Ave Mario!

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The Life of Mario, 1951and The Life of Mario, 1950 Edited by Gerard da Cunha
Publisher: Architecture Autonomous Price: Rs 395 each
The Life of Mario, 1951and The Life of Mario, 1950 Edited by Gerard da Cunha Publisher: Architecture Autonomous Price: Rs 395 each

Yellowish-green faced men, wearing suits and wide, wily grins, stand together in an illustration captioned: “Politicians of the village... the lean and the hungry” in the words of William Shakespeare. Featured in legendary cartoonist Mario Miranda’s diary of 1951, the portrayal of politicians may well concur with the reader’s vision of a politician today. But these days, when a cartoon can lead to much clamour, from the ranks of politicians and religious folks, the real people that Mario creates provide a refreshing break.

Had Mario been around – he passed away on December 12, 2011 – and had a protest against any of his cartoons in fact broken out, he probably would have caricatured that too, in his pocket book!

The Mario we are introduced to in the two books, one published in October 2011 (1951), and the second (1950) to commemorate his birthday this year on May 2, are in fact diaries he kept. He was around 25 at the time, and had returned to his home in Goa after getting a degree in English Literature at St Xavier’s, Mumbai. In the book, he is back with his circle of friends and pets (with elaborate names to indicate their lineage) in Goa – and we become a part of Mario’s daily life, the movies, old haunts, parties, dancing, and, of course, the regular hangout at Datta’s. Each illustration, in true Mario style, is packed with detail. Mario depicts himself as large-nosed and mildly bumbling – a pretty likeable character.

The illustrations are from a time before Ms. Fonseca, Ms. Nimbupani and Mr. Moonsamy came into our drawing rooms with the newspaper. Mario’s diaries are of the early days and, we are told, morning showed the day! Born in Portuguese India in 1926, in an aristocratic landlord's family, Mario Miranda returned from Damao (a port 800 km north of Goa) to his ancestral home in Loutolim, when he was six years old. It was a warm and happy period when he was given colour pencils and paper to prevent him from defacing the walls!

Mario had several stints in Mumbai, then Bombay, in the thick of India’s freedom struggle – recorded in diaries from 1946 and 1947; then there were visits to Lisbon, London and later in life when he was invited to the US, Germany and so on.

But the diaries of 1950 and 1951 are probably the most interesting phase of his artistic development, says Gerard da Cunha, the editor of both books, who is also curator of Mario Gallery in Torda, Goa. Mario begins to use colour with great confidence and elan, and has begun to experiment with coquille nibs in different styles.

The 1950 diary, in Portuguese, is translated into English. In it, Mario introduces us to Goa’s “characters in the village”, their classic noses, outfits, some lean and others buxom, but rendered with a pencil dipped liberally in humour. There are “village types”, flashy emigrants, several encounters with bad domestic help, and photographic misadventures with friends, besides the parties and the morning afters! In the diary of 1951, Mario’s illustrations are more wicked – in a delightful way. And the fodder for his pictorial commentary are the village priest, the pious gossip, the ladies of the Catholic action group, the barber, and several others.

While there is the chaos of daily life, the diaries also have serene colour paintings of silhouettes in the moonlight, strong renderings of untitled portraits of labourers, and sketches of self and others. His classic crowd scene, of humans packed like sardines in a train or a bus, with the fish, dog and crow thrown in, also features in the diary. And while he leaves no one unsketched (not even his friend in his underwear), he does not spare the assistant parish priest either, who tries to get Mario to show him his diary, “but didn’t succeed”.

The more you look at the illustrations, the more features, creatures and humour seem to emerge, giving you an insightful ringside view of the life and times of not just Mario, but Goa as well.

(This article was published on June 28, 2012)
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