, gave him the chance to hone his skills. And then his big break happened when he hosted a solo exhibition of his work in 2014. What made the youngster take that leap of faith? "A certain kind of monotony had set in," he says melancholily. But there was no looking back from that. He became the first Indian cartoonist to be picked up for online syndication of his work by the Universal Press Syndicate and this was the first in what is now a string of achievements.
But Rohan is not an armchair cartoonist. He's out there on the ground as much as he can be, researching an issue or a project he is commissioned to cover — like when he visited certain pockets of the Nag river in Nagpur to understand the predicament of the river, which gave Nagpur its name once upon a time but is now reduced to a 'nala' meaning sewer. This tale is narrated by a spectacled cobra in his comic strip. There's also the time when he travelled to Hong Kong, in 2017 to be precise, at the behest of World Wildlife Fund to conduct research for a map of the country's national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. And the extra information he gathers on these trips while interacting with natives and observing wildlife act as fodder for his comic strips. "I have travelled to China, Bhutan, Hong Kong and Nepal, not too many places. I am afraid my work has travelled more than me," he laughs as he shares how he has worked for organisations in Canada and The Bahamas as well.
Illustration from book bird business | Courtesy: Rohan Chakravarty
For the kind of output Rohan produces, there ought to be that much input in terms of researchers, we reckon. The artist confirms and adds that he follows two ground rules, "Never believe anything you read on WhatsApp and do multiple verifications." Steering the conversation towards the status of wildlife conservation in India today, vis-à-vis the government, which he has been vocal about through his work, he says, "We have always had an inept environmental ministry, but the one we have today is committed to environmental destruction in ways that are unprecedented," he laments and adds, "Which is why, the time has come to use my skills to target a new demographic, one that has not engaged with matters of the environment before." Rohan, who has 119k followers on Instagram, is grateful for the power of social media which helps him achieve this.
The author of two books — the latest one being Bird Business which was four years in the making and was released last year — plans to put out another book next year which will be a compilation of all his work and continue to introduce us to a world of comics where animals are not bystanders, they unleash their sarcasm-laced anguish and show humanity that it's time we really listen to them.
Edex and The New Indian Express have been curating the 40 Under Forty list since 2017. We featured collections of impactful grassroots teachers in 2017, innovative start-ups in 2018 and environmental impact-makers in 2019. All the people selected have been chosen after a careful process of editorial selection and nomination. Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org