Pigs might have led the revolt in George Orwell’s satirical Animal Farm, the motley cast of characters from Lewis Carroll’s celebrated Alice books may be remembered for their idiosyncrasies, while the animals in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book chattered, argued and deftly conspired. In cartoonist Rohan Chakravarthy’s world, however, animals and birds stand out for their wicked sense of humour. They subtly mock the follies and foibles of humans and their world at large. For the 27-year-old wildlife cartoonist-illustrator, humour is then a weapon to pierce through the apathy and indifference of the public towards wildlife conservation.
In September 2014, Rohan’s first solo exhibition of wildlife caricatures at the Indian Cartoon Gallery, Bengaluru, attracted a wide variety of people from artists, students, teachers to environmentalists and writers. He is also collaborating with several NGOs to spread the message of conservation.
Rohan’s interest in nature was sparked in 2005, when he saw a tigress during his first safari at the Nagzira Wildlife sanctuary in Nagpur. During that same outing, Rohan, then 20, saw the dhole (wild dogs) too. “After the tigress and dhole sighting, I was hooked. I started to read to learn more about wildlife,” he says.
It also helped that his younger brother was a wildlife scientist. But the call of the wild had to wait till Rohan who was pursuing a course in dentistry, completed it.
So while the world got poorer by a dentist, it got instead a distinctly rare breed—a wildlife cartoonist. “I know of only three such persons, one who hails from Canada, another from Finland and the third, Arjun Srivathsa, also a full-time wildlife biologist,” says Rohan. To begin with, the Nagpur-born Rohan attempted various kinds of cartoons, but it was only with wildlife that he “found his rhythm”. By 2009-10, he had started freelancing for local journals and prominent wildlife magazines. On his brother’s suggestion, he created a blog ‘Green Humour’ to store all his cartoons. In 2013, Rohan registered it as a private domain.
Rohan still remembers his first wildlife cartoon: a picture of a smiling earth with abundant flora adorning it and next to it a teary earth bald save for one tree. There’s no dearth of inspiration for the cartoonist. From an armadillo to Attenborough, or even just the antics of his pet is enough to trigger an idea. Rohan also reads about wildlife, natural history and watches documentaries to stay up to date with the latest environment news. One of his favourite writers is the English naturalist-conservationist Gerald Durrell, whose vivid tales elicit barrels of laughter.
Through his cartoons, Rohan hopes to both educate and entertain. “My aim is to create laughter and if it also helps spread the message of conservation, that’s a bonus,” he says. Rohan’s cartoons are now an internationally syndicated series, courtesy the website www.gocomics.com, where there’s a whole page devoted to ‘Green Humour’. He’s also begun a new line of merchandise, selling mugs, coasters and fridge magnets, posters with his wildlife caricatures on them.
When asked what creature he would like to be portrayed as in his cartoon strip, he says, “A bat. Bats have this topsy-turvy view of the world.” He laughs and adds, “But not a vampire bat, rather a peace-loving one.”