Rohan Chakravarty's Environmental Comic Strip Both Amuses & Informs - Homegrown

Rohan Chakravarty's Environmental Comic Strip Both Amuses & Informs

A couple of months ago, Al Jazeera published a scathing review of sorts that accused our current prime minister of waging a war on the environment. It was shared by thousands, commented on by more, and in general, created the kind of aggressive dialogue India has been lacking in this space for far too long. And while we have nothing but respect for the researched and nuanced approach the publication took (as per what they stand for) there’s a need for varying kinds of content that engage different sects of society—those who may not have come across or engaged in such discourse otherwise—in newer ways.
Enter Rohan Chakravarty and his zany cartoons. For a little over six years now, the Bangalore-based dentist and animation designer has been creating satirical strips on the environment in a manner that will draw you in with their wit and leave you with their thoughtfulness and importance still imprinted upon your mind.
Chakravarty told Wild Navigator that his passion for the natural world was triggered in 2005 when he was at the Nagzira Wildlife Sanctuary.
“Scenes depicting gorgeous females in bathtubs have been the turning points in many a Hitchcock thrillers, and the one in my life has definitely been so for me; just that in my case, the female was of a different species and the water hole was much larger than any of Hitchcock’s bathtubs!” he commented, capturing at once his ability to adapt environmental issues and make them instantly relatable to a pop culture-fed generation. Considering we’re the youngest country in the world right now, his approach couldn’t be better timed, either.
Over time, he found himself becoming more and more interested in wildlife and started a nature club with some friends. But the turning point came in January 2009, when he started Green Humour, the blog where he posts his cartoons on wildlife, environment and conservation.
Like many satirists before him, he quickly realized that humour is the best way to communicate important issues to the public—and people have definitely taken notice. Apart from being published in magazines such as Sanctuary Asia and environmental journals like Current Conservation and Saevus, Chakravarty’s work has won prestigious awards—his depiction of climate change in the Sunderbans won first prize in the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and French Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Asia-Pacific Cartoon Contest titled Climate Change: A People's Perspective.
From the lax implementation of laws and greedy land acquisition in the name of economic progress, to disappearing natural habitat and the rapid decline of species, Chakravarty has been taking the mundane and making it magical.
More interestingly still, his protagonists are always animals. You’ll never see a human activist campaigning in his cartoons. “We may not consciously realize, but it sure is a fact that our minds relate instantly with animal characters. From Disney’s movies to Hanna-Barbera’s TV shows, Bill Watterson’s tigers to Gary Larson’s cows and chickens, we have for decades enjoyed, felt for and communicated with anthropomorphized animals. And there’s nothing better to endorse the issues concerning wildlife than wild animals themselves, which is why I have always attempted to use them to get readers interested to know more about the subject of my cartoons,” he says in the Wild Navigator article.
Chakavarty is also pretty active on social media and posts links to his cartoons to his 12,000+ followers. The latest one is called #selfiewithatiger, which mocks Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flop #selfiewithdaughter initiative:
Have you participated in our PM's new ‪#‎selfiewithatiger campaign? It's really simple and fun!
Step#1- Get the MoEF* to give away clearances for destroying critical tiger habitat. Step#2- Get the NHAI** or any mining/ power corporation/ industry of your choice to destroy critical tiger habitat. Step#3- Click a selfie with a tiger and its destroyed habitat. Step#4- Upload it to your social media!
*MoEF = Ministry of Environment & Forests **NHAI = National Highway Authority of India
We got Chakravarty to answer a few quick questions and asked him to share a few Green Humour cartoons. Scroll, enjoy, and make some time to delve deeper into his blog. You won’t regret it.
NB: What's your favourite animal and why?
Chakravarty: I thought this interview would go easy, but you’ve started with the toughest question! At this instant, I’d say it is the Dhole (The Asiatic Wild Dog). Handsome, orange, unique, vicious and at the same time co-operative, ruthless and yet peace-loving. Dhole clans are known for their great tolerance of other members—and greater equality when compared to wolves. They're the kind of animals that humanity could really borrow a lesson or two from! I also relate with them because of their utter lack of table manners—they start eating a deer even before it is dead. I have often received such remarks about my dining etiquette.

NB:  What are your feelings on India's wildlife conservation efforts.
Chakravarty: Coming from a wildlife lover’s viewpoint, they’d always seem inadequate, but I must admit that they’ve been way better than the West. However, I dread where things are heading under the current government, which is blinded in its greed for what it defines as 'development'.

NB: Your favourite wildlife park in India?
Chakravarty: Among the ones I have been to, it has to be Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh. Mixed evergreen sal landscape interspersed with deciduous goodness, meadows, streams, lakes and hills, combined with that magical aroma of the Central Indian forest. In my opinion, Kanha is the mother of Indian jungles (minus the tourist traffic of course)!

NB: Three animals in the wild that everyone should see once in their life?
Chakravarty: I’ll name three birds: the Great Hornbill, the Bugun Liocichla (I’m very boastful about being one of the handful of people to have seen this one!) and the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher (I’m still on this one’s trail).

NB: International wildlife policies that India could do with implementing?
Chakravarty: Let me turn this one around and tell you three things that the West immediately needs to learn from India—a ban on trophies, a ban on dolphin shows and greater compassion and consideration in cases of conflict. As for India, what it urgently needs to do is drop the ‘un’ from ‘unplanned development’, and put the environment minister in the right job: stand-up comedy.

NB: Your idea of an ideal vacation?
Chakravarty: My pair of binocs, my pocket notebook, the hills, the birds and the mist, early mornings, solitude (or the company of a person who also enjoys being quiet) and coffee. And the Drongo-Cuckoo singing its concert in the background; maybe an osprey swooping down at a huge river fish somewhere in the distance. No man-made music, please.

NB: One thing that most people don't know about you
Chakravarty: I cannot stand human babies—every single one, without any prejudice. I once put up a sign outside my door that read, 'Shoes and babies not allowed beyond this point'. Sometimes, I chew my toenails
NB: Who are the cartoonists and/or environmentalists that you look up to?
Chakravarty: Cartoonists—Gary Larson, Patrick Mcdonnell, Bill Watterson, animator Genndy Tartakovsky, humorist Woody Allen. Biologists and naturalists—EH Aitkien, Aldo Leopold, Dr. Salim Ali.
NB:  What's your favourite Instagram account?
Chakravarty: Insta-what? I only happened to join Twitter, like, a month ago!

NB: Three-to-five things you never travel without?
Chakravarty: Binoculars, a little notebook, a little camera, the birding field guide, sachets of coffee powder, chocolate, backache ointment, knee cap, and a tattered old grey t-shirt I consider auspicious because I saw my first Great Hornbills wearing it.

Words: Neville Bhandara


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