Published: 16th December 2021
Cartoonist Rohan Chakravarty's latest book unravels nature's mysteries and pays tribute to the classics
Called Naturalist Ruddy, this book that was released in October is about a mongoose solving the mysteries of nature
Stealth, vigilance and an aura of a sleuth — these are the qualities that convinced artist and cartoonist Rohan Chakravarty to pick a mongoose as the detective and protagonist of his latest book, Naturalist Ruddy. "Also because larger animals like tigers belong to a very macro environment. I needed to go into depths, a micro-ecosystem," explains the Hyderabad-based wildlife buff who is best known for his cartoon column Green Humour. This is how the 116-page comic book came out in October and the last time we checked, it had sold over 2,500 copies.
Front cover of the book
"I prepared for this book like a method actor by reading detective fiction, a genre I have avoided all my life," says Rohan. It was the first lockdown in 2020 that instigated him to begin working on this idea that had been brewing in his head since 2016. He started with reading Sherlock Holmes, Feluda (a Bengali investigator conceived by auteur Satyajit Ray) and binge-watching movies of Alfred Hitchcock, plus Chinatown and Byomkesh Bakshi. If you have read and watched them too, you'll notice the subtle hat tips to these classics in his book. Like the cover of Naturalist Ruddy itself is similar to the poster of Byomkesh Bakshi (the movie which released in 2015). Very, very "noir", as many of the reviewers on Amazon stated. "Yes, the characters in the book are morally ambiguous with shades of gray. Even Ruddy for that matter, he is a very simple-minded and straight forward detective, but he has a grey side too," shares the artist. Even the comic Slylock Fox by Bob Weber Jr finds a tribute in the novel.
Now to the self-confessed boring part of the research, as Rohan puts it, the endless and dreary scientific papers that he needed to go through to develop each of the 39 cases that feature in the book. These cases are actual mysterious phenomena that occur in nature and Ruddy solves them with the help of experts. For one such case that Ruddy is tasked with, the mongoose finds a coded ring below an eagle's nest. How did he get to the bottom of it? By finding out that it belonged to a greylag goose, who was tagged by scientists via a ring for research purposes. On its way to migrating in Narmada, the eagle killed it to feed its chicks and the ring fell below its nest. Apart from reading, Rohan consulted scientist Tuhina Katti from the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) to get his facts right for this case. "Actually, this story itself is a tribute to Sherlock Holmes' tale The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, where a stolen blue jewel was discovered inside the throat of a dead goose,” he informs. This book certainly has more layers than one would imagine.
Ruddy and the yellow carbuncle
These layers with reference to classic literature and pop culture movies not only make the book more appealing, but also help retain the otherwise heavy information that the book presents in the form of bite-sized cases that Ruddy is out to solve. Rohan plays on his strength to make scientific information more consumable for the general masses by deciphering scientific papers and credits scientists for it.
Rohan did not back away from portraying nature as it is, complete with a touch of violence, gore and a fair bit of copulation as well. "I did not mince any words for which I assumed that I would receive backlash for, especially from parents. But the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive with youngsters using it to have healthy conversations about intercourse," explains the cartoonist whose cartoon columns feature in prominent dailies. The instance he is referring to is the orchid flower that looks like a bee to fool real bees into copulating with them which, in turn, results in pollination.
From one of the cases
Rohan’s book is even being used in classes, much to his delight. Filmmaker and teacher Sreemoyee Singh used one of the cases in her noir appreciation class. "In this case, Ruddy had a bandaged nose, much like Jack Nicholson in the movie Chinatown," he points out. In another instance, the book helped a child answer a question posed by the Nature Conservation Foundation. Rohan has had two books out this year, the first one being a compilation of his published comics and hence, he says that Naturalist Ruddy is going to be his last book for a while. While Rohan is not somebody who is fond of sequels, the cliffhanger that this book ends with would certainly leave anyone wanting for more.