For years, cartoonist Paul Fernandes has used his craft to chronicle the changing face of the cities he has lived in and loved. Now, the Bengaluru resident and owner of the APaulogy art galleries has expanded his craft to the length of India’s Southwest Coast, combining his flourish with the pen and his skill of observing people and places. His new book, Coastline, co-written with Chicku Jayaveda, is an illustrated travelogue that covers Mumbai, Goa, Mangalore and Kerala.
As the descriptor makes clear, Coastline isn’t so much an extensive travel guide as a “quick light-hearted trip down the western coastline of India”. It is equally a canvas for Fernandes’s varied artwork, woven together with a common thread. The artist himself calls it “tribute to that magical strip of Western India”.
Fernandes said the book, which was launched on January 19, was a new, laid-back approach to a travelogue. “It’s probably best described as a gallery of pictures and stories,” he said.
The book, which was developed over four years, brings together 12 years of his drawings and observations of these cities. “I had a lot of drawings on this subject,” he said. “I found there were certain connections between the entire coast and Mumbai – even though Bombay needs a book of its own. Even thousands of years ago, the Arabs and then the Portuguese who buzzed up and down the coast on holiday and work and we do exactly the same thing today.”
Fernandes’s intimate knowledge of Mumbai is evident in the coffee table book, which opens with the city and dedicates a chunk of its length to it. After graduating from art school in Baroda, Fernandes started his career in Mumbai in 1985, as an art designer at a prominent advertising agency. The love for the bustling metropolitan, where he spent five years, leaps off the pages. “How can you not be fascinated by a city that has opened its Gateway to all that have reached her shores, a city that has seduced dreamers, been a playground for the rich and famous, a workplace for the ambitious and refuge for the oddballs and eccentrics?,” Coastline says about Mumbai. The accompanying illustrations capture the city’s dizzying pace and mindboggling diversity, and are also filled with nostalgia about the city’s glorious heritage landmarks, especially the art deco buildings of South Mumbai.
Amid the pictures of well-known Mumbai landmarks – like South Mumbai’s Fort heritage precinct, Girgaum Chowpatty, Marine Drive, the Gateway of India and Bandra’s Mount Mary Church, to name a few – are nuggets of information and lesser known tales. For instance, we learn that the first film to be screened at the historic Regal cinema was Laurel and Hardy film Devil’s Brother in 1933 and that it was a place of “unheard luxuries” in its time, or that the Cricket Club of India was born because the Maharaja of Patiala was annoyed at not being able to watch a match at the Bombay Gymkhana from the enclosure of his choice because it was only open to Europeans.
Coastline next takes a leisurely trip to Goa, which the book describes as a “special kind of Pied Piper”, whose “music sings to the soul”. While touching upon the usual suspects – the popular North Goa beaches and churches – it also takes a tour of the fish markets, the heritage-rich Latin Quarter of Fontainhas and emphasises on the state’s vibrant music and dance culture with strong Portuguese influences.
The accompanying cartoons capture these places in all their quirky glory, simultaneously satirising and paying tribute to them. This humour is an essential part of his work, Fernandes said. “The trick with humour is, where do you draw the line? It’s lovely to understand humour with different audiences,” he explained. “It’s what the doctor ordered!”
People are also a key part of Fernandes’s cartoons. “But there are so many other things too,” he said. “I also enjoy the architecture. Secondly the foliage and greenery that grows around that architecture. And of course the characters that populate the location. Not to forget the animals and the birds.”
Goan cartoonist Mario Miranda has been a strong influence on Fernandes. “He had the great skill of speaking to such a diverse number of intellects and communities and he made them all smile, without a language barrier,” Fernandes said. “And his drawings were also travelogues for hundreds who followed his work. Mumbai, Goa, Paris, New York – you could actually feel those places in his drawings. So that has taught me a lot.”
Further down in Mangalore, a place where Fernandes spent many of his summer vacations as a child, the focus is not so much on the regular tourist destinations as the sights and sounds that the artist has had close associations with. The highlight of this segment is a Mangalorean Catholic wedding. The illustrations highlight the music, dance and other celebrations as well as unique customs, such as the Roce pre-wedding ceremony, where a mixture of coconut juice and oil are dabbed on the bride and groom, who then have to take a ritual hot bath.
The book ends with a brief look at Kerala, where, the cartoonist acknowledges, he has barely scratched the surface. Despite that, Fernandes manages to pack in quite a lot – beaches, backwaters, the Fort Kochi heritage precincts and ancestral Tharavada homes – and capture the unique sights of the city like the emblematic Chinese fishing nets and houseboats.
Unlike the first three destinations, Fernandes is not well acquainted with Kerala. “When you go to a new place, you just need to sit back and imbibe what you see,” he said. “And the longer you look, the more you see. For Kerala, I need to go back there much more. That might result in another book, I hope.”
All images provided by Paul Fernandes.