The Empathetic Cartoonist: Smitha Bhandare Kamat
Iris C F Gomes
Smitha Bhandare Kamat comes across as an unassuming person, and indeed, she does prefer the solace of home and hearth and bonding with family and pets to the constant spotlight. Her cartoons, many of which have featured in prominent magazines and won her awards, seep into your sensibility, packing a punch with humour. Her style is her own, evolving from years of doodling in numerous school notebooks.
The messages Smitha communicates through her cartoons emerge from a psyche moulded by a strong and steadfast upbringing by her parents. Her father, Govindas Bhandare, was a self-made man who did not shy away from hard work and encouraged in Smitha an interest in political issues. An amateur cartoonist himself, his drawings were limited to his family for an audience. Fortunately, it is a talent he passed on to his daughter together with his values. ‘I was particularly close to my father, late Shri Govindas Bhandare. He was a very determined man with a rag to riches story to his credit. He was my role model, mentor and friend,’ says Smitha.
Smitha’s mother gave her the ability to be vocal about standing up for what is right and a desire to learn. She credits her mother’s inability to pursue her own education to her own drive to achieve various degrees and awards. This alumna of Theresa’s High School, Vasco-Da-Gama went on to study at MES College and was there inspired by politically informed professors. After excelling in her post graduate course, she began lecturing at MES College. She says facetiously while considering her long morning drives through the idyllic villages of Causalim, Benaulim and Varca, skipping classes during her college years, ‘At times, I wonder if becoming a lecturer was Karma’s way of getting back at me for bunking all those classes.’
After academic acquisitions such as NET (National Eligibility Test) and SET (State Eligibility Test), and donning the mantle of lecturer cum counsellor to her students, Smitha began contributing her cartoons to O Herald in 2009. ‘I started contributing socio-political cartoons under the caption Smile with Smitha,’ she says. Moving on to Goa Today, she began drawing cartoons for Last Laff and illustrating for the magazine as well. She has also contributed to the magazine Evescape under the title of Evestoons.
Smitha has had solo art exhibitions at Christo Art Gallery, Old Goa, Kala Academy, Panaji, and Big Foot, Loutolim. She has won the Lokmat Award (2017) and has been awarded Agent of Change by Evescape (2013). The Governor of Goa Mridula Sinha has felicitated her for her literary and social contribution (2015).
2016 was a decisive year when Smitha chose to begin contributing and participating in national and international events. This saw the inclusion of her work by the Women and Gender Studies Department, IGNOU-Delhi in the department’s course material and its Women’s Day celebrations too. The Indian Institute of Cartoonists in Bangalore, and the Kerala Cartoon Academy’s Caritoons, 2016 accepted her work. May 2017 was momentous for the reason that her works were exhibited at the invitation of the Indian Institute of Cartoonists, where With a Pinch of Salt, her book on socio-political cartoons was also released. More recently her cartoons have been viewed at international exhibitions like Le Crayon (France) and Cairocature (Egypt). She says, ‘My work is also exhibited on several international cartoon websites – Lisboa Sardines Festival 2018, The Animals etc.’ She has participated most recently in the 4th International MIKS Cartoon Exhibition 2018.
The academician, who has added to her list of degrees with an MBA and a PhD in Village Tourism, has been writing since she was in college. She says, ‘I’ve authored three books – two in Konkani, supported by Konkani Academy, and a third book of short stories for kids. There is a compilation of my English poems called Souldrops by Third Millennium. I still freelance for local dailies. But, by and large cartooning has replaced my writings.’
Smitha’s cartoons are politically informed and carry with them the knowledge of Indian history and society. They reflect her ability to empathise with suffering and express outrage at injustice in the vivid cartoons she produces. Smitha has the distinction of being one of the few Indian women cartoonists participating in international events. She notes there is a paucity of women cartoonists even in the international arena, especially in the sphere of political cartoons and sees a more obvious female presence as necessary to add a feminine perspective to political incidents.
The multitalented cartoonist and mother of two, who has received the State award (Government of Goa) as Best College Teacher 2017, owes much of her success to the support from her husband Ajit Guiry Kamat. She says, ‘He is my Rock of Gibraltar. He has proved to be my friend, philosopher and my soulmate. He has supported me through all the 20 years of togetherness. I could pursue my dreams, be it art, literature, or further studies.’
When talking about her approach to her cartooning, Smitha says, ‘Most of my work is spontaneous. Be it writing or art, there is an inexplicable spontaneous flow. Many a times I feel I’m just a medium for the higher self to reach out and touch innumerable souls. I’m eternally grateful to the supreme power to have blessed me in more ways than one. I’ve finally given up on racing with destiny and have learnt to listen to the beats of my heart and move on with what life has to offer.’
Smitha conducts free cartooning classes for educational institutions and shelter homes. She plans to retire early from her position as an associate professor and immerse herself in creativity, and spirituality, which she prefers to rituals and religions. Whilst ruminating on the idea of creating a graphic replica of post liberation Goa for the new generations’ quick reference, she says, ‘I want to devote my time to serving God and society. I also want to work with prisoners, juveniles, orphanages etc and use art as a means to heal their hearts.’