The Mirandas of Loutolim have lived in the same small area on the north bank of the Zuari River for more than five hundred years. They were the Sardesais or revenue collectors of a small village called Raciem. when Goa was ruled by the Bijapur Sultans.
They were Hindus and Brahmins by caste. When, in the mid 16th century, the Salcette district was conquered by the Portuguese, the family converted to Roman Catholic Christianity and took on their new name, Miranda.
The house is in Loutolim, in the district of Salcette. Loutolim is small, sleepy and redolent of the flavour of a much older Goa. The center and heart of Loutolim is the church, and within a dog's bark of it, is this house.
It is approached by a lane, pink, because it has been hewn out of the crumbly laterite stone which forms the soil of India's western seaboard. The lane ends up before a wrought-iron gate set in a low wall. And beyond the wall, looms the house foursquare and white, as though sitting for its portrait to be painted or more likely, for tourists' cameras to flash.
Facing the gateway and set to one side of its frontage is a portico embellished with baronial flourishes complete with a heraldic crest engraved on a tablet which is set into its masonry. A couple of steps through the portico lead to a solid wooden door of extravagant dimensions. As you are trying to locate the doorbell you become aware of a tremendous clamour within the house: of several dogs barking furiously and human voices, both male and female, shouting orders.
The door is open and there stands the owner of the house, Mario Miranda.
He is above average height, well set, with skin the colour of weathered teakwood. He has plentiful hair, tousled, dark-brown and flecked with gray. His eyebrows are straight and thick. He has a prominent nose, a firm chin and soft-brown eyes, widely set. He is dressed in an open necked shirt and cotton trousers. His stance, head thrust slightly forward and shoulders hunched, reminds you of a boxer's crouch. His face breaks into a smile as though he is really pleased to see you, even if, as is quite likely, he has been dragged away from his work-table: for he is a busy man and like most artists who work at home, has no fixed working hours.
Tourists come to see the house, not the man. This three hundred and thirty year-old house built in the late 17th century by a Miranda ancestor, has been occupied through the centuries by his descendants. A beautiful mansion elegantly appointed with handcrafted furniture and a banquet hall that once sparkled with fine food, fine music and fine wine, when the Mirandas entertained the most powerful in the land.
The heritage status of this house is widely acknowledged by the place of prominence it is given in all works of Goa's Portuguese past, or architecture. It also got its first public showing, with ShyamBenegal's film Trikaal. Much of the film's action takes place in or around this house.
And indeed it is more than likely that, after doing their round of the house and their filming, few of the tourists have realized that the man who opened his house for their inspection is a high-profile luminary, one of India's best known and perhaps the most exuberant and prolific of cartoonists, Mario Miranda.
His full name is Mario Joao Carlos do Rosario de Britto a Miranda. But he is known to the public only as ‘Mario', his first name.
Now, any creative artist, painter, composer, dramatist or novelist who is known to the public only by a single-word name is deemed to have achieved superstar status. Mario Miranda being known to the general public only as ‘Mario' has a simple explanation: that is how he has always signed his drawings ever since they first began to appear in print fifty years ago.
Since then Mario Miranda has been steadily producing his cartoons for an ever-wider readership. It is not easy to assess just how many drawings he has made during these years, but it is safe to say that their number runs into tens of thousands. Fifty thousand would be a fair estimate.
A cartoonist makes comic drawings. Their drawings must cause ripples of mirth among their viewers, but they must refrain from giving offense to the men and women who are their subjects. They must be amusing without being crude; prick, but not draw blood.
India is, proverbially, the land of the Sacred Cow. Every state, every faith, caste, language, every culture has them, and so have even towns and villages. No writer or cartoonist who has something to say about the life around him can steer clear of them for long because some taboos lie buried in the soil itself, like land mines. So what sort of angry protests, threats, and lawsuits had Mario Miranda been subjected to by those who felt affronted by his poking fun at them? He who had been at it for a lifetime?
"Oh yes," he told me, "Big trouble. In a street scene I had done, I had shown a bearded man with a turban smoking a cigarette. Some Sikhs wrote quite angry letters to me. I had offended their religious sentiments. Oh, they were really angry."
"So what happened?"
"It died down, luckily."
"Well, nothing, thank God! But at that time it shook me!"
This little anecdote may well stand as testimony for the gentleness of Miranda's cartoons, how he manages to keep within the bounds of the cartoonist's calling: to poke fun without causing hurt. His own thoughts on the subject are on record.
"I am mainly a social cartoonist," he admits. And that, of course, means he keeps clear of the most sacred of Indian cows - its high-profile politicians.
Sure, he makes cartoons of politicians in general, but not of any person. And when, occasionally, he does portray a well-known political figure, he curbs his propensity to make them look funny: he makes their pen-and-ink portraits rather than caricatures.
"...I am not a political cartoonist," he is known to have said, "To be quite frank, I am not even a cartoonist. I draw... Give me a pen and blank paper and I will draw... I just love to draw."
He just loves to draw.
That is how Mario Miranda defines his own art. He draws whatever catches his eye in the life around him, and he also provides captions to the drawings. He is thus essentially, a candid camera recorder of the passing show, which for most part he finds funny.
He can be sombre and brooding too, conscious that some of the subjects which appeal to him as an artist are not necessarily objects of fun. A temple, a church, an ancient ruin, a graveyard and an abandoned fortress - these have a personality of their own and it would be unseemly to hold them up to ridicule.
"Where there is humour, I will do a cartoon. But when I do structures, I don't do cartoons... I enjoy drawing much more than cartooning."
That is how Mario Miranda sees his own art. He is a humourist, but there are times when he stands and stares in awe or respect, moved by whatever he is looking at. At such times he strives hard to recreate in his drawings, the emotional impact of the originals. In this he is remarkably successful.
Mario Miranda has spoken of two branches of cartoons, ‘social' which he favours, and ‘political' which he shies away from because of the restraints he must work under. There is however, at least one other ‘branch' of his art which offers scope to the wildest fancies of its practitioners - animal cartoons.
As a child he is known to have howled when a pet dog of his died. In those days of grace and space, there were even a couple of deer in his house. He himself has kept pets wherever he had a house: dogs, cats, roosters, a squirrel or two; four turtles used to crawl all over his flat in Bombay, and visitors had to be wary not to tread on them; and yes, a pig!
