Welcome to our guest column series "Drawn from Memory: Reflections on the Art of Illustration."
JJ Books has invited well known writers to recall images that have inspired their work, from Brahma to Beardsley and beyond.
The cartoonist Mario de Miranda loved the decadence of Bombay and Commonwealth Writers' Prize winner, Githa Hariharan, who grew up there, says her home is where his art is!
Growing up in Bombay, I would spend hours standing in my first floor balcony, looking down at the street where multiple dramas were being acted out. As far as I was concerned, everything I had to learn about the world was right there before my eyes.
I got the same feeling when I looked at Mario de Miranda’s drawings in The Illustrated Weekly of India or Filmfare or The Times of India. In fact, his illustrations of his home – and mine – were better than the real thing. There were the people, the crowds of people we lived with. There were animals too. All of them, people, animals, were doing something, moving, jostling each other, making one small corner of Bombay piquant.
There was no end to the variety Mario’s city had to offer; each actor had a unique story. All the stories were funny, even those of the cow, the crow, the house, the beggar or the policeman. The genuine nasties became merely ridiculous after being processed by Mario’s ink. Beauty, romance, even anger and kindness, looked different, more true, when you could laugh at it a little.
Mario could make me look back at an exasperating day in the city – the kind of day when it rained too much, my umbrella did not behave, the earthworms got into my “gum boots” along with the muddy water, and, when I got home, there was no water coming out of the taps but it rained some more from the clothesline above the ancient tub. When I looked back at the day with Mario, I felt it wasn’t so bad after all. There was that fisherwoman without an umbrella. She didn’t seem to care that it was raining on the basket of fish she carried on her head; she walked across the flooded street like she owned it. And that urchin dancing – he must have pushed a car that had stalled, then wheedled a big tip out of the foolish driver. There were those two men who made a loving couple under one umbrella. What could their story be?
Mario de Miranda grew up in Goa, but when he came to Bombay, he chose it to be his home for many years. This was a choice he shared with all the Indians who had made their way to the city to work, or love, or steal, or make money, or become stars.
Mario liked the community life – and if the community life he saw in Bombay was somewhat different from what he had known in Goa, he didn’t let it faze him. He knew that even in this crazy life of pushing and grabbing, there was a quiet moment, a moment when people could secretly run after their dreams.
Maybe it was his strong sense of a double-home - an old one that remained safe and beloved where it should be, and a new one that bombarded him with people and scenes - that sharpened Mario’s eye for the telling detail. He didn’t miss much. He used up every inch of space, exactly like people use up every inch of Bombay. He knew how to combine real life and make-believe. And he could convince himself, and Bombayites like me, that too much is just right for an Indian life.
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