Rohan Chakravarty was almost a dentist. Almost. It would have been a significant loss for the world of wildlife conservation had he spent his life looking into people’s mouths. Sanity, and an irrevocable love for the wild, intervened and Rohan started to sketch animals. An illustrator, animator and a cartoonist, he revolutionised the way people looked at conservation. All his cartoons have a message and while they’re sparkling in their wit, they don’t preach and more importantly, they’re almost always written from an animal’s point of view.
Excerpts from an interview:
How did you decide to choose this form of conservation? Do you remember your first ever sketch?
I don’t quite remember my first sketch but I do remember that I loved drawing the rain as a kid. I was always a closeted wildlife lover but it came out into the open when I was seduced by a bathing tigress in 2005. Now bathing females make men do crazy things, so I decided to bid goodbye to a career in dentistry in 2010, merge the two things I loved the most – cartoons and wildlife – and see what came of it.
Humour is a tough act for an audience. Did you have to work at the tone to get it right or did that never come up?
I actually never actually thought about the audience when I began; I’ve always drawn cartoons for myself, for the pure fun of it. In my early days as a cartoonist, I had written to a senior cartoonist asking for his review of my work, and he quite rightly said that for my strip to be accepted readily by readers, I’d have to draw something that readers identified with, precisely, politicians, teenagers, babies, and pet cats. I decided to go with my gut and draw wildlife, because I relate better with animals rather than people. While I’ve enjoyed every bit of it thoroughly so far, the readership has also picked up slowly and steadily over the years, so the effort has not been in vain!
Where does the inspiration to draw come from? Your work is usually fairly newsy.
Inspiration is like that one special woman you chase with all you’ve got, and she never cares about you when the chase is on. When you let go of her, she often comes right back! I’ve had an extremely complicated love-hate relationship with Lady Inspiration. My sources could be anything from watching a thrush catch ground insects on a trek, to reading about a deep sea anglerfish on the web.
Conservation is tough, with brilliant moments of sunshine, but also avalanches of disappointment. Does this medium – of humour – to raise awareness shield you a bit as well as the reader?
There’s a funny side to everything that’s serious, and that’s true for conservation as well. Let me quote a really lame analogy to explain how in my view, cartoons contribute. You meet scores of relatives; uncles and aunts as a kid, but the ones you really grow to bond well with are those who make you laugh. That’s what cartoons do. If an animal makes you laugh in a cartoon or a comic, you’re more likely to remember it, befriend it and identify with its cause. It does mask some of the gruesomeness and gore, but I see my cartoons as a friendly, virtual hug that wildlife can offer to a layman.
You’ve just had an exhibition of your brilliant work. Is there a plan going forward? Was there ever one?
I have to say that I really like your taste. Kidding, but thank you! I’ve just wrapped my first solo exhibition up and it unexpectedly turned out to be a bumper success. The only real plan forward is to keep flirting with Lady Inspiration with all my charm, and to keep producing more cartoons. One of the things I enjoy most about my work is that I don’t have an example to follow. It means I have a whole new dark spot on the map to explore. I often back myself saying, “Come on buddy, this is you, Bartholomew Diaz and that’s wildlife, your Cape of Good Hope!”
Is there an encounter with a wild animal that changed you? It can be more than one.
I don’t remember a specific instance, but I think animals in general are responsible for giving me a sense of humour. Take eagles, for instance. They all look so formidable, with that perpetual, characteristic angry expression. The moment they open their bills to call out to their mates, they mew like little kittens!
What do you dream of for the wilderness? What is your ideal scenario?
An earth without humans. Bottomline. I believe that the planet has had enough of us and that we as a race must stop multiplying, to give the biosphere a chance to bounce back. You’d call me insane, but hey, being insane is a part of my job!
Sejal Mehta is a writer and editor. She is consultant editor at Marine Life of Mumbai, and writes about science, wildlife, travel, fiction and is a published author of children's books. Her past work includes Lonely Planet Magazine India, National Geographic Traveller India, Nature inFocus.