Farewell, Ilustre!

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The chronicler of Goa and Colaba. The funny man and the silent artist. All were faces of the man we knew as Mario Miranda. Author Gerson Da Cunha remembers

Mario De Miranda: 1926 – 2011
Mario De Miranda: 1926 – 2011, Photo: DNA Syndication

THE MOST personal is probably the most honest. In the departure of Mario de Miranda to ampler spaces for his black and white nib, I have lost somebody with whom I could share that rarest of blessings, silence. Certainly a blessing from Mario’s end. Like the true artist, he was a man of counted words. He belonged to that dwindling coterie with whom I shared/share three of Goa’s four languages: Konkani, Portuguese and English (neither of us was great with the fourth, Marathi). It was this mix, even confusion, that yielded the confection of Mario Miranda. I drop the “de” of his name because it is a flourish of the Portuguese way in Goa, dropped in fact by many Portuguese themselves in greeting you.

“Oh, ilustre” (Greetings, great one!) he’d say in salutation, echoing the great days of the “Café Central” and Coelho’s, the bar next door, on the central gardens of Panjim — but this even when we were in Bombay. The Goan in Mario was a tension between the Lusitanised European, the land-owning bhatcar, the Brahmin converted to Catholicism four centuries ago, the English schooled and educated youth, the London trained hand, the CR Mandy-patronised editor at Boribunder, the travels to many countries as consulates discovered the magic of a Miranda trip through their nations and finally, the headiest of brews, the adulation of his peers and his public — all of this catalysed by the chemistry of loss. Loss is something peculiarly Goan in those who live in Bombay, even unto the second generation like Frank Simoes, who grow up in Bombay and who know, really, no other working environment. Strange but true.

Then there is, what you might call, the Colaba-end of Mario. Colaba is quintessentially South Mumbai. It has changed considerably in the past few years as land values have gone through ever-lower roofs. Gentrification has arrived with its falsities. I think of the 1960s and ’70s. It was fun-middle- class and Mario was a part of it. Mario’s big break came in 1974, when he travelled to the US, which enabled him to promote his art and interact with other cartoonists there. He also got a chance to work with Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts. He held solo exhibitions in over 22 countries.

His closest friends say a great deal about what he was. They were Vinod Mehta, then editor of Debonair and now the editor-in-chief of Outlook; the other member of the trio was Behram Contractor, founder-editor of The Afternoon Despatch & Courier. The trio were devoted members of a gang that hung out at what was known as ‘Aunties’. This was a place for the wonderful illegal brew that may have provided the powerstroke of the city’s journalism.

Mario was part of the Colaba that belonged to Churchill’s (wonderful sandwiches) and people whose talent and lifestyle created a culture that enriched without arrogance.

It is now some days since the world lost Mario. A few points in his bio may deserve underlining. After receiving the Padma Shri (1988), he was elevated to the Padma Bhushan (2002). It was a rare recognition by the State of a man whose eminence existed in every heart because it was achieved with a smile. His “Miss Fonseca” and “Miss Nimbupani” will live on. Mario was not what you’d call a womaniser, someone with whom you’d hesitate to leave your sister. Yet there was a lot about him that must’ve been hormonally stirring. I was personally acquainted with three ladies with whom he ran a fast-moving chariot and one of whom he took to the altar.

Mario Miranda’s charm was a compound of unquestioned good looks, good manners and a sense of when to hold his peace. He married the beauteous Habiba Hydari who, oddly, was the force that propelled him to rediscover Goa, or at least, his ancestral mansion in Loutolim. It was she who repaired the structure and filled it with the furniture and artefacts that bespoke another age and culture. To her go our hearts in sympathy.

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Goa’s Renaissance Man

Maria Aurora Couto, Writer

Photo: The Hindu Archives

I’d hate to call Mario Miranda just a cartoonist. He was a true artist. His illustrations told many, many stories of Goa and of India. Mario introduced Goa’s vibrant multiculturalism to mainstream Indian imagination. As an undergraduate student in newly liberated India, a time of creative possibilities and regeneration, he dreamt of a renaissance in Goa. Today, it is fashionable and profitable to package Goa as a hedonistic paradise for tourists. Such falsification of the joie de vivre of the Goans, as seen in Mario’s works, depressed him. His vision integrated Goa and India. That was his strength. Perhaps the extent of his popularity truly hit me when my students in Delhi told me that they grew up with Mario Miranda. These were girls from all over India. They’d beg me to bring back his books from Goa. They’ll be in their 50s now, with daughters in college, who will discover his work. Mario transcended age and space, in reaching out to people.

He showed the world the comedy of daily life and the buzz of urban cities. His childhood in Lou tolim was populated by a variety of people. We’re both from the same village. Even our ancestors were friends. The villagers, his family, the church near his house, and its priest, all inspired his art. On holiday with cousins, he’d come home after each day’s outing and draw a postcard. The entire extended family would wait in excitement to see who among them it featured. Mario was a true ambassador of Goa. The inclusive vision of India, which he lived with, is shrinking today. His life should be an inspiration for Goans in particular, and for all those who rejoiced in his work.

As told to Aradhna Wal

Aradhna Wal is a Correspondent with Tehelka.
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The Cosmopolitan Mumbaikar

Sarnath Banerjee, Graphic novelist

A Song For Mario A Mario: Miranda Drawing, As Reimagined By Banerjee
A Song For Mario A Mario: Miranda Drawing, As Reimagined By Banerjee

IN GOA on a trip in my mid-20s, I thought the best way to know the place is through Mario. One afternoon, I took a bus to Lout – olim and landed up at his doorstep. His was an aristocrat- looking house — straight out of the pages of Love in the Time of Cholera. I rang the bell, shaking like a leaf.

