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Verve People
August 26, 2020

A Sketch In Time

Text by Reem Khokhar

Rohan Chakravarty, the award-winning creator of Green Humour, a series of eco-focused comics and illustrations, looks back on a decade of being one of the most engaging voices within the sphere of environmental conservation and stresses on the need to participate in the conversation

Over the phone, he is steady and measured in his responses, a contrast to his gregarious, visual voice. Rohan Chakravarty is the award-winning creator of Green Humour, an entertaining collection of cartoons, comic strips and illustrations on wildlife and the environment (possibly the largest repository of its kind on the web – greenhumour.com – with over 700 pieces). While growing up in Nagpur in the ’90s, for Chakravarty, it was the national parks around the Maharashtrian city and the conversations with his wildlife-loving grandfather that set the foundation for his future passion.

But his path toward nature conservation was meandering. Chakravarty first studied dentistry, which he says was “not my calling”, and then went on to work in animation. Moonlighting as an illustrator in his spare time, he merged his interest in wildlife with art, launching Green Humour in 2010. The first Indian cartoonist to be distributed by an international comics platform, he quit his day job in 2014 – the year after Green Humour debuted on GoComics – to make drawing his full-time occupation.

In his work, fun facts about wildlife intersect with pop culture references and Chakravarty’s astute commentary on the social and political issues impacting the environment. Breaking down complex issues for the uninitiated, he encourages his readers to participate in the conversation and challenges the institutional ineptitude and deep-rooted social behaviours that threaten the environment. Chakravarty’s entertaining style has facilitated his art’s entry into a variety of cultural resources: books for children and adults alike, illustrated maps for forest departments and environmental agencies, workshops, exhibitions, and comics for various national and international media. A decade after he started Green Humour, he is one of the most accessible and compelling voices in this space today, thanks to his social media savvy (he has almost 1,20,000 followers on Instagram alone).

A polar bear shouting at climate change deniers while Arctic fires rage behind. A tiger asking for the resignation of the Environmental Minister. A White Chippi tree pointing out the double standards of naming it as Maharashtra’s state mangrove tree while doing little for mangrove conservation. “Yes, there is an angrier tone recently. This government refuses to listen. That tone will probably continue in my work in the days to come,” he signs off.

Excerpts from a conversation…

On his consistent prolificness…
“The whole canvas of nature and wildlife is endless. There is a pressure to translate what I have learned for my audience. In this decade, the focus of Green Humour has remained on wildlife and conservation, but the way I tackle it has evolved. Initially, I focused on fun wildlife facts and trivia. But now, much of my work picks up on and attempts to break down social and political issues that intersect with environmental conservation.”

On his desire to enable compassion and remove the fear of the unfamiliar in children…
“It can be a challenge for urban children to develop an interest in wildlife. I developed an interest only in my late teens when I began volunteering at Kids for Tigers, an outreach programme by Sanctuary Asia. After just one or two nature walks, you start observing things around you. Once you take those first steps, it’s quite hard to go back. It’s heartening to see kids engaging with my work and sending me drawings or comic strips based on my own.”

On his unique style…
“My motive is to learn more. I did not specialise in ecology and wildlife conservation. If I had, I may have been at a disadvantage because that would have created a difference in perception between a layperson and myself. I do not put out anything that I do not understand myself. Being a layperson has helped me connect better with my readers.”

On using Green Humour to document his observations and encourage debate and action…
“The government has taken advantage of the lockdown and is passing some policies digitally, like the Draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020. The people who live around the forest areas and will be majorly impacted by this do not have online access. In the past, indigenous communities have shared information with forest departments, and their voices had the ability to stall projects. This is what the government is trying to bypass, but the collective offline and online voice has been impressive – from not just those who are directly impacted but so many environmentally conscious citizens. I haven’t seen this kind of support in past environmental campaigns.”

On the tangible impact of Green Humour…
“So many readers have written to me about how the comic medium has helped them to engage with various issues. You can’t expect everyone to understand the draft of the EIA, for instance. My comics on the illegal pygmy marmoset trade helped a reader in Peru decide against getting one. Some French readers stopped buying civet coffee after they learned about the unethical production process. After my strip on eco-friendly sanitary pads came out, several Indian readers, previously unaware of biodegradable options, told me that they had made the switch.”

On busting myths…
“Bats are being blamed as the source of the coronavirus. The truth is that the virus spread not because bats carry COVID, but how wild meat is being sold in wet markets in Wuhan in China. Humans wouldn’t usually come into contact with a horseshoe bat in urban settings. We shouldn’t be blaming wildlife for viral epidemics. Poaching and wildlife trade has to be regulated universally, and in India, we need better enforcement. And because epidemics have proven to have links with deforestation (for example, Nipah), the government should reorient its approach to development to revolve around the conservation of existing green cover.”

On reorienting his working process in light of the new normal…
“I have previously been quite ignorant of my immediate surroundings. While in lockdown, I started documenting the insect and invertebrate life within my four walls in a “home biodiversity” series. I will probably do something in the future with all the new things I am learning now. Currently, I am working on various projects. A compilation of all my comic strips is coming out as a book in June 2021, and I am also working on a new map for the Sikkim Forest Department in a thangka-and-cartoon hybrid style.”

On the need for increased public engagement…
“It is necessary in order to deal with burning issues around conservation. Everyone needs to participate. Mis-governance is one problem, but we don’t speak enough about another sensitive issue that impacts the environment – overpopulation. The carbon footprint of someone in the West is five times greater than the average Indian, but our large population is directly depleting our natural resources. There are various means to tackle this, like better education and women empowerment. I believe the onus lies on the privileged – those who have educational and financial backing – to make a difference.”

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