Story of Mário, the Miranda (Part 3/6)

Welcome Break

Flower vendor in Portugal, painted in the 1980s (Source: Mário de Miranda, ed. Gerard da Cunha

Mário’s diaries were sacrificed on the altar of newspaper cartooning. In 1959, the caricaturist flew to Lisbon on a Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian scholarship.[28] He toured the length and breadth of Portugal, distilling the essence of the Portuguese soul into his sketches and drawings. The experience brought a fresh perspective to his profession:[29] it whetted his appetite for travel and charted a path that would reveal itself with time.

It is unlikely that Mário would go out of his way to confer with the Portuguese cartoonists reeling under an authoritarian regime at the time. In London, later that year, he met with Ronald Giles, Raymond Jackson (Jak), Victor Weisz (Vicky), and memorably bumped into his all-time favourite Ronald Searle at a pub on Fleet Street! He was happy to do cartoons for the classic humour magazine Lilliput and for ITV, but featuring in Punch, the flag-bearer of humour magazines, really was the icing on the cake.

A corner with some paintings of the London period, at Mario's house in Loutulim

Mário’s passage to England was a turning point in his career. He earned money and friends; more importantly, Searle’s injunction – ‘Stay on in England, but stop copying me!’[30] – infused him with the confidence to go it alone. But then again, the dramatic regime change in Goa, on 19 December 1961, made him turn on his heels. He returned to Bombay on an Indian passport and rejoined the Times Group; but this time around, R. K. Laxman, the reigning deity of The Times of India, ‘subtly ensured that the pedestal was not for sharing,’ says journalist Bachi Karkaria.[31]

Appreciating the steady stream of cartoons that Mário had sent home while on his working holiday abroad, Bombay’s Cocktail magazine commented: ‘Mario is so well known that it’s difficult to say things about him that will not be superfluous. A man who can draw and depict the funniest in the most convincing manner, his Shammu has won the laughing interest of everyone. Every cartoon of his is a refreshing experience. He lampoons the frailties, foibles and social shortcomings of us all. His hilarious work is packed with characters from the contemporary scene and his greatest gift is that he makes us laugh at ourselves. His illustrations too have polished perfection and have been such a success that all our writers want Mario to illustrate their work.’[32]

Mário, as seen by Jean de Lemos (Source: Cocktail)

In Mário’s absence, Jean de Lemos, an artist born in the Nilgiri heights, handled the bulk of illustration; they had a soft spot for each other and even exchanged sketches (Figure 3).[33] On his return, though, Jean learnt that Mário was getting engaged to Habiba Hydari,[34 a 24-year-old fine arts student-turned-air hostess whose ‘teenage gang’ had once been part of his circle.[35] Jean exited, but remained friends with Mário’s family.

On 10 November 1963, Mário and Habiba[36] got married in a civil ceremony, and set up home at Rockville. Their children, Raul,[37] a hairstylist, and Rishaad,[38] a designer-decorator, who live in Loutulim, remember their mother as ‘the boss’ and their father as a calm, liberal, and generous man.[39] Mário for his part rued the fact that he was usually too absorbed in his work to resolve pressing domestic issues with a firm hand.[40]

Versatile Artist

A later edition of Goa with Love

In 1964, Mário brought out a book of sketches, Goa with Love,[41] dedicating it to Habiba. His visibility was on the rise – in school textbooks, corporate calendars, advertisements and trendy magazines. Successive editors of the Weekly[42] held Mário in high esteem; and humourist Behram Contractor (alias Busybee), political commentator Vinod Mehta, poets Dom Moraes and Nissim Ezekiel, and admen Gerson da Cunha, Frank Simões, Bal Mundkur and Alyque Padamsee were among his closest friends. They churned out reams of prose and loads of ad copy; Mário read between the lines and came up with charming visuals.

Mário’s reading, now restricted to periodicals, stood him in good stead.[43] Victor Rangel-Ribeiro believes that the cartoonist’s stays overseas, ‘particularly the long months he spent in London, plus the fact that he was very well read in Portuguese as well as English literature, did give him a broader outlook than one normally found in members of the local press.’[44] But Mário wore none of that on his sleeve; in fact, he abhorred ‘intellectual talk’, his forte being ‘the accumulation of trivia judiciously and harmoniously composed,’[45] as Vinod Mehta puts it.

