"Imagination and fiction make up more than three quarters of our real life" ~ Simone Weil

Faces of India

Mario Miranda

Romola Butalia met Mario Miranda several years ago at his apartment in Colaba, Mumbai where they talked about his love of travel, about cartooning and his unique vision and perspectives.

He emerged rubbing ink off his hands, and sat, facing the sea, in his veranda, filled with potted plants. His boxer, Mooke walked in, wiggled the stub of his tail in greeting and sauntered off, to be followed presently by 2 turtles, who came out from their hideouts at the sound of voices.

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Mario Miranda An obviously much-lived in cage, swung overhead, empty, except for a couple of artificial birds. Miranda explained that the cage, which occupied pride of place, belonged to his well-loved parrot, to which he was extremely attached. A friend presented the artificial birds to tide the period of mourning, till he could bear to get another bird. He explained, "I am very attached to my animals and involved with the environment. Perhaps, because animals never let you down. They expect nothing in return for the affection they give."

As the afternoon wore on Mario Miranda, charming, self-effacing, with a quiet wit and delightful sense of humour, talked of his many joys and few stresses, occasionally painting verbal pictures strangely reminiscent of his cartoons. His greatest thrill was seeing his first published cartoon: "There is probably no thrill that can equal that. I was sure everyone had seen it. Going down the street that day, I was walking very self-consciously."

Mario loves travelling. "I'm really keen on travelling. Kerala, Assam, Rajasthan are visually so appealing. I love the flight to Cochin; as the plane lands it's such a beautiful sight- the sheer green, interspersed with canals, and the sun pouring in." He thinks there is an enormous thrill in all firsts, particularly things you really wanted to do, imagined and visualised. "I grew up with movies and books about Hollywood and Broadway. I had read so much about Paris and New York. There are few joys to compare with the excitement and thrill of my first visits to Paris, London, New York. I was disappointed with Broadway, which was distinctly seedy at the time. But it did not in any way diminish my joy of being in New York. That is one city which is very alive, and down to earth, like Mumbai."

Talking of how he stumbled into cartooning, he recalled, "I was doing my BA, planning to sit for the IAS, though I cannot imagine myself as a bureaucrat today. I started doing cartoons for Current and The Illustrated Weekly to earn pocket money. I had always enjoyed drawing and had been doing it since I was 4-5 years old. In the early years when I did not know what I was going to do, I was not happy. It is important to find one's niche in life."

Mario is an inveterate traveller and derives great joy from it. "I like to feel I have enough money in my pocket to be comfortable and to allow me to travel," he admits. "He is never bored, not even when he spends hours waiting for flights. "It irritates me if a delayed flight means a late appointment, but otherwise the act of waiting is quite enjoyable. I can watch people for hours at airport terminals or at the Taj lobby in Mumbai. I have developed a certain sense of observation, I do not analyse what I see, nor is there a particular philosophy behind my cartooning. I don't even think in terms of shapes. My cartoons are a spontaneous reaction to what I see. There is probably something wrong with my vision or brain that causes the tendency to distort or magnify a particular trait. I see humour in almost any situation, even at a funeral, possibly arising from a macabre sense of humour. I find a great deal of humour in a serious political meeting. In India, people take themselves so seriously. I got into considerable trouble in school, for sketching Catholic priests. People at cocktail parties think they are very important. The tragedies in Hindi movies where the hero takes half an hour to die, while the wailing reaches a crescendo is a source of humour."

Mario explained, "I cannot express myself as a comedian, I cannot verbalise, but give me a pen and I can draw what I see. I enjoy seeing things because of the humour I find in situations and I like to express it and share it with my reader, so it gives me great pleasure to know that what I enjoy doing is being appreciated by others. I enjoy seeing the response of someone who does not know me, laughing at my cartoon. But equally, it is killing to be asked to explain a cartoon you have done."

He enjoys sitting on the top of a double-decker bus, looking out, he loves watching crowds at a slight distance. He likes going to Goa - alone. "Even as a child, I could play with myself, imagine and create games and situations I could enjoy."

Mario likes to work at a leisurely pace, "I am always late with my work. Deadlines create stress, but they also make you think and perform." He regrets that cartoonists rarely meet in India. "In New York, there is a cafe called Pen and Pencil, where cartoonists, particularly freelancers meet. I have enjoyed interacting with cartoonists from all over the world. I love comic strips like BC and Hagar, and meeting people who have created them. I was surprised to find that Schultz, creator of Peanuts is a very serious person - serious about his work and his finances. On earlier visits he enjoyed meeting all the cartoonists who work for Mad magazine. On a later visit, he found the place empty; all the artists work from home. "I could live in Goa and do that, too, but I would miss the Mumbai I love."

Abroad there are gag writers you can buy an idea from. Here, if you don't think up something, you just produce a bad cartoon. When everything is going wrong, he can be temperamental and tear up his work. Mario prefers to tackle problems by keeping them to himself and finding a solution. "I wont place my burden on someone else's shoulders." Instead, he listens to music, draws, or goes for a walk alone.

Though he has been so successful as a cartoonist, Miranda wishes he had more confidence in his work. " I envy the confidence of my colleagues when they show their work saying, 'Look at this, it's great.' I always find myself asking, 'What do you think of this?' I am very receptive to other peoples' comments. I wait for them. I need other peoples' opinions. I am diffident about my work, says Miranda." It is the same reticence and lack of confidence that makes him shy from publicity and from being photographed, and which makes him a delightful person to interact with.

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.