Back in the '60s, for me, Mario Miranda was 'God'! I would lie in bed, incapacitated by asthma - wondering where my next breath would come from - and live in the make believe world of Mario's cartoons. There was this little book titled 'Goa with Love' in which he had drawn cartoons of village life in Goa. The book would be by my bedside and it was as if I knew each of those characters on a first name basis.
Inspired by the great cartoonist's work, especially in Illustrated Weekly, I would cut out little cartoon human figures, sketched by me on note book covers - much to the annoyance of my brothers - and seat them everywhere in the room. A little later, I graduated to drawing comic books, and I felt flattered when I was told by many who leafed through them that my sketches resembled those drawn by Mario. My first cartoons were published by Sportsweek in 1972 after India's dismal showing in Hockey at the Munich Olympics. And there were quite a few published in the interim, including one on the infamous Sudhir Naik incident in England, for which I drew a lot of flak.
In 1977, having written the last paper of my BSc examination, I returned home to find Mr. Anant Pai, founder of Amar Chitra Comics, sitting in my drawing room - along with Mr. Pradeep Sathe, one of the finest comic book illustrators. Leafing through my rejected cartoons portfolio, which I used to call 'Morgue', 'Uncle Pai' said, "You are a Mario fan, aren't you?" The two were dissecting a 'Bishen Singh Bedi' caricature I had drawn and said my lines were somewhat like that of the great cartoonist. My day was made! The next day I joined Mr. Pai's company and worked with him for a year before taking up cricket as a career.
I have been a great fan of Sudhir Dar and R K Laxman, but for me the ultimate was Mario Miranda. It wasn't often that my family could afford to go to Goa for a holiday when I was a kid. But having been there at least a dozen times over the last decade, I have found solace, sitting in one corner of 'Longinhos' at Margao with a glass of beer or trudging along the Varca beach, observing characters that step right out of a Mario sketchbook. I can't but help letting out a chuckle when I see a pot-bellied priest, for that is for me the quintessential Mario cartoon!
In my personal view, Mario wasn't a great political or corporate cartoonist, his famous 'Bundaldass', Miss Nimboopani and 'Miss Fonseca' notwithstanding. A character right out of his own sketchbook, Mario - with his goatee - was a man without malice! Drawing humour from daily slices of life was his specialty and he would rather have sketched priests, bootleggers and big bosomed socialites than waste time on blundering politicians. His sketches, especially of Goan churches, were exquisite.
My greatest regret in life will be not having ever met the 'God' of my schooldays. May his noble soul rest in peace!
Author is a former Mumbai 'A' division fast bowler, is a cartoonist, who contributes to MiD DAY's sports pages