Dogs seem to be so much in his subconscious that they have a tendency to steal into his ‘social' cartoons almost without his knowledge, just to lend tone to them, as it were. These are mostly of the stray dog variety and of some indeterminate breed, but they seem full of their own importance too and perfectly capable of looking after themselves in a scrap.
Mario often tells the story of one of his own dogs, Tommy, passing judgment on one of his drawings on which he had lavished a good deal of care. He had drawn the picture while the paper was still wet and had leaned it against the wall of his study to dry. That was when Tommy walked to the picture, solemnly raised his leg and formally anointed it. Was it a gesture of profound disgust or unbounded admiration? Who can say? Perhaps students of canine psychology have the answer.
In many of Mario's larger drawings of landscapes one often notices a crow or two flying. As often as not, they too are intruders. "An ink-drop is better camouflaged as a crow," he explains.
And very occasionally in some scene of crowded life, a cabaret for instance, Mario puts himself in; a figure in the crowd so self-effacing, that you really have to look hard to find him. It is a gesture rather like Alfred Hitchcock making a fleeting appearance in his own films. "I put myself in sometimes just to fill an empty space, as it were," Mario will admit.
But these intruding figures, crows, dogs, himself, are no part of Mario Miranda's animal cartoons. The animals in them are not strays, but sleek, well-fed and of known pedigree. Their pictures are more like portraits which seem to pander to the self-image of their sitters. So how did Mario Miranda become a cartoonist?
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.
When he first began to draw figures, he used neither a pen nor ink and paper. He made do with such 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.
It was his mother, who horrified at the way her little son was disfiguring the walls and floors of her immaculate house, bought him a notebook and a box of pencils to work off his urge to paint. Little did she realize that she was setting her son firmly in his life's calling. Her solution to stop the child from daubing his pictures all over the house was to stand the artist in good stead.
Mario Miranda had begun to draw pictures even before he learned to read or write. He got busy filling those notebooks with his drawings as other moody children might keep diaries to express their thoughts. Indeed Mario himself has always spoken of those notebooks as diaries, which in a manner of speaking, they were. His mother must have kept a stack of them handy. They became a habit. Even at school and college, Mario Miranda went on keeping them... pictorial records of his journey through life.
These diaries were to serve as his stock-in-trade when he began to look for a career. It was after seeing his illustrations in one of these diaries that D.F. Karaka, the editor of The Current invited him to do a weekly cartoon for his tabloid. Later still, it was his drawings in a couple of diaries he carried around that the Gulbenkian Foundation of Lisbon offered him a scholarship which enabled him to live in Portugal to earn a living as a cartoonist.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, Goa was arguably the richest segment of the earth's surface. The flow of trade between Asia and Europe had to pass through Goa. In the mid-seventeenth century Goa was the world's trade centre. But by the turn of the eighteenth century, Britain replaced Portugal as the controller of all trade between Europe and Asia. And Goa became a derelict hulk on the banks of the Mandovi.
The Mirandas soon won the approbation and trust of their new masters and over the years integrated themselves more and more into their culture and attitudes, so that they won acceptance as a part of the ‘establishment' of the ruling power. They were thought of as assimilados. They were among the very few families whose sons were admitted to jobs in Goa's administrative service.
One of the Miranda sons, Constancio, was the Administrador, of the Ponda district in the mid 19th century when he trapped KustobaRane a bandit to the Portuguese, and a freedom fighter to Liberated Goa. The Governor General of Goa rewarded and commended Constancio Miranda. The King of Portugal bestowed on him the special honour of being entitled to a family crest. That is the crest you see to this day, emblazoned on a tablet set in the portico of their ancestral house.
The tradition of some of the sons of the Miranda family taking office in Goa's civil service continued well into the 20th century when Custodio Miranda joined it. He was posted as the Administrador of the colony of Daman on the coast of Gujarat when on the 2nd of May, 1926, his wife gave birth to their second child, a boy whom they named Mario. Their two other children were Peter and a daughter Fatima.
Under Portuguese patronage the Mirandas prospered and gained social prestige. In the new regime they made substantial additions to their original holdings; fields and plantations which were scattered all over the Salcette district. Even though some of their sons had taken service under the Government, as a family they had remained farmers, and their income came mainly from their lands. In their neighbourhood they were known as bhatkar which means landlord.
They tended to speak in Portuguese rather than in Konkani, which was their real mother tongue. The newspapers they read were Portuguese, O Debate and O Heraldo, which gave extensive coverage to news from Portugal. They wore dark suits for formal occasions, their women wore dresses and trimmed their hair. At their dinner parties they proudly brought out their bone china and served their guests Granjo and Macieira and Port.
It was to this Goa that, in the early nineteen thirties, Custodio Miranda took his family when he retired from Government service. The family's home-coming was a feast of delights to young Mario. He was now a kid in a very large family in a very large house. There were, in addition to his own parents and siblings, a grandfather and a grandmother and a baker's dozen of pets: eight dogs, a squirrel, a crow, a white pig called Zecca, a monkey called Jacob and a deer which was later to be given its name...what else? Bambi.
The patriarch grandfather figures in several of Mario's sketches, a tall man wearing a thick quilted solar topee and striped pyjamas, a cigar stuck in his mouth, doing the rounds of his estates. Of his grandmother, Mario says:
"She used to sit on a rocking chair, and select the records she wanted played. Classical music; mostly vocal... Entire operas such as Fidelio, The Barber of Seville, Andrea Chenier...! My job was to wind up the gramophone. It was at her feet that I developed my taste for western classical music." As she listened, she would tell the stories of the operas to Mario who could never have enough of them.
About once every week, his father would, invite his cronies for a poker session which dragged on until the small hours of the morning. The players cursed and swore and laughed uproariously, drank a lot of whisky and smoked Havana cigars. To Mario Miranda it came as a revelation that grown ups too could get so merry and high-spirited.
In Loutolim, they were a compact community. Everyone knew everyone else and met at least once a week, if not in the taverna, then at a church service.
The church was where interesting things happened such as processions, weddings, choir practices, and as a kid and even later in life, these activities have been the themes of Mario Miranda's large-scale drawings.
As a child, Mario had been taught to pay respect to the clergy,
and to stop talking whenever the Angelus bells began to toll. Whenever he came across a priest, he had to bend and kiss his hand. He did as he was told, but at another level he found the priests to be a readymade foil for caricatures.
