M for Mario's Mumbai

Unlike the buzzing cityscape that he depicted on his delightful panels, December 11 passed by quietly as the second death anniversary of iconic Indian cartoonist and master illustrator Mario Miranda. Disappointing this, considering his imprint on the city, and vice versa, the city’s impact on his works remain some of the best illustrated imagery of Mumbai.

This legend of Indian art and illustration was able to capture the fabric and the cultural melee of the metropolis in a manner that was witty, and yet, replete with message and meaning. Miss Fonseca, Rajni Nimbupani, Moonswamy, Shri Bundaldass – these were all intrinsic characters who were immortalised by Mario, and who remain integral to his countless tributes of the city that graced (and still do) several Mumbai publications. They represented the essence of a city in motion, a city constantly in change, and a city that was inclusive and secular, most importantly.

Mario’s Mumbai was all-encompassing, and displayed the rich vs poor divide without any apologies. The city dweller’s pride, spirit and joie de vivre were on display, never mind his bank balance. His panels spoke up for the citizen, and how. Little wonder then, the high rise and the hutment found equal space on his storyboard. A day at one of the big-ticket races was depicted with the same humour as was a typical Sunday inside a chawl in Dadar, with every element portrayed (read: stray dog, doodhwala, Pandu hawaldar et al). It was this beautiful understanding of the city that made Mario’s craft so endearing and engaging, almost like the affable fly on the wall that could peek into the mind of the Mumbaikar.

Growing up in the Maximum City, this journalist, just like scores of others, was also able to find off-shoots and lookalikes of these characters in every corner and contour of Mumbai that he eulogised with such fine detail and refreshing candour.

Flip through his works and his wizardry over both the black-and-white and colour palette, is jaw-dropping. Thankfully, most of his archive has been documented, which ensures his expansive repository of work is there for all to marvel at.

Till date, it’s common to hear an out-of-towner, perhaps on their maiden city visit, remark at the brilliance of Mario’s world showcased on the walls of Café Mondegar, in all its mad riot of colours and appeal. He had a pulse on the city, unlike few others, and showcased the city unlike fewer even.

Mumbai could do with more of his ilk, and his ink.

— The writer is Features Editor, MiD DAY¬†

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