Caricature/Cartoon – Remembering the Great Indian Cartoonist Mario Miranda

There was a time when cartoons were made of squigglies put together…squigglies that won’t have meaning unless they were supported by oodles of text in form of captions. Then in 1926, a child was born in Goa and he was given the task of banishing the ugly squigglies from the world of publishing. This child was Mario Miranda, who didn’t need to go to an illustration school to master the art of creating riveting characters that spoke to you without words. The words merely embellished his already rich creations further.

With a heavy heart but with tons of gratitude, I present the caricature of Mario Miranda, one of the very few Indian artists who have left behind characters that will always remind us of him.

Mario Miranda (1926 - 2011) with his characters.

In this caricature, most of his fans will be able to identify B.C. Bundaldass, M.C. Moonswami (Bundaldass’s handyman or “side-kick” as Mario used to call him) (I wonder what the B.C. and the M.C. stood for? – Scatological…eh?!) Ms. Rajini Nimbupani (the voluptuous actress,) Ms. Fonseca (the polka-dots-dress-clad secretary with an hour-glass figure,) the loveable little dog.

I made a post about Mario Miranda on June 14th, 2011.  In this post, I also mention that the other Indian cartoonist who makes me feel like becoming a cartoonist, is Ajit Ninan.

The Times of India today carried Ajit Ninan’s tribute to Mario Miranda.

Quoting Ajit Ninan from TOI – Page 10 – December 13, 2011.

“Mario’s work touched the heart. His characterisation of people, particularly the weakness of the male of the species, was superb. He brought home to you the foibles of man through gloriously detailed illustrations of life in the office, on the streets and above all at parties.
In a nutshell, just as Bollywood brought India to the world, Mario brought Bombay to India. His mastery of architecture and of fashion trends was one of the keys to this. Mario’s ornate illustrations of the colonial structures of Mumbai wouldn’t have been possible for anyone with a less sound grasp of architecture.”

and

“He (Mario) was among the few who could use both black and white in roughly equal proportions in an illustration to create what is best described as a harmony of clutter.”

I am convinced that as I write this, Mario Miranda is busy attending parties in heaven, and that his illustrations will shortly be published in the Illustrated Weekly of Heaven.

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Caricature/Cartoon of Ajit Ninan – The Great Indian Cartoonist.

Presenting Ajit Ninan, the Indian Cartoonist who breaks all established standards of quality in cartooning.

Caricature, Cartoon, Portrait, Sketch, or Drawing of Ajit Ninan, the Great Indian Cartoonist (Times of India.)

I foraged the web to ferret out some information on Ajit Ninan, but returned empty-handed. I don’t know when he celebrates his birthday, I don’t really know a lot about his early life, and except for a few details, I know nothing about his professional life.

So what does the Caricaturist do when faced with a blank page?

She closes her eyes and lets her thoughts travel into the past, where she sees a young boy with a dimpled smile, who would become the Ajit Ninan whose drawings tell her that there are people who refuse to kill their skill – come what may.

Here’s the story of this little boy, who became one of the two Indian Cartoonists who’ve made me experience both pride and joy in equal measures.

The Caricaturist concocts a story:

Leave the Roses and Embrace the Thorns

He loved the afternoons. Hyderabadi afternoons were scathingly hot during this time of the year but the heat didn’t deter him from enjoying them. He’d walk back from school with his friends, feeling under the hot glare of the Sun on his brow, his arms, and his spindly legs only half covered by the shorts of his school uniform; but he always looked forward to the afternoons. They were his to do whatever his heart desired. Deep inside he felt that whatever he might end up doing all his life – these afternoons would remain etched in his memories forever.

This was one of those unforgettable afternoons. Ajit had returned from school, and after a quick snack of Idiyappam that his mother had made for him, he was now lying on his stomach, with his feet up in the air – letting the coolness of the marble floor seep into his body. His sketchbook lay open in front of him and propped upon his left elbow, he drew in it feverishly. He had wanted to finish the drawing of that toy car before his father arrived home from work. He looked over his shoulder to check the clock in the living room. It was past four already!

He returned to his drawing, and then drew away to look at the whole picture. What should he do with wheel? Should it be a little bigger? Would it look funnier if he made it bigger…a lot bigger than the other one?

Thoughts swirled about in his mind, blocking everything else…reducing the sounds around him to an unrecognizable medley – the slight hum of his mother’s voice in the kitchen, the distant din of the vendors in the street, even the creaking sound of the door opening…

So when he heard his name being called in his father’s loud but stern voice, Ajit almost jumped out of his skin. The drawing pencil shot out of his hand and landed under his table that was set near the window, and his sketchbook lay open on the floor – the proof of his being a wayward son.