In those days they were required to wear dark hats with wide brims and shoes with enormous metal buckles. At times, say in a stiff breeze with their robes flying and holding on to their hats, they looked so funny that he just could not resist making drawings of them. True, he did his best to hide these drawings from their subjects, but one of the priests felt so affronted that he complained to Mario's mother and when she, for her part, tried to make excuses for her son, he told her to take him to the Bishop who would know how to discipline her son for his naughtiness.
"The Bishop was convulsed with laughter when he saw it," Mario reports, "He told my mother not to do anything to stop her son from making drawings. ‘He has a natural talent. Let him develop it.'"
Within a few months of arriving in Loutolim, Mario began to attend the local primary school. Here the medium of education was Portuguese, but the pupils spoke in Konkani and with them, Mario became fluent in the local language. They were a mixed lot at school, kids representing Loutolim's ethnic compost, bhatkar, merchant, the butcher and the baker. They came to school barefoot. So Mario too, decided to go barefoot to school. He would set out for school properly shod, but remove his shoes as soon as he reached school and put them on back at the end of the day. "I hated wearing shoes," he will tell you.
He was about ten years old when he found himself bowled over by the sheer physical beauty of a young girl from a farming family who would come to their well every morning to draw water. "I would hover near the well, waiting for her to come and would keep staring at her all the time she was around," he remembers. His infatuation must have been noticed by his mother.
Mario Miranda never saw the girl again, for a few weeks later, he was sent off to Bangalore for higher studies. But her image kept haunting him and comes to life in his drawings, a stunningly beautiful girl carrying a pot of water, almost without him being aware of it.
Bangalore was another country. Mario Miranda who spoke the two languages of Goa, Konkani and Portuguese, could not make himself understood at all. The local language was Kannada; the language of the elite, English, and English was the medium of instruction at St. Joseph's School. "I didn't know a word of English and the other boys made fun of me," he recalls.
With his natural flair for languages he soon learned enough English to be able to keep up with studies and within a few months spoke and wrote it as well as the other students for whom too it was a foreign language. His parents hired a small house in Bangalore not far from the school and sent a cook and another servant from Goa to run it.
All the while at school, he continued to keep those diaries - filling them up with line drawings of school life.
"My classmates appreciated my drawings," Mario recently told an interviewer. "They would encourage me to do nude drawings of a lady teacher whom we had named Sticky Bum," he recalls. "It got me into a lot of trouble." The trouble could not have been anything serious, for he finished his schooling and passed his matriculation seven years later. He was now ready to go to college, and for this his parents decided to send him to Bombay.
Mario Miranda remains attached to St. Joseph's High School and makes it a point to visit it every time he finds himself in Bangalore. To the staff and students of today's St. Joseph's, he is their model student - an Old Boy who has achieved fame and who visits his old school.
If only as a fitting punctuation mark to Mario Miranda's ending his school days, and also as a testimony of the way he had already developed his art, here is an incident at school as remembered by Antonio Menezes, a fellow student.
"Our Science teacher Alec Alvares once demonstrated how invisible ink was made. He gave the class an assignment to make some invisible ink, write a few words with it, and to bring the papers to class. He would hold them near a glow-lamp and read them out. When he was reading these messages, he held up one paper and demanded: ‘Who did this?' It was a caricature of Alvares himself. Mario stood up and admitted that he was the culprit. The Science Master stared at him for a long time. Then he said, ‘You seem to have a gift for this sort of thing. Keep it up and good luck to you.'"
In 1943, Mario Miranda came to Bombay. He was seventeen years old. The Second World War was still raging. Mario had vague thoughts of going to Paris to develop his natural gift for figure drawing by doing a course at the École des Beaux-Arts. But while the war was on, no foreign travel was possible. The next best thing was to study Art at the Sir J.J. School of Art in Bombay itself, and that was what he had come to Bombay for.
As at Bangalore, in Bombay too, his parents ever mindful of his comforts, arranged lodgings for him at the flat of some Goan friends in Holland House on Colaba Causeway. His parents also arranged that he would take his meals in a fancy restaurant Gurdon's near Churchgate station.
Mario did attend classes at Sir J.J. School of Art for a day but disliked it. That one day at the J.J. School of Arts was the closest he came to receiving formal training for his life's calling. Instead, he joined St. Xavier's College to study for a Bachelor of Arts degree in the History of the English Novel. Mario passed his B.A. with Honours in English.
The year was 1947. The Second World War had ended two years earlier. Now there was nothing to stop him from going to Paris to study Art. But something else had happened to make him put off that decision. The British had pulled out of India, but the Portuguese had made it clear that they had no intention of leaving Goa. For Goans, who for all practical purposes were Portuguese citizens, this was a time of uncertainty. Relations between India and Portugal were worsening by the day. If it came to an open conflict what sort of future did someone like himself have in an India at war with Portugal?
He played games, made friends, squired girls to dances; saw a lot of movies, attended church if only to keep in touch with fellow-Goans; found out places where one could get a drink in bone-dry Bombay and frequented Irani tea shops.
And all the while he was refining his ability to draw by practice, practice and more practice. Now at college, a pen and paper were always handy while he was in class, and he could not sit still for long, listening to professors spouting. He pretended to take notes and drew pictures instead.
Among these professors, was the iconic figure of Manuel Colaco, the head of the English Department at St Xavier's College. Mario remembers how, as he was busily drawing his portrait at one of his lectures, Colaco came up to him and stared at his own likeness. He asked Mario, "Were you not listening to my lecture?"
"But I was, Sir," Mario told him. "I can go on drawing while I listen to lectures."
Professor Colaco stood shaking his head. "All I can say is that you're very good at making likenesses. I am keeping this drawing for myself."
OFF THE RAILS
After graduation, Mario Miranda hoped that he would soon be on his way to Paris, but in 1948 his father died, "and that ended my aspirations to go and study art in Paris," he laments. Instead, he rushed off to Goa.
It was a sad homecoming. It took months before life returned to some sort of normalcy. And as he began to go out, he discovered that life in Goa had a new verve. Its stagnating economy had taken a u-turn and, in 1948 Goa was undergoing an economic upsurge. Still ruled by Portugal, Goa had become the freeport for luxury goods and gold that India craved but was forbidden to import. Dozens of Goan merchants became millionaires.
