Green Humour cartoonist Rohan Chakravarty on making science accessible, need for a govt that listens

·3 min read

Rohan Chakravarty (@greenhumour) has been drawing cartoons and sketches his whole life, with his school notebooks being filled with more cartoons than text. His greatest early influence was watching the show Dexter's Laboratory. "I watched a lot of shows, but that was the one that influenced my humour and style. In fact, my last book is actually a dedication to him," says Chakravarty in an interview with Firstpost. Growing up in Nagpur though, he didn't know much about alternate career options and studied dentistry. "But I don't regret that now because all the frustration I felt as a dentistry student was channelled into my cartoons."

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After years of dabbling in cartoons, it was his first tiger sighting in 2005 that ignited the idea to seriously pursue environmental cartoons, which led him to conceptualising Green Humour. In the beginning, his drawings mostly concerned about wildlife biology, but slowly the series started commenting also on themes like climate change and ecological imbalance, the human-animal conflict, wildlife science and conservation, the intersection of environment and politics, the effect of the pandemic, and more. "Initially, it was only meant as something to amuse myself and keep me entertained, but over time it took a certain responsibility upon itself," says the cartoonist whose work is published in several print media spaces. Select cartoons spanning his career are also collected in his upcoming book Green Humour for a Greying Planet, out this month.

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Over the years, Chakravarty has noticed a shift in scientific communication. "When I started out, there wasn't much creative communication around environmental matters. It was mostly jargon and a very gloomy approach." While earlier it followed the conventional approach of gloom and doom, today it's being replaced by accessible information through popular science writing, art, creative photography, and work by cartoonists like himself. Scientists have largely taken it upon themselves to form creative collaborations to better communicate environmental issues with the general public. "A lot of research papers that come out today are presented in popular media as well as scientific publications." As an instance, he recalls a 2017 project where he was asked to design an interactive game for school kids who were presented with a map of India and had to chart insects, mammals, and so on. "The very concept of scientific communication is changing by leaps and bounds."

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As communication methods evolves and reaches more people, Chakravarty is also noticing an increase in censorship, especially during the last two years. He often faces backlash on social media, and has been asked to tone down his cartoons, especially when they are political. "I think it needs an evolved mind to interpret cartoons correctly, and that's what the current government lacks. The irony is that our very first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, had famously told the cartoonist, 'Shankar, do not spare me'. That was the relation between our first PM and our first renowned cartoonist. And that has deteriorated to this point today."

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While the government has been using lockdown €" when protests and gatherings aren't permitted €" to make major environmental decisions, like the draft EIA passed last year and much more, Chakravarty identifies a bigger issue. "More than the lockdown, I think it's the complete lack of a scientific bent of mind that is a real concern. Because science should shape government but in this case, the government's pre-existing vision is the most important thing that shapes them," he says, about a vision shaped primarily by the economy. While a government should be accountable to its people, "I don't have much hope from this particular government, there has to be a government that's willing to listen."

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