Source: Mário de Miranda, ed. Gerard da Cunha

That is evident from Mário’s daily cartoon strips, some of which drew upon people he met in daily life: the archetypal secretary, Miss Fonseca; the Boss and his hapless minion Godbole; the fat, corrupt politician Bundaldass with his sidekick Moonswamy, and the bosomy Bollywood star Rajani Nimbupani.[46] Millions across generations grew up on those cartoon characters that were all the rage; they are now etched in the collective memory, even if the world’s ever-changing sensibilities tend to put a negative spin on some of them.[47]

Nineteen seventy-two was a landmark year: the United States Information Service (USIS) flew Mário to America, and Tel Aviv invited him to stop en route. He met Israeli cartoonists Kariel Gardosh, Shemuel Katz and Friedel Stern; and in the US he interacted with Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts; Herblock, editorial cartoonist of the Washington Post, Pat Oliphant of the Denver Post, Ed Fisher of The New Yorker and freelancer Al Jaffee. Mad magazine featured him, and back home Mário wrote a piece titled ‘Cartoons – American Style’[48] – a pointer to his writing talent[49] lost in the rough-and-tumble of editorial cartooning.

As India was beginning to see him in a new light, Mário lamented the tendency to seek validation from agencies abroad[50] and wept over his countrymen’s inability to laugh at themselves. He regularly discussed the state of the profession and, Alexyz recalls, he encouraged budding cartoonists. He inspired the formation of the Indian Institute of Cartoonists, Bangalore, and gifted them many of his priceless originals.[51]

Mário was among the handful of cartoonists[52] that ruled the roost in India, but alas, long years of caricature art had left him with little leisure to pursue what he liked best: sketching. The reprinting of Goa with Love in 1982 was thus as much a celebration of the fast-fading world of his youth as it was an evocation of the line art that had grown on him.

Acknowledgements: (1) I am indebted to Fátima Miranda Figueiredo for her knowledge and patience translated into many hours of whatsapp chats about her brother Mário and the family; and to Raul and Rishaad de Miranda for their warm welcome and lively conversation. (2) Banner picture: Portrait Atelier Goa (3) Article first published in Revista da Casa de Goa, Lisbon, Series II, No. 12, Sep-Oct 2021

[28] The scholarship possibly came as a result of Maria Zulema’s letter to Minister Pedro Teotónio Pereiras. Mário lived in a rented room on Rua Actor Isidoro. (Fátima Miranda Figueiredo, 27.6.2021)

[29] Published in Diário Popular, cf. ‘M de Mário’, by Jorge Silva, in Macau, April 1993, II Series, No. 12, pp. 39-43.

[30] ‘The Last Interview’, op. cit.; FTF Mario Miranda, op. cit.; ‘Tale of Two Goans’, op. cit.

[31] Retrieved on 8 August 2021.

[32] Cocktail, January 1960, p. 5.

[33] Mário called her Chips; she called him Popat (Fátima Miranda Figueiredo, 27.5.2021)

[34] Daughter of Iqbal Hydari, a senior executive of the Indian Railways and scion of the nobility of Hyderabad, and Rohaina Mohamedi, a painter.

[35] Mário’s circle included Lúcio Miranda, a third cousin, and Sarto Almeida, both architects. Cf. Manohar Malgonkar, ‘Biography’, in Mário de Miranda, op. cit., p. 17.

[36] He called her ‘Charlie’, and she called him ‘Joseph’.

[37] Married Magen Gilmore, who lives in the US with their daughter Gayle Zulema.

[38] Married to Sabine Frank, who lives with their children, Rafael and Samuel, in Austria.

[39] Personal interview on 9.7.2021.

[40] As told by Fátima Miranda Figueiredo, 27.5.2021.

[41] There are at least three known editions of Goa with Love (1964, Times of India, Bombay; 1982, Goa Tours, Panjim; 2001, by M&M Publications, Reis Magos). In 1964, Mário also brought out ‘Goa Postcards’.

42] Khushwant Singh, M. V. Kamath and Pritish Nandy were the last three editors of the Weekly.

[43] All India Radio, Bengaluru, interviewed by Shylaja Gangooly, 27 Nov 1993.

[44] Email of 10.7.2021

[45] Vinod Mehta, ‘Tomorrow is another day’, in Mário de Miranda, op. cit., p. 139.

[46] Conversation with Shri Mario Miranda – 2 (Outtakes), op. cit.

[47] Retrieved on 22 Aug 2021

[48] The Illustrated Weekly of India, 2 January 1974.

[49] Mário liked to write (B. Contractor and K. Singh encouraged him) but found it ‘a slow and irritating process’,

[50] FTF Mario Miranda, op. cit. 


[52] K. Shankar Pillai, R. K. Laxman, O. V. Vijayan, Abu Abraham, Rajinder Puri, E. P. Unny.