“What are you doing?”
“Nothing, Father.”
“Doesn’t look like nothing to me,” his father took a step forward. Ajit shrunk away. He wished he had listened to his intuition, but then his father never came home early. What was different today? And then it clicked. His parents had to attend a wedding today! While Ajit’s revved-up mind was busy figuring out all this, his father had picked up the sketchbook.

Ajit held the edge of the table to steady himself. This was going to be one of those days.

“You made all these?” His father asked.
Isn’t it obvious? It’s my sketchbook, isn’t it? Ajit thought.
“Yes, Father,” he said.
“You think that these scribblings would get you a job?”
“…
“You think that I am spending on your education, so that you could become a painter?”
“…
“How many marks did you get in Math last year?”
“…
“How many? I am asking you a question. Answer it.”
“45,” quaked Ajit.
“45. 45 out of 100! How you’ll ever make it into Engineering is beyond me.”

“Tell me. How will you ever become an engineer, if you go on neglecting Math for these…these…” his father struggled to find the right word.
“Drawings?” Ajit couldn’t stop himself from supplying the word, but regretting it immediately after.
“Drawings. Yes. You are good at making these – and this skill will help you a lot when you study engineering. These tractors, these jeeps, these pumps…” he continued as he flipped through Ajit’s sketchbook, while Ajit waited for the tirade to end.

It ended, as always, when his mother intervened. Oh, how he loved her. She was the only one in the whole family, who truly supported his love for drawing – but even she fretted about his future. If only he could prove them wrong.

Later that evening, as Ajit sat at his table near the window, absently trying to resolve those improper fractions into proper fractions, random pieces of conversation floated in from his parents’ bedroom.

“He takes after you…all these feminine habits.”
“He takes after both of us.”
“I never got 45 in Math.”
“But he’s as stubborn as you are.”
“I am telling you…he’s got this stupid thing for drawing! I am telling you, I don’t want him writing letters to the black sheep of our family.”
“I don’t think he writes to him.”
“I don’t know. Who knows anything about what that boy does? You have to ask him.”

Ajit turned his attention to his notebook. Those fractions kept changing into cartoon characters. Why? Didn’t 2 look almost like a serpent and the number 8…he found himself doodling two meshing gears into the 8! The “black sheep” of the family. That had to be his uncle Abu Abraham. He worked for this American Publication called the Guardian, but he was shortly returning to India. Abu’s atheism and the way he thumbed his nose at traditions had ensured his symbolic ouster from the family.

His whole body tensed up in anticipation as he waited for them to leave. Ajit’s parents were going out for a Punjabi wedding, which meant that they’d not return until late in night. He could now look forward to many hours of unadulterated drawing pleasure.

Ajit Ninan’s Nonexistent Biography

I couldn’t find his biography, so I tried to glean whatever information I could from a variety of sources, especially from this post by Abhijit Bhaduri.

Here’s the sum total of my learning.

Ajit Ninan was born in Hyderabad in 1955. His parents were from Kerala though. Ajit studied at Hyderabad Public School where he manipulated his way into the library, so that he could go through the Cartoons in magazines. When he was young, he prefered to draw mechanical drawings, which I presume, must’ve made his father believe that his son wanted to become and engineer when he grew up. Fortunately Ninan wasn’t good at Math (I say fortunately, because had he been good at it, he’d have ended up becoming an engineer; which would mean that India would’ve lost one of its few great cartoonists,)so he studied political science, and became a political cartoonist.

Ninan published in first cartoon in Shankar’s Weekly, a magazine that his equally illustrious uncle Abu Abraham also drew for.

Ninan’s Inspirations include Mario Miranda, James Thurber, and Arnold Roth (he used to spend his precious out-of-class-in-the-library hours poring over the drawings of JT and AR.) Ajit Ninan worked with India Today as a Cartoonist and an Illustrator. He then moved to The Indian Express. He currently works with The Times of India as their Group Art Consultant.

Here are some interesting links for you to follow.

What this caricaturist has in common with the Great Ninan?

Believe it or not, I have the exact same lamp on my table that Ninan has on his. I had bought it 15 years ago. I wanted to buy another of the same kind, but failed 😦

Indian Cartoonists/Caricaturists – The Great Mario Miranda

Updated: 12:45 PM, December 11, 2011

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Just heard the news…The Great Cartoonist Mario Miranda passed away today.
He will remain an inspiration to many generations of Indian cartoonists and illustrators.
May he rest in peace.
(A Commemorative Caricature of Mario Miranda)
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In this caricaturist’s list, there are two Indian cartoonists of note and one of these two is also a caricaturist. These two, and only these two artists make me look like a glazed-eye zombie when I look at their work. Only these two remind me that not everyone is willing to let go of the skill of drawing after finding a job. I have obviously not seen every Indian newspaper published in every Indian language, so there might be random lights of talent shining elsewhere too. But of whatever I have seen, these two have made me, the jaded and faded caricaturist, experience a strong need to write a couple of posts in their honor.