Mario Miranda, now twenty-one and fond of the good life, fitted snugly into the dynamics of this lifestyle. "I just loafed around," he remembers. "My grandmother had left a lot of books. I spent my time reading them or listening to operas on her gramophone." Gaiety, merriment was what he sought. He organized dance parties at his own house, where they danced till the small hours of the morning to the music provided by a local band under the light of hissing Petromax lamps.
But characteristically enough, even while he was living this decadent life, he was also busy filling out those notebooks with the scenes of his village. The church, its congregations, its processions, figure in his drawings again and again, as do private houses, tavernas, street scenes, the bustle of the market place dominated by fat fisherwomen wearing chains of flowers in their hair.
Then one day his conscience rebelled. He began to feel embarrassed wallowing in soçegado, doing nothing, leading a Bohemian life while most of his colleagues had to work for a living. He headed back to Bombay, that Mecca of job-seekers. He was armed with a B.A. degree, but he took with him his diaries too... just in case.
He took a room in a chummery called Rockville on the Arthur Bunder Road, which room he shared with other tenants. It was a seedy locality. "Not actually a Red Light district, but there was a lot of prostitution going around," he recalls.
His room had four beds; his three room-mates were from Goa: Joe Albuquerque, Paul Miranda and Polly Vaz. Of them Vaz alone had a steady and well-paid job in the Airlines Hotel where he worked the night shift. It was not long before Polly Vaz appointed himself Mario's mentor and guide. They became close friends and remain so to this day.
Mario did the rounds of newspaper offices. Most of the major chains already had their own staff cartoonist, and the smaller papers and magazines wanted someone who had been published. Mario was beginning to despair of ever making a living from his art when Polly suggested that he draw postcards of Bombay's monuments and he would try to sell them to the guests at his hotel.
Within a few days, Mario made drawings of the Gateway of India, the Babulnath Temple, the Haji Ali Mosque and Flora Fountain. The hotel guests snapped them up. Here they were getting hand-drawn pictures for the price of a photographic reproduction. Soon Mario's postcards began to sell as fast as he could produce them.
Polly Vaz then invented a hard luck story, of a deaf and dumb brother who wanted to stand on his own feet by drawing pictures and not depend on charity. The postcards had no price tag. It was up to the buyers to decide how much they wanted to contribute to the welfare of this deaf and dumb youth. They paid generously. At last Mario Miranda had begun to make real money.
Polly was resourceful, wise in the ways of the world. One day he confided to Mario that he would not be in Bombay for long because he was planning to migrate to Brazil. It was a vast country, full of opportunities for ambitious men and there was no Prohibition in Brazil.
Mario was instantly caught up in the spell of Brazil. He told Polly that he would join him. They would go to Brazil together. They applied for passports and began to save up from their earnings for the one-way trip to Brazil. And then one of the editors to whom Mario had shown his diaries a few days earlier, D F Karaka who ran The Current, a weekly newsmagazine, called him to his office. "I want you to attend a dance at the Taj Mahal Hotel, and do a scene of the people dancing this new dance that has become a craze, the Can-Can," he told Mario. "If I like it, I will publish your picture".
Mario Miranda loved doing crowds, depicting movement. He really went to town doing the dance scene. That picture still throbs with movement.
Karaka was full of praise. He asked Mario to give him at least one drawing every week for The Current. He had appointed Mario Miranda as his paper's regular cartoonist.
This was it. He had got his break. Suddenly all thought of making a life in Brazil just vanished. Bombay was the place where he would prosper. This was where his future lay. Polly too decided to stay on in India.
It was a modest start. The one or two cartoons he did every week for The Current brought a wage but did not take more than a morning's work. There were days when he had nothing to do; much of this leisure he used in discovering Bombay.
Never a heavy drinker, he was fond of his evening drink. He soon got wise to the ways of getting around Prohibition. Many of his friends carried hip-flasks filled with gin which they would use to lace coloured soda drinks in tea shops. He bought himself a flask.
He became a regular patron of Aunty's Bar, in Dhobi Talao. He became a favoured client of Aunty's Bar because he sometimes took world celebrities there. Once he took Duke Ellington to Aunty's. At another time, he introduced Alan Ginsburg to Aunty's.
The Current was a well produced weekly magazine with a small but influential readership. Mario took a lot of trouble over his weekly cartoon and soon people began to notice them and appreciate them for their consistently high quality.
The editor of The Current D F Karaka kept egging on Mario to give him a cartoon that would lampoon Bombay's Home Minister, Morarji Desai. The drawing Mario produced delighted Karaka, but when the public saw it, it caused a lot of adverse comment and Morarji himself was said to have been infuriated by it. That experience taught Mario the lesson that in India for an ambitious cartoonist to lampoon some political personage was to invite trouble.
The incident also brought home to him the limitations of his job at The Current. He was paid well for his work, but the work itself hardly kept him busy for a day. He wanted to do more drawings, earn more money. He had no desire to quit his job with The Current.
That was when Walter Langhammer, the Art Director of the TimesGroup, invited him to join the Group as an illustrator. C R Mandy, the editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India, had liked Mario's cartoons in The Current and wanted him brought into the Times Group to provide illustrations for the Weekly.
The Times Group was a venerable institution, with its own printing press and an office building which was a city landmark. Aside from its flagship daily, The Times of India which had a national circulation, it published at least three other dailies, the Maharashtra Times (Marathi), The Economic Times,The Evening News and the highly popular The Illustrated Weekly of India. Then there was Femina, a woman's magazine and Filmfare a Bollywood favourite. Aside from The Times itself which had its own iconic cartoonist R K Laxman, Mario had a number of publications for which he could provide illustrations.
Mario jumped at the offer but has remained touchingly grateful to The Current and its editor, Karaka. More than fifty years later when Mario Miranda had already become known as one of his country's foremost cartoonists, he described the most memorable moment of his life as: "When I got my start with TheCurrent as its staff cartoonist."
The Weekly published at least one short story every week, and Mario began to illustrate these stories with one, or at times two drawings. But very soon the other newspapers and magazines of the Group too, such as Femina, Filmfare, and The Economic Times, began to use his drawings.
The work that he had to do professionally did not leave him with much time or appetite for keeping his diaries too. He soon gave up keeping them altogether confining himself to just taking along a sketch pad and pens whenever he went out of his house.
Mario Miranda was in his mid-twenties. He was firmly launched on the career of his choice. He enjoyed the work. A new life was opening to him.
