How often has a simple cartoon by R.K Laxman made us think about deep political issues that plague the society. These cartoons may look effortless but it takes immense creativity to encapsulate the depth of an issue through a single image. The phrase ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ definitely holds good for this form of expression. The artist who illustrates needs to have the intelligence to condense the content, and should be able to communicate what pages of words express, in a single image. Our artist of the month Deborshee Gogoi does just that. His cartoons focus on nature, wildlife, man-made disasters and human atrocities on the planet. He has the ability to sketch out issues in creative ways, and tickle and tease a person into thinking about grave issues that affect our environment.
Born in Tinsukia, the easternmost district of Assam, Deborshee was quite aware of the rich biodiversity of the region from a very young age. He loved watching Baya Weavers build their nests on the top of beetle-nut trees which were in abundance in his locality then. He lived only two kilometres away from Bherjan forest and he would often cycle there with his friends, to appreciate nature. He clearly remembers an incident from his childhood where a reporter had come home to photograph a bird that had entered their house. He learnt from the journalist that the feathered friend was a visitor from Siberia and has been curious ever since to learn more about migratory birds. He feels that instances like these and having access to wilderness closer home has deepened his interest in the study of nature.
For someone who started off by doodling figures of superheroes in primary school, Deborshee has come a long way in carving a niche for himself as a wildlife cartoonist. He learnt the basics of drawing from his mother, and one of his great inspirations was his uncle Dr. Bipin Chandra Chetia whose works he admired and tried to copy them when he was in school. He started off by sketching with pencils and crayons, and later fiddled with pen & ink, and also explored water-colour. He is currently very content with producing cartoons digitally using software. Deborshee says the duration of creating a sketch depends on various factors like mood, subject matter and sometimes the urgency of the order in case of commissioned works. Normally it takes him about two days to plan and complete an illustration but sometimes it takes more than a week depending on the complexity of the subject. His work has been showcased in many exhibitions that aimed at highlighting on the avian diversity of the Assam region and he plans to do his first solo wildlife cartoon exhibition in the near future.
After completing his formal education, Deborshee joined the banking sector only to realise that his new occupation kept him away from things he loved – nature and art. In 2010, he joined Digboi College as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Marketing. This college campus is very rich in floral and faunal diversity with almost 175 species of birds including threatened species like Chestnut-Backed Laughingthrush and Rusty-bellied Shortwing. Mammalian species like Asiatic Elephants, Leopards, Leopard Cats, Red Giant Flying Squirrels, Malayan Giant Squirrels, Capped Langurs, Barking Deers and Yellow-throated Martens frequently visit this campus. The campus harbour more than 100+ species of butterflies and is home for a sizeable population of reptiles and amphibians like Banded Kraits, Black Kraits, Monocled Cobras, Assam Snail Eaters and Bengal Monitor Lizards among others. Along with the diverseness of animal life, the campus is also a haven for nature lovers, researchers as well as environmentalists to carry their research. For Deborshee, living in this beautiful space led to the reinstitution of his love for nature.
He also enjoys interacting with young inquisitive minds in college. Many of his students are from remote villages where one has to walk many days to reach a township. He says that he gets to learn a lot from these students as their interaction with nature is direct and frequent. He is happy to share with them his experiences in nature and is very delighted when they reciprocate with interest. The students often express curiosity about wildlife that they witnessed directly or have seen in photographs. Deborshee is elated when his students and alumni keep in touch with him and share stories of their interactions and sightings in the natural world from their travels.
Deborshee has been deeply concerned about the increasing human atrocities on wildlife due to increase in superstitions and ignorance. He has been witnessing growing intolerance towards animals resulting in frequent man-animal conflict in Assam. These events have inspired him to raise his voice against human atrocities on environment through his artwork. He feels that cartoons with their quirk quotient and humour is probably the most effective way of creating awareness. In his opinion one does not need an academic degree or possess specialised knowledge to understand what message the cartoon wants to convey. Having struck a chord with the common man, his cartoons have been used on various platforms to communicate complex issues in effective ways.
Deborshee believes that one doesn’t have to be trained in ecological sciences to be able to create awareness about nature. He feels that any individual irrespective of their education, occupation and social status can work towards conservation. He feels that a deep understanding and awareness of the natural world along with a sense of responsibility and ethics are crucial to work in this field. He is not a follower of any faith or religion but believes in the greatness of nature. He says that he is a “Nature Worshiper” and considers mother nature to be Supreme. Artist Deborshee Gogoi hopes that with his sensibilities to aid him, he will continue his work towards creating awareness about the world we live in.
Interview by Ipsa Jain
Words by Veena Basavarajaiah