I am yet to meet someone who decided to be an artist early on and work their way up. I wonder if as a society we don’t allow the young to make that decision. While we root for them if they want to be doctors and pilots and engineers, we don’t encourage careers in humanities and arts. I remember a perceived notion in India is that the students who scored “low” took up humanities and were treated as low rung, and pursuing science was most prestigious. The creamy layer went on to do science. Unfortunately, this mindset has washed away generations of talented students to pursue what they love to do and find a niche for them. However, today’s India is perhaps the right place to pursue those unchartered career paths. The guy I spoke to recently, as a part of my thesis on alternative career (This time I am my own guide and my own university) was a part of the famed and celebrated creamy layer.
Rohan Chakravarty since, childhood wanted to become a playback singer but soon realized that it’s not going to happen (it may have been his voice!). He went on the ‘good Indian kid path’ and joined the medical school to be a dentist. It was there that he met with frustration and lack of contentment. And being witty, as he is, he started cartooning as a way to express his dissent from boredom and routine subjects. Boredom and frustration can be the cradles for imagination and play. We have seen this in others stories that we shared as well (link).
Running away from dentistry took him to unchartered routes. He learned animation skills and took up a job of an animator. At some point, he made a courageous move of taking up cartooning as a full-time venture. The first cartoon he ever published was that on Fardeen Khan (Bollywood actor) and his drug abuse way back in 2001. By his admittance, that piece was not something he is very proud of. His confession not only speaks of his humility but also reminded me of something Ira Glass pointed out. Ira said, “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years, you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.”.
A real artist keeps making more and more work until the ‘gap’ is narrowed down, something Rohan has achieved.
Wildlife and women have been the subject of his attention and his cartoons for a long time. When he started his cartooning, Rohan to form niche of his own, in which he still resides. He said, ‘creative satisfaction obtained from drawing wildlife is beyond measure.’
In this world with growing intolerance, Rohan has had his share of the hatred pie. From a right wing group (not to be named!), he received flak for a cartoon that encouraged people to reject firecrackers on Diwali. Authoritarian critics, in their criticism, without their knowledge, make the art come alive. Such projects keep Rohan excited and alive, inspire some of us and educate most of us.
One of his recent projects was an illustrated map of wildlife in Bhutan (http://www.wwfbhutan.org.bt/downloads/). He narrated his experience in a few sentences, “Having moved to Delhi from Nagpur (one of India’s greenest cities) and failing to acclimatize with Delhi’s air miserably, I was desperate for some lung therapy. Fortunately, a collaboration with WWF Bhutan was struck, which made way for the most peaceful week of my life, in Cloud Kingdom. My ‘Wildlife Map of India’ had met with a great response from both the media and print collectors in India and abroad, and Bhutan was always a dream destination both to travel to and draw, so I proposed the concept of a wildlife map to WWF Bhutan, which they instantly accepted. My trip spanned 7 days, in which I visited Jigme Dorji National Park, the fields of Punakha, The Royal Botanical Gardens at Lampelri (where I saw my first Brown Parrotbills and Large-eared Pikas!), trekked along the Punatsang Chhu in search of the critically endangered White-bellied Heron (the search ended successfully!), interacted with and fed captive Takins (Bhutan’s national animal) and Serows at the Takin Rescue Centre in Thimphu, and finally went birding in Paro, where we saw Blood Pheasants and Himalayan Monals at Chele La, Bhutan’s highest motorable pass. Wildlife aside, the trip was memorable for several other reasons- witnessing a warm and hospitable culture, hanging out with some of the most affable folks I have met, hogging on Ema Datsi and outstanding pork momos, and having three lovely Bhutanese women wrap a Gho around me! When flew back from Paro to Delhi, statistically from the world’s cleanest to the world’s dirtiest air, it felt like an oxygen mask was being pulled out of my face!”.
Recently on CSG, there was a discussion on how scientific illustrators are poorly paid in India. Rohan mentioned that while scientists always pay him his fair due, it is the administrative agencies who find it difficult to pay up. His words are reassuring for the some of us who do want to be professional scientific artists and illustrators.
His journey is a reminder that we need not only doctors, engineers and scientists; we also need artists and educators. Hopefully, our generation will encourage the young to be more open to such choices while growing up.
Oh! and by the way, he is apparently, not that bad a singer (https://soundcloud.com/rohanchak).
Ipsa Jain is a Ph.D. student at IISc. She wants to gather and spread interestingness. She prefers painting and drawing over writing.
This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.