Bombay was a wonderland, full of temptations, with snares for the unwary. Mario was lucky in having a friend like Polly Vaz who knew his way around Bombay. He expanded his circle of friends, went to parties, took girls to cinemas and to nightclubs. On Sundays he usually showed up at the Cathedral of the Holy Name on Woodhouse Road for Mass, so that he could meet his friends from Goa. From the church they went to a restaurant for lunch where they ordered Coca Colas and added rum or gin to them from the flasks they carried.
Life had acquired a routine. He shared his room in the office with Behram Contractor, a Parsi journalist of about his own age. Contractor was a sub-editor in the group. He wrote an amusing column every day under the pseudonym ‘Busybee', for one of the group's publications, The Evening News, which mainly catered to office goers returning home on the suburban trains in the evenings.
After their work, Behram Contractor and Mario would walk to some Irani tea shop and sit talking over cups of rich tea and a pile of gutlibread which they broke with their fingers and ate piece by piece, smearing each piece with butter and dunking it in their tea, and as they ate they talked about the things they hoped to do. They became close friends and remained so for life.
At this time, he too was getting to be known, and total strangers would come up to him at restaurants or on local trains to tell him how much they had liked his cartoon or drawing in some recent issue of Femina or The Weekly. Characters which later acquired identity as "Miss Fonseca" and "Godbole" and "Rajani" had already begun to appear and reappear in the pictures that he drew for either Femina or Filmfare.
Cathedral of the Holy Name or Woodhouse Church as it was locally called, in Mumbai stands across the road from a block of residential apartments owned by the Indian Railways. From one of the upper storey windows of this building, a teen-aged girl had observed a group of young men, all spruced up in their Sunday best, gathering at the church and exchanging banter.
Her name was Habiba. She was the daughter of Iqbal Hydari who was a senior executive of the railway department and resided in one of the apartments in the building.
The Hydari family belongs to the nobility of the erstwhile princely state of Hyderabad. Habiba's own grandfather, Sir Akbar Hydari, had been the Prime Minister of the state, and another Hydari and uncle of Habiba had become the Governor of Assam. The Hydaris were Muslim.
As a rule families such as the Hydaris, feudal to the bone were insular and mired in deep-rooted traditions. But the Hydaris themselves were something of an exception. Many of their menfolk had been educated at Oxford or Cambridge and thus belonged to a broader international culture. And Habiba was lucky to have been brought up in such a family.
Habiba herself was slim, attractive, pert, a girl with a will of her own. She was determined to make a career for herself and had no intention of submitting to a marriage arranged by family elders. She had joined the J.J. School of Art and wanted to become an artist and when the time came she would choose her own mate. She disapproved of many of the social restraints of her class or clan. She took an active part in social activities of her college. "I had formed a group with four other girls and we called ourselves ‘The Teenage Gang,'" Habiba remembers.
The group of young men that HabibaHydari had watched from her bedroom was made up of Mario Miranda and a few other young men from Goa, which included Mario's cousin Lucio Miranda and a close friend Sarto Almeida, who had only recently begun work as an architect. They were all bachelors and tended to hang together at parties and dances.
Every year before its Diwali Holidays, the J.J. School of Art held its annual Ball. That year 1957 Mario Miranda and his Goan friends went to it. HabibaHydari's ‘Teenage Gang' was also there in full strength. The two groups met and mingled for the first time.
Here at a ‘tag' dance Lucio Miranda happened to be dancing with Habiba when Mario tagged him. That was when the two first met. After that, it just so happened that no one else tagged Mario, so as they danced on they also got to know one another. As the evening ended, they all agreed to meet at Berry's a popular café in the Fort area.
It was at this and similar sessions that followed, that new and lasting friendships were made, and at least one of these friendships would end up in matrimony. As will be seen HabibaHydari and Mario Miranda would become united in wedlock five years later. It was a long courtship during which they were separated from one another for long periods, both pursuing their disparate careers.
Within a few months of their meeting, Habiba's father Iqbal Hydari was transferred to a higher post in Assam, and had to relinquish his Bombay flat. Ordinarily, she too would have gone off with him to Assam but, reluctant to interrupt her studies at the Sir J.J. School of Art, she decided to stay on in Bombay where of course, she had to make her own living arrangements. It was while she was living on her own in Bombay that her friendship with Mario matured.
At the time itself, in 1957, Habiba's main concern was to complete her course at Sir J.J. School of Art so that she could make a career for herself.
The irony was that two years later she took a job as Air Hostess with BOAC as British Airways was then called. Wherever she went she took with her two photographs in a leather frame, which she used to keep on her bedside table. One was of her own family, the other of Mario Miranda.
Mario for his part was on the point of saying goodbye to his career in the Times Group. He was going to sneak off to Lisbon and from there, see if he could make a new life for himself in Europe. This was a reckless gamble.
Many things contributed to force Mario to take that decision. It was getting increasingly apparent that India would resort to military action to take Goa. And in that case what would happen to his beloved house in Loutolim and its priceless possessions which so many generations of his family had assembled?
Then again since coming to Bombay, his horizons had widened. He was now familiar with the work of the stars of his profession; household names such as Schultz, Oliphant, Peter Arno, Herblock, Fougasse and someone he especially admired, Ronald Searle. Each one had his own distinct style; you merely saw a picture and said: ‘Ah Oliphant!' or ‘Ah Searle!' He felt confident that there would come a day when people who saw a drawing he had done, would automatically ascribe it to him and say: ‘Ah! Mario!'
But for that he would have to go abroad to refine his art. He had relatives there, and he knew the language. From the secure base of Lisbon, he would go off to London or Paris and try and make a name for himself. He kept his plans to himself. If he succeeded he had no intention of returning to India in a hurry. He sought three weeks leave of absence which his employers readily granted.
In the event it was three years before he returned to The Times office to find out whether they would take him back. They, for their part, were delighted to accommodate him. This was because his desperate gamble had paid off handsomely. When he reported back, he had made a name for himself in London, and had become a personage in the profession.
Mario Miranda has often told interviewers just how much he loves to travel, fly to distant cities, "Especially when someone else is footing the bill," he adds.