You already know that the first name on this short list, is Mario Miranda…the second is Ajit Ninan.

In this post, let me introduce you to the astonishing work of Mario Miranda.

Mario Miranda’s Cartoons and Illustrations:

Wait a minute. Let me find my artistic aptitude. It was lying at the edge of my table when I last saw it…it must be here somewhere. Oh…it’s here – on the floor! It must’ve somersaulted off the desk to avoid commenting on Mario’s work. I mean, how do you comment on a Master’s drawings?

I will keep my promise and tell you what I feel about those highly detailed, cleanly drawn, stylized cartoons – but before I do that, I’d like you to look at his work at the following links.

I first saw Mario’s cartoons in the Illustrated Weekly of India (In retrospect, I am glad that my dad loved that magazine or I’d have grown up an art-duffer.) I remember looking at his drawings again and again, because every time I looked at them, I’d see something new. If I were to list the top five things that I like in his drawings, they would be as follows:

  • Details (He draws crowds…literally. Most of his drawings would have people of all sorts thronging to get their share of limelight, and he draws those crowds as collections of individuals – everyone in his crowds has a personality and a story. You can see connections running between people, you just have to look long enough to find them.)
  • Confidence (His lines are so confident and steady – he can bend them to his will like no one else can. I don’t know if he does rough drafts, he probably does for the crowds – but something tells me that he doesn’t do an intermediary. He just leaps into drawing the final illustration. If I ever get an opportunity, I’ll ask him if I am right.)
  • Style (Mario has a style of his own. A cartoonist whose work you can recognize while standing 10 feet away from his illustration, is a rarity – not just in India, but in the world. His lines are usually curves, and his lines always end in a strong black dot.
  • Perfection (Mario Miranda’s work exemplifies perfection. You can’t find stuff that would make you think that there was no need for it to be there. You don’t look at his drawing and think, “Oh, that line’s going where it shouldn’t.)
  • Life (Mario Miranda is one cartoonist whose cartoons come alive through their interactions with one another. Even when they don’t talk, they communicate. There are always so many of them that you’ll always find someone to party with.)

And…how can I forget those unforgettable characters – Bundaldas – the Politician, Moonswami his toady, and Ms. Fonseca the buxom secretary. (I remember asking my father whether Ms. Fonseca’s dress was a uniform for secretaries!)

Mario Miranda’s Concise Biography:

Mario Joao Carlos do Rosario de Britto Miranda (yes – we are talking about just one man!) lives in Goa and in the hearts of all those people who’ve enjoyed his art. Miranda’s work was first noticed by his mom (naturally,) on the walls of their house (naturally, again.)

He drew a lot of whatever he saw around himself including dogs (a dog-lover? another reason for me to like him); but then as it happens with almost every young man in our country, he too was swayed by the Ambassador Car with the red revolving lights, and tried to become an IAS officer – but thankfully his inner calling screamed at him and pulled him away from that mundane pursuit. He ended up working in an ad-agency. I can realize how painful the ad-agency stint must’ve been for him, but then his inner calling was all tuned up and in fantastic shape, so it screamed at him again, and he found himself working for the Illustrated Weekly of India. The Times of India, which had not selected him earlier, rebounded to him after they saw his work in the Weekly, and soon he was working for them too.

(If you are wondering whether a screaming inner calling is grammatically and linguistically correct, I can’t help you. Instead, I’d advise that you read on…there’s a lot of good stuff coming up about Mario Miranda’s rise to the Cartooning Stardom.)

Mario Miranda spent about 5 years of his life in Europe. His stint in Europe helped his work find international recognition. His cartoons featured even in the MAD magazine. (Sigh! Those mad guys (Oops! I stand corrected – those MAD guys) don’t accept email submissions…gotta get my portfolio sent to them by snail-mail…and they say that due to the population problem, it could be months before they’d get to lay their eyes upon my caricatures. Their loss…right?)

Then of course, he returned to India – back to The Times of India and to another Indian legend of Cartooning,  R.K. Laxman, who he respected a lot.

In 1988 he was awarded a well-deserved Padma Shri and then again in 2002 a Padma Bhushan. Miranda’s solos have been organized in 22 countries! Wow! He still draws, but now he’s settled in Goa (the same house where he grew up…it must be a dream come true.)
(Sources: Wikipedia here.)
Read Mario Miranda’s interview by Romola Butalia here.
Also check out “Cartooning Not Funny: Mario Miranda” here.