Environmental consciousness has risen to the fore in the Indian psyche only in recent years. However, there is one cartoonist who has been using humour and illustrations to focus on serious issues like climate change, human sustainability, and wildlife conservation for some time now.
Rohan Chakravarty, a Delhi based illustrator, was born in Nagpur and started drawing professionally when he was just 16 years old.
He says, “I started dabbling with a lot of different themes but really found my calling when I made sketches of wildlife in 2008. My mother, a former journalist, used to run a magazine related to wildlife conservation and I would regularly contribute my illustrations there.”
Was he inspired by his mother to make cartoons about the environment? Rohan says, “No, in fact my mother was inspired to take up wildlife conservation only after I did. I used to volunteer for an NGO based out of Nagpur called Kids for Tigers. It was an initiative spearheaded by Sanctuary Asia, a wildlife magazine based out of Bombay. I used to take kids for bird watching around Nagpur and that’s how I got interested in wildlife conservation.”
So when did he realise that his art and activism could work in tandem?
The 29-year-old cartoonist says, “I was studying to be a dentist and I hated it to the core. During those days, cartoons were a medium through which I could escape the drudgery of my daily life. But after I finished the course I realised that peeping into open mouths isn’t what I wanted to do. So I started training myself and enrolled in an animation course. I started working as an animator in Bangalore in 2011 and launched my website called Green Humour.”
Green Humour features comic illustrations about serious issues – from nature conservation and depleting green cover, to surprising facts about the millions of animals, birds and insects that inhabit our planet.
Rohan’s work on Green Humour has been featured on numerous media channels like National Geographic Traveller, Tinkle Digest, and Sanctuary Asia. The artwork on the website has been used for campaigns related to conservation by organisations like World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Wildlife Trust of India, the Arunachal Pradesh State Forest Department, and Birdlife International.
Rohan’s illustrations of the Sundarbans on Green Humour have also won the Cartoon Contest on Climate Change, which was organised by the United Nations Development Program and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in February 2012.
His work is regularly commissioned by various organisations in India, including Mid-Day, where he is a weekly columnist. He says, “This is a new format for me – called the Sunday comics format; it lets me experiment and use colours. And reader response has been very constructive and overwhelming. It is an exciting project because Sunday comics tend to be larger than the daily strip; it also allows to me to give meaningful, well-structured messages.”
Since very few media organisations in India report on wildlife conservation and the environment, where does Rohan source his stories from? He says, “I get inspired by very random things; I could find something interesting to draw about while browsing through the web or I could meet a fascinating creature on a nature trail/trek. I travel a lot for my work and otherwise too. So, if I encounter an interesting creature while trekking through the Western Ghats or the Himalayas, I make it a point to draw a cartoon of it.”
In 2015, he draw a hornbill called Billo, which was commissioned by the Karnataka Forest Department and later used in postage stamps. The mascot was made for an event called the All India Forest Sports, which was a sports competition for forest staff across the country.
Recently, Rohan spent a week in Bhutan because he was commissioned by WWF Bhutan to draw an illustrated map showing the entire country’s wildlife in a caricatured format. This was an eye-opening experience for him because not only did he get to observe the diversity of fauna in Bhutan, but he also participated in regional traditions that allowed him to interact with locals.
Rohan feels that illustrated maps are important because they give him a chance to do something relevant to communities that are living around National Parks and Reserves. He says, “These kinds of projects are what make locals feel a sense of pride and ownership about their place. This is because I depict the cultural elements as well the interdependence between the fauna and the communities that inhabit areas close to the parks. I think this goes a long way in terms of conservation awareness.”