Well, that first time he ever went abroad, no one else was footing the bill; nor was he in a state of mind to enjoy the journey itself. He was full of apprehensions about what lay in store for him in Lisbon. He had arranged that his sister Fatima, who lived in London, should send him around £400, which would enable him to go on to Paris and study Art. There were all sorts of difficulties about sending money to other countries and everything depended on whether Fatima had somehow found a way to make it available for him in Lisbon, where his brother Peter lived. Peter was to hold the money till Mario arrived.
In his hand-baggage he carried a couple of his diaries as well a thick folder containing most of his published drawings and cartoons. They would establish his credentials as a professional cartoonist, and make it easy to find work in Paris to enable him to study art at the École des Beaux-Arts.
But all his hopes were dashed to the ground when, soon after arrival in Lisbon, Peter gave him the news that the money had not come.
This was shattering news indeed. He had pinned his hopes for the future on his being able to reach Paris. Now Paris remained as far away as ever. From here, almost within reach of his goal, he would have to go back to India and report to The Times office in a couple of weeks; pretend that he had spent his leave in Goa itself.
Expatriate Goans tend to hang together and are keen to do something for a fellow-Goan in trouble, and in Lisbon Mario met many friends he had known in Goa. Some of them were keen that he should stay on in Lisbon. One contact led to another and Mario was told to report to the Gulbenkian Foundation which offered him a scholarship that would enable him to stay in Lisbon for a whole year.
If Lisbon had been kind to Mario, he too was grateful to Lisbon. From then on, it becomes one of his favourite cities and he has made it the subject of some of his best large-scale vistas. You can see them today bubbling with life.
He spent the rest of that year, 1959, discovering Lisbon by walking through its streets and lanes, talking to the people, sampling their food and wines and being Mario, a keen observer as well as a faithful recorder of the passing show doing some of his most ambitious drawings. He got to know Lisbon just as well as he knew Bombay or Panjim. And he drew, without having to worry about deadlines or indeed, the possibility of making money out of his pictures. He just let go and drew and polished or distorted and chopped away according to his fancy and thus succeeded in creating a unique recognizable style of his own.
Above all, that year in Lisbon, free to practice his art in his own way, enabled Mario Miranda to overcome a long held mental block: he discovered that he no longer needed to be taught anything about his art; he had gained confidence in himself, and wanted to go and try to live on his art in a competitive field. He had saved a little money in Lisbon and could have gone on to Paris if he wanted to. He went to London instead.
One of the factors in favour of London was that his sister Fatima lived in Belsize Park and he had somewhere to stay while he looked around for work. He began making good money doing cartoons for magazines and also TV advertisements. He supplied the figures and the television technicians gave them animation so they became figures in motion. He was also doing cartoons on a regular basis for a magazine called Lilliput.
Soon after he found regular work, he left his sister's flat and began to live in Hampstead, "because that was the arty locality".
"Frances Newton Souza was there," he remembers and so was Abu, already well installed as a cartoonist with The Observer. "I met famous cartoonists such as Jak and Vicky Gyles and Ronald Searle".
When Mario told Searle that he had been influenced by him and had tried to pattern himself after him, Searle told him that if he did so, he would be doing himself a disservice. "You have a gift; it is up to you to develop it. To try and copy someone else, no matter how good, is to put a curb on your own freedom as an artist. You are good. You will find your own medium; your signature tune."
So Mario went on doing things his own way and it was not long before he may be said to have been accorded the hallmark of recognition when Punch, the very flag bearer of humour magazines in the world at the time, published one of his cartoons.
Since that time Mario Miranda himself has become well-known in his profession. He has travelled widely and hobnobbed with many of the stars of his profession such as Oliphant, Schultz and Herblock. But Ronald Searle whom he had once held as his role model still remains his favourite cartoonist.
He liked being in London. He was earning good money and had made many friends. In December 1961, he had been in London for all of two years, and looking forward to the Christmas festivities when something which he and other Goans had been dreading for years, did happen. It changed Mario Miranda's life.
On 19th December 1961, Indian troops marched into Goa. The takeover was both quick and bloodless. Portugal moved out and India moved in. Nonetheless for Mario and other Goans, it was a truly traumatic event. After four and a half centuries, Goa, from being a colony of Portugal, had become a part of India.
For days he could think of nothing other than to go back to Goa and see how his house, his village, his friends had come through the ordeal. Goa was an ‘occupied territory' now under military rule. How would these new masters of Goa treat people like himself who lived abroad on Portuguese passports; and who were by definition, the subjects of Portugal? He personally, had good reason to feel that he might be in disfavour because he had been befriended by the Portuguese regime.
It was with some trepidation that he called at the India Office and applied for an Indian passport. He was both surprised and delighted when after no more than a routine delay, they gave him a passport.
He flew to India early in January 1962. From Bombay, he went on by train and hired car to Goa.
The old house stood just as he remembered it, dignified and welcoming. But he found its door firmly shut. It turned out that an Army unit was in occupation. They were polite but firm. He could not go in.
At least the house was there, undamaged, and for that he was thankful. He had to make arrangements for somewhere to stay. Such was his homecoming.
Within a year, civilian administration was restored and after that Mario got his house back. It was something to be thankful for that the old house itself and all the farms and plantations that the family had owned were intact. But the farms and plantations had suffered neglect and brought no income, so the new bhatkar Mario was required to make a living on his own. He resumed his job in the Times Group almost as though he had never left it.
His friends Polly Vaz and Sarto Almeida were still there to welcome him, and his romance with HabibaHydari which had been so rudely interrupted by his impulsive flight to Lisbon took off with a flourish.
For someone who was as well established in his profession as Mario, London had no special advantage over Bombay. The advantage of being in Bombay was that it was within commuting distance of Goa which had needed his constant personal attention to regain possession of his ancestral house.
The process took a whole year. For this we have the testimony of Habiba Miranda who has a sharp memory of dates. According to Habiba, Sarto Almeida, their longtime friend was married in their Bombay house on the 26th January, 1963. Before that date, the house had come into Mario's possession.
And again as Habiba remembers: "That very night after Sarto had been married, Mario and I, too decided to get married. We were married on 10th November, 1963".
Habiba gave up her job as an airhostess and she and Mario set up their home in a modest flat in Bombay. Both of them had belonged to well-to-do families and were used to a fairly affluent lifestyle. Now they had to live on a budget.