The man who peered out was Mario himself. He was affable. We started talking in an outhouse that, I discovered, was where Shyam Benegal’s Trikal was shot. It was a Garcia Marquez village, a Marquez house and Mario could have easily been a Marquez character.

At that time, I’d received the MacArthur Fellowship and was wondering what to do with my life. So I bounced some ideas off Mario; he showed interest. He was funny, at the same time conte mp – lative, wearing a naughty grin all the time.

As morning rolled into afternoon, Mario suggested we should move to his den for a drink. It was then that the bell rang and his wife Habiba walked in. He sheepishly told her we were thinking of moving in to have a drink. She said, “Beer, at this hour? My God!”

He embodied a period of history. He would say how Salman Rushdie sat in that chair or Nissim Ezekiel nodded off during conversations. In Rushdie’s Moor’s Last Sigh, the man who painted the central character’s house was Mario Miranda.

Mario was not a cartoonist; he was a ‘visualist’ drawing the history of an epoch. He worked like a craftsman — slowly, meticulously and laboriously — for hours. That is magical, considering the fast life that he led in Colaba. Mario’s cartoons were never one-liners. They opened up discussion, debate, thought or just a memory. He represented the cosmopolitanism of Bombay. Mario’s images can be bought for Rs 500 each on his website. It is a joke. A contemporary artist would charge in lakhs. He lacked that kind of a commercial mind.

This is a world where words are churned out by the million online and people yearn for fame. Mario’s role becomes even more precious. He could create entire universes in a mere drawing, without the need for constant validation.

As told to Janani Ganesan.

Janani Ganesan is a Correspondent with Tehelka.
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“I simply cannot think Mario’s passing as a loss”

Musician Remo Fernandes remembers how his dear friend and iconic cartoonist Mario Miranda lived a charmed and fulfilling life

The Portuguese had been driven out about a decade earlier, and now Goa was in a hurry to be ‘modernised’. We found blocks of flats ‘so nice, compact and practical’, compared to our whitewashed elephant colonial homes in the village; we phased out Amalia Rodrigues, Trio los Paraguayos and Renato Carosone, and brought on Cliff, Elvis and the Beatles; we disguised old churches and crosses as modern with concrete façade and Johnson tiles. It was the 1970s.

Bang in the middle of this Goa denial came Mario Miranda’s all-time classic ‘Goa with Love’. It was a brilliant, loving book, which caricatured all things Goan, past and present. Through meticulous detail and irreverent humour, Mario showed us that we were in fact nostalgic for the very things we were ignoring; the grand old mando, the bonhomie in the village taverna, the mestre leading the church choir with a pint of feni sticking out of his pocket, the buxom young fisherwoman whose tongue was sharper than the bones of her fish.

Before that, besides his cousins [though I do admit they are numerous], few knew Mario or his work in his own homeland. The fact that he had been publishing brilliant cartoons of national relevance in some of the leading publications in the country for years meant zilch to Goans. You see, Goa was and still is a bit of an Asterix village, where nothing in the world has happened if it hasn’t happened in Goa. And if it isn’t totally Goa-centric.

‘Goa with Love’ changed all that with one swift swoosh of the pen. Goa woke up to find in Mario its long-lost son, the one who showed us who we really were. Around that time he also moved back to his ancestral home in Loutolim, lock, stock, barrel, a wife and two sons. That did it. He was now amcho Mario, our Mario. Goans have no nobler title to bestow.

Various comparisons have been made between Mario and Laxman these days, and he has been accused of not having enough ‘bite’. It is a habit in our country to dump everyone in the same basket; political and social cartoonists, singer-songwriters and playback singers, sometimes even authors and journalists. The truth is, Mario saw humour in our follies and our most serious pompousness, and that is all he wished to portray. In a way, he was an extension of the schoolboy who secretly caricatured his teachers, priests and classmates. We do not expect political cartoons from Charles Schulz or Walt Disney; why should we from Mario?

I first met Mario when he invited me to a party at his residence at Oyster, Colaba, Mumbai, while I was a young architecture student in the city. I was awed, and not a little nervous, at meeting my first celebrity hero. He put me right at ease, and in the middle of the party took me aside and said “I envy you musicians”. Was I hearing right? He explained, “Look what happened just now. You sang a song, and you received instant appreciation and applause from the people around you. I come up with my cartoons late at night, alone in my study, with no one to share the thrill of creation with. By the time they are published and people compliment me, days or weeks later, to me they’re of the past.” His words echoed in my mind years thereafter, when in addition to performing on stage, I started the solitary journey of recording my songs in my home studio late into nights.

During the ensuing years we became good friends, and I daresay, hopefully without too much smugness, that the friendship developed out of a mutual admiration society of sorts. When his adolescent sons wanted to pierce their ears in the early 80s, Mario asked me to “Please speak to them. They’re trying to imitate you. I told them they have to be successful and famous before they’re entitled to this kind of nonsense.” I said, “Mario, I can’t believe you, an artist, are saying this! You should wear a couple of earrings yourself, man!” Something of what I said must have sunk in, because earrings his sons did wear, though Mario didn’t.

I last met Mario two days before he passed away. It was at Nostalgia, a gourmet Goan restaurant, where he had a hearty meal [inclusive of rich Goan traditional Christmas sweets] with wife Habiba, a glass of red wine in hand. He died at the age of 85, in his sleep, in his home, on his bed, without a major ailment to complain of, with the love of his life by his side. He certainly lived a very full and fulfilling life, professional and personal, right till the end.

I simply cannot think of Mario’s passing as a loss. I can only view his life as a tremendous gain. For Goa, for India, for wherever in the world he exhibited. And for me, one of the many people who are lucky enough to have been his friends.

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