“I present Mario Miranda to the world.” Thus concludes Gerard da Cunha’s publisher’s note at the beginning of Mario de Miranda, a collection of drawings, sketches and cartoons by artist Mario Miranda. As one goes through the superbly produced 284-page book, it is evident that the statement is true in the factual as well as figurative sense.
Mario de Miranda has been described as a significant social cartoonist, as a reluctant political cartoonist, as India’s only outdoor cartoonist or comic artist, and as the country’s greatest visual chronicler. It is also said that Mario would have described himself as a visual diarist who took recourse to images where others would have opted for words. Whatever the form and style of Mario that one is seeking, this collection has it.
Divided into 45 sections based broadly on chronology and the themes that have influenced Mario’s life, the collection records and presents the “visual diarist’s” life in terms of individual creativity as also in terms of social and historical analyses. In doing so, the collection itself acquires a historical value. For, despite the long tradition of political and social cartooning in India, there has not been any worthwhile effort to study and analyse the work of any cartoonist or visual chronicler methodically and comprehensively. This collection, undoubtedly, makes an eminently imitable beginning.
A collection of pocket cartoons by Mario Miranda.
Indeed, such a production could not have come by without supreme dedication and painstaking labour. Gerard da Cunha and the volume’s editor, Bevinda Collaco, collected and scanned over 8,000 drawings, beginning with Mario’s childhood sketches followed by his early professional cartoons as a freelancer in the Bombay-based Current magazine and his later works in national and international publications. The result is an array of superbly printed images that provide for a chronological and thematic tour through Mario’s works. The visual images are interspersed with biographical sketches and analytical essays on Mario’s life and craft.
The novelist Manohar Malgonkar’s biographical piece presents the connection between Mario the man and Mario the artist, while depicting both facets in some detail. Delving into personal features, Malgonkar highlights how Mario’s growing-up years and the influences on him in his early life groomed his craft and the perspectives that went into his work. Mario’s Goan Roman Catholic family of Konkan Saraswat Brahmin origin lived first in Daman and later in Goa, both Portuguese colonies, and was part of the local aristocracy and senior officialdom. Naturally, Mario’s childhood had multi-cultural, essentially Eurasian, influences. His trajectory as a professional strengthened these multi-cultural influences as he moved from Goa to Bangalore to Bombay (now Mumbai) in India and later to Lisbon and London in Europe.
Both Malgonkar’s biographical piece and the poet-curator Ranjit Hoskote’s analysis of Mario’s craft underscore how the “visual diarist” travelled back and forth in time and through cultures to highlight the historical Eurasian connection and cultural continuity. Hoskote observes: “He brings to his art a heightened sense of public life as theatre; he practises a relaxed anthropology that combines piquant observation with humour, gentle exaggeration with a piercing insight into the relationships between genders, races and nationalities. At the heart of his vision stands the crucial and mutually formative relationship between people and their environments.”
The exploration of individual traits that created Mario the cartoonist, the comic artist and visual chronicler is indeed extensive in this volume. Not surprisingly, the essays point out that the traits were evident right from childhood. Going into Mario’s childhood at some length, Malgonkar notes that “when he first began to draw figures, he used neither a pen nor ink and paper” and “made do with things as bits of charcoal from the kitchen fire or even a finger dipped in mud, and drew his figures on the walls or floor of the house, making a thorough nuisance of himself”. Malgonkar also reveals that “it was his mother, who horrified at the way her son was disfiguring the walls and floors of the immaculate (30-roomed, over 250 years old) house, bought him a notebook and a box of pencils to work off his urge to paint”. Malgonkar further observes: “The simple answer is that he did not become a cartoonist. He was born a cartoonist. The fact is that he has never received any formal training in an art institution. To draw figures has been an irrepressible compulsion of his life.”
But an artist’s creative pursuits are not made of such irrepressible compulsions alone. The collection has Mario himself stressing on the importance and impact of reading in his individual and creative life. Vinod Mehta, Editor of Outlook and a friend of Mario, also points out that the visual diarist used to jot down quick impressions of what he saw, so as to help quicken his drawings later. Mario, Vinod Mehta feels, also brought spontaneity to his drawings through these jottings. The poet Nissim Ezekeil’s essay states that Mario is no ideal philosopher or day-dreamer, but a balanced and pragmatic person. “His drawings are just a product of how he sees the world. He can’t but help seeing the world in a funny way. That’s it.”
FROM MARIO'S DIARIES
There are any numbers of drawings in this collection that underscore the “funny perspective” noted by Ezekiel. The entire lot of social and political cartoons belongs to this genre. The bumbling politician, the shrewd corporate head, the well-endowed secretary Miss Fonseca, the ever-failing junior staff member Godbole – the cartoons that contain these characters and many more belong to this genre. Many depictions of life in Goa and other parts of the world also have the funny perspective written all over them.
The collection has some amazing drawings in black and white and colour that observe and depict a range of subjects pertaining to life and society. Visuals of everyday life straddling continents form one segment of this. Places as disparate as Panjim, Paris, Lisbon, London, Tokyo and Kyoto are part of this. There is another equally captivating segment of portraits. An assortment of people ranging from the journalist Behram “Busy Bee” Contractor to the poet Dom Moraes to the artist Francis Newton Souza to the Congress leader Sonia Gandhi are depicted in this segment. Then there are water colour paintings, which make fun of Mario’s self-described apprehension about working in colour. Taking a comprehensive look at Mario’s work, Ranjit Hoskote states: “Here is a prodigious talent, bursting into various directions, testing genres, linking observation to intuition, getting a sense of the raw life of desire and design concealed beneath the skin of civilisation and the costume of caste and class. These superbly executed drawings and water colours are proposals for the narration of a world that is at once intensely local and unselfconsciously international in its tenor.”
A SCENE FROM everyday life in Goa.
Every one of these drawings, the ones with the funny perspective and the ones having other not-so-funny perspectives, draws attention to Mario’s skills of observation and sense of detailing. Hoskote points out that the singular images as well as the tableaux and fabliaux that Mario presents here are crammed with quirky detail and veined with a felicitous understanding of individual psychology and community life. Ezekiel’s take on Mario’s skills of observation and sense of detailing has, as can be expected, a poetic dimension to it. Ezekiel states that the detailing in Mario’s work imparts a sense of generosity to his work. “Mario fills every inch of the paper with ink, which is very unlike the minimalistic drawing style of modern-day editorial cartoons.”
Evidently, the studies as well as the hundreds of cartoons, drawings and paintings in this volume make it a collector’s item. However, in spite of the stupendous effort that went into this collection, there is one major oversight. As separately observed by E.P. Unny, a fellow practitioner of Mario’s various visual trades, it is the conspicuous absence of a peer review. Perhaps, the publishers will make the extra effort to surmount that deficiency in future editions. •
(Letters to the Editor should carry the full postal address)
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