In his earlier stint with the Times Group, Mario had created for two of its magazines, Filmfareand Femina, some amusing characters such as RajaniNimbupani, a typical Bollywood heroine and her opposite number, the matinee-idol BalrajBalram, who were said to be prototypes of real actors. There was also his archetype street politician Bundledass, pompous, full of his own importance making thundering pronouncements and at times making a fool of himself too. It was obvious that these cartoon characters had made a strong impression on the readers of both magazines.
Now soon after he resumed work at the Times Group, the editor of one of the major newspapers of the chain, The Economic Times asked Mario to contribute a cartoon to his paper which would provide a lighter touch to the somewhat stuffy contents of a newspaper devoted to commerce and finance.
So he invented Miss Fonseca with bold good looks, efficient, gutsy and above all sexy. "She just clicked," Mario Miranda will tell you with a touch of pride.
At about this time, Mario Miranda brought out at his own expense, a booklet containing a collection of his Goa drawings to which he gave the name Goa with Love.
Mario Miranda's first ever offer of an all-expenses-paid foreign trip came when he was invited by the United States Information Service, the USIS, to confer with cartoonists of America. As he had to fly by a U S airliner which stopped in Tel Aviv, the Israeli Government asked Mario to stop by in Israel as their guest, to meet some of the country's prominent cartoonists. For a Christian, this was like an invitation to do a pilgrimage of the Holy Land. True, Mario Miranda, even though a member of the Roman faith is not particularly devout, nonetheless he could not help being awed.
Professionally, this trip was rewarding. He met and exchanged views with some of Israel's own practicing cartoonists, among whom he remembers Dosh Katz and somewhat to his surprise a female of the species, FriedelSterm.
This first trip to the Holy Land was to prove an auspicious one, as a forerunner of similar bonanzas. He continued on his trip to the United States.
The issue of The Illustrated Weekly of India dated June 2, 1974 carries an article written by Mario Miranda which describes this trip. The article contains some cartoons too, both by Mario himself as well as a representative sampling of the cartoonists of America such as Ed Fisher of The New Yorker, Bud Blake and Gordon Bess plus a tiny one by Charles Schultz which bears the inscription: To Mario in Friendship!
He took in most of the major cities such as San Francisco, Denver, Washington, New Orleans, New York and an excursion to a remote village called Santa Rosa where Charles Schultz lives in splendour, almost like a Raja. "Even by American standards Schultz is fabulously rich," comments Mario.
Over beers or doughnuts and coffee, Mario Miranda and the American cartoonists he saw exchanged ideas about their work and gave each other signed cartoons.
Mario says that he learned quite a lot about his business from his American colleagues. He even invaded the fortress in New York where a dozen or so of the sanest men in America work like crazy to produce a magazine called MAD, and was seen by the editor-in-chief in his office. Mario's cartoon of this meeting shows a huge man who resembles an ageing Sumo wrestler, dressed in athletic T-shirt and brief shorts, bent over the handlebars of his tiny exercise-bike, pedaling away furiously as he talks about the business of cartooning to a visitor nattily turned out in a suit and wearing a tie, the creator of Miss Fonseca, Mario Miranda.
Since that time, such all-expenses-paid trips to distant cities have become a commonplace of Mario Miranda's life, and as often as not Habiba too, joins him on them, particularly if Mario is going to hold exhibitions of his drawings in their galleries. She has emerged as the member of the team who knows how best these drawings are arranged for maximum impact.
For his part, Mario mixes business with pleasure. He has always been fond of observing life from the street level, and he goes nosing around, and making drawings of whatever catches his eye.
Over the years there must have been more than 20 of these trips and in their course, Mario Miranda has seen most of the world's art capitals at least once, and some favourites such as London and Paris, he and Habiba have visited several times over. Tokyo, Macau, Singapore, Sydney, Brisbane, Honolulu, Berlin, Hamburg, Edinburgh, Lisbon, Madrid, most of the American cities, La Paz, Brasilia... you name it, chances are he has been there. He even managed to sneak into East Germany while Germany was still divided; behind the Iron Curtain, as it were, and enjoyed himself hugely.
Every single journey is meticulously recorded, as it were. If he held an exhibition, there are catalogues and the publicity material attending them. When there were no exhibitions, there are those on-the-spot drawings brought back by Mario and eagerly published by some newspaper or the other.
Mario discovered a steady and growing demand for his drawings from those who had nothing to do with the newspaper trade. People wanted him to provide illustrations for books. J.R.D. Tata asked him to pep-up a book one of his staff had written about the rise of the house of Tatas. Manufacturers of decorative souvenir china wanted his designs, and so did those who made decorative grilles with wrought iron. The wealthy wanted him to do murals. Air India even asked him to design some of his characters as puppets for them.
His growing stature as a public figure brought responsibilities which he had to find the time to attend. The University of Goa nominated him to their Senate and he became an active member of an organization that Rajiv Gandhi who was then the Prime Minister set up to preserve India's ancient monuments.
And so the years passed, ten by the calendar as it happens, but in those ten years, Mario had made a reputation for himself as a cartoonist as well as an illustrator that was no longer confined to India. That he was being invited to hold exhibitions of his pictures in the art centres of Europe and America, is itself ample proof of how his reputation had grown.
He began to think that his holding down a desk job did not leave him the freedom he needed to do things that he would really like to do.
So when his old friend and fellow Times Group staffer Behram Contractor decided to quit his job to work as the editor of Mid-Day an afternoon tabloid that a common friend, Khalid Ansari was going to start, Mario too went along as the Mid-Day's cartoonist, but with the freedom to take on any other work he wanted.
In the event it turned out to have been a wise move, for soon he was flooded with requests for drawings and cartoons from a dozen different quarters.
His earnings rose substantially too, and he no longer had to depend on a monthly salary. Artists are said to be highly un-businesslike, and Mario Miranda is no exception. Luckily Habiba is a much more down-to-earth person and she has tended more and more to fill the role of being her husband's business manager.
For her part, Habiba had continued with her job of Art teacher at the Cathedral and John Connon School for close on twelve years, somehow managing to take time off for those foreign jaunts with her husband. Around the late nineteen-eighties, she gave up her teaching job to be able to devote more time to her domestic duties.
Even though they lived in Bombay, the ancestral house in Loutolim needed their constant care and attention. Just to keep it habitable, they had to employ caretakers and spend a lot of money for maintenance and repairs. Above all it needed frequent visits to Goa. There were times when either of them or both had to make prolonged stays in Goa to see to some problem about the house.
All these years while his livelihood came from newspapers and magazines published in Bombay, it made sense that Mario too should be based in Bombay. But now, at Mid-Day, he found that he was doing the bulk of his work from home with only fleeting visits to the paper's office. There was no reason why he could not do his cartoons from home.
Mario Miranda is best known as a cartoonist, but that hardly describes the full range of his professional activities, and he himself
is somewhat dismissive of it: "I am not really a cartoonist. I just draw!" If only as a sampling of the full sweep of his activities, here are only some of the things he did in the nineteen-eighties, when incidentally we first met as collaborators on a commissioned book.
Earlier, he had provided the illustrations for a book on Karnataka that had been commissioned by the Karnataka Government, and for which the text was written by Dom Moraes. Then the Goa Government commissioned him to provide scenes for Inside Goa, a book on Goa, Daman and Diu, for which I was asked to write the text.
He took such assignments in his stride and, in addition, also coped with the rising demand for sketches for other books on Goa and for magazine articles. In between he was doing murals for hotel lobbies and designing puppets for Air India. And then, in the summer of 1984, he dashed off to Paris where he and Habiba lived for a month as the guests of Alliance Francaise.
All this while he was also doing his regular cartoons. Miss Fonseca's fans did not miss her even for a day.
Then he disappeared again, this time to Australia. He ranged through that vast continent, saw its wonders such as Sydney's Opera Hall and kangaroos and night clubs and brought back a whole brief-case full of on-the-spot drawings.
In 1988, Mario received one of the most unusual offers for a working holiday: to join two other Indian artists, Jatin Das and K.V. Haridasan for a trip to East Germany and meet some of their major cartoonists. This was like venturing into forbidden land. East Germany was in the Russian zone behind the Iron Curtain. Mario and his colleagues visited the major art centres. They were wined and dined wherever they went and finally held a joint exhibition of their work in East Berlin.
And as though these hectic activities were not enough to keep up with, Mario also found it necessary to change his job. Behram Contractor, left Mid-Day to publish The Afternoon Dispatch & Courier and Mario joined TheAfternoon as a freelance cartoonist.
Over the years Mario had tended to become more and more of a freelance, turning out more drawings than cartoons, and the cartoons he did, he could do from wherever he happened to be, he did not have to be tied down to Bombay any longer. As such, to go on living in Bombay in a rented apartment while they were also spending large sums on keeping the Loutolim house in good repair just did not make sense. Why not go and live in Goa? Habiba, for her part thought it would be an excellent move, but it was Mario who demurred. FinallyHabiba and common sense, won.
So they took their dogs and tortoises and their furniture and paintings and went to live in Goa, regretfully giving up what they had together built over thirty years, for a place where Mario's forefathers had lived for three hundred.
THE SENIOR CITIZEN
If Mario himself chose to make a living in a profession that his parents could not have envisaged, his sons too have taken up careers that neither he nor Habiba could have predicted. The elder, Raul has become a hair stylist, and has gone off to the Mecca of his calling, the U.S.A. and there set up a flourishing practice.
The younger son Rishaad has specialized as a designer-decorator. Both Raul and Rishaad are married.
So Mario Miranda having reached an age at which most self-employed people retire has neither given up working nor even reduced his workload. He goes on, not only keeping up with his routine cartoons, but rarely refusing commissioned work.
He wears his years with ease. Fame, or at any rate, recognition of his artistic talents has come to him in the form of numerous awards, citations and trophies. The nation awarded him the title of Padma Shri and a Padma Bhushan in 2003. He is one of the few internationally known Goans.
He has travelled widely and sat down in cafes, nightclubs, marketplaces to draw scenes from local life in cities which to most of us are only names, such as Sao Paolo or Macau. He has held exhibitions of his pictures in most of the well-known art capitals of the civilized world.
Returning home has not meant for Mario Miranda a retreat from work. On the contrary he has taken on some extra work after his homecoming; activities that have nothing to do with his profession. There were issues that he had always felt strongly about, such as animal welfare and environmental purity. To these causes he has added what he calls the "Heritage of Goa".
He is known to have joined demonstrations to try and save some of Panjim's noble trees, or written letters to newspapers about the pollution of Goa's once-sparkling rivers.
Some Goans started agitating about the need for saving priceless old artefacts of old churches and monuments, and Mario Miranda gave this movement both direction and muscle. He took the lead in organizing this group of activities into a society called Amigos de Rachol. They sent appeals to the church authorities to donate their religious antiques to this society so that they could be kept safe in one place which would eventually form a Museum of Christian Art at the Seminary at Rachol.
Within a few months they received enough artefacts from Goa's religious buildings to justify their collection being called a Museum. They also managed to raise enough money to cover the running expenses of such a museum. Mario Miranda's early benefactors, the Gulbenkian Foundation of Lisbon kicked in with a handsome contribution. But soon the Seminary made it clear that they did not want the Amigos as tenants. They demanded their room back.
This was a severe blow. They tried their best to find a suitable place for their Museum. And then found what they wanted: a hall even grander, even more holy, even more directly in the tourist path and just as well lighted. In the Convent of Santa Monica in Velha Goa, the stamping ground of tourists as well as pilgrims to Goa.
The launching of the Museum of Christian Art was also a personal triumph for Mario Miranda, for it was he who had spearheaded the Amigos' efforts to bring it about, out of a sense of obligation to his native land.
He has arrived at a point in a man's journey through life at which it is customary to look at the years behind him and to remember with gratitude those whose good wishes had guided his path. His mother who had put into his hands the tools of his trade; that Bishop of Goa who instead of admonishing an impish child for lampooning one of his priests, burst into laughter instead and told the child's mother not to curb her son's natural gift to draw figures; that school mistress to whom her pupils had given the nickname ‘Sticky Bum', and who had become the role-model of their erotic fancies; the Science master who taught his class the secret of secret writing and found his own caricature drawn in invisible ink; of Professor Colaco, the English language professor who, angry as he was that one of his students was pretending to take down notes while making a caricature of him, wished him well and recognising a giant talent, kept the drawing; and lastly of the dog called Tommy who had his own way of passing judgement on his master's pictures!
And now to face the years that still lie ahead with calm assurance, girded by the good wishes, not only of his own family, his amigos, his pets and admirers, but also of a whole army of men, women and animals that he himself had brought to life.