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Book Review: Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability : The Graphic Biography of Dr. BR Ambedkar

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Book Review: Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability : The Graphic Biography of Dr. BR Ambedkar

Post  Admin on Wed May 04, 2011 4:19 pm

The Graphic Biography of Dr. BR Ambedkar

Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability
Incidents in the life of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar

Art: Durgabai Vyam, Subhash Vyam
Story: Srividya Natarajan, S. Anand

Four Colour | 108 pages | Rs 995 | 8″ x 11″ | Limited Edition Hardback in special paper | 9788189059170

Four Colour | 108 pages | Rs 395 | 8″ x 11″ | Paperback in 130 gsm art paper | 9788189059354
Ambedkar Out of the Frame: Biblio review.
“Evocative masterpiece”: The Hindu
“Extraordinary Life, Extraordinary Art”: Open magazine
“A curious experiment”: Comix.India
“Ambedkar through Gond eyes”: Mint Lounge
“Comic Book Brings New Life to Dalit Icon”, WSJ Blog
“Ambedkar’s story, told like never before”: DNA, Mumbai
“Bhim me up”: Time Out review
“Why you should read Bhimayana”: Malarvizhi Jayanth
“In Graphic Detail”: Frontline feature
“Ambedkar didn’t have to travel to South Africa to face discrimination” Mid-Day interview and feature
“The Politics of Art”: Indian Express review
“Caste in Gond”, Indian Express Eye feature
“Gond artists find new canvas in graphic novels”: Chennai Times of India report
“Know Ambedkar”: New Indian Express, Chennai, report
“Indian graphic artists draw outside the box for nonfiction Bhimayana”: Washington Post’s report
“They are Not Exactly Comics”: feature in Open magazine

What does it mean to be an untouchable in India? Why do some Indians despise the touch of others? Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891–1956), one of India’s foremost revolutionaries, recounts his experiences of growing up untouchable and being routinely discriminated against: in school at the age of 10, in Baroda after his return from Columbia University, and while traveling.

Battling odds, Ambedkar drafted the Constitution of India and eventually embraced Buddhism. Experiences similar to Ambedkar’s continue to haunt a majority of India’s 170 million dalits. They are still denied water, shelter and the basic dignities of life.

In this ground-breaking work, Pardhan-Gond artists Durgabai Vyam and Subhash Vyam interweave historical events like the Mahad satyagraha with contemporary incidents. Defying conventional grammar, they infuse fresh energy into the graphic idiom through their magical art mounted on an epic scale.

“An extraordinary book… No more rectangular framing or unilinear time. No more profiled individuals. Instead, a conference of corporeal experience across generations, full of pain and empathy.”–JOHN BERGER, author of Ways of Seeing, in his Foreword.

“The story of the life of Bhimrao Ambedkar, one of India’s most important thinkers, has been deliberately sidelined for decades. Bhimayana re-tells it in the most unusually beautiful way. It is unforgettable.”—ARUNDHATI ROY, author of The God of Small Things

“The artists Durgabai Vyam and Subhash Vyam have dropped most of the West’s and manga’s typical comics conventions and boldly use of their own artistic heritage, the Pardhan Gond tradition, to craft a distinctive graphic biography of one of India’s bravest and greatest leaders, Bhimrao Ambedkar, an ‘untouchable’ and a fierce critic of Gandhi. Heavy in symbolism and motifs, Bhimayana is challenging in all the right ways and still conveys with flair who Ambedkar was and why his revolutionary ideas about the caste system still matter so much to the India of today.”–JOE SACCO, author of Palestine

Bhimayana is being launched across five cities: Mumbai (29 Jan), Kochi (2 Feb), Chennai (5 Feb), Bengaluru (7 Feb) and New Delhi (16 Feb).

The Caravan magazine, Bhimayana’s exclusive media partner for the launches, has announced a special subscription offer by which you can get an annual subscription of Caravan and Bhimayana’s special hardback edition (Rs 995)—both for Rs 995 and save 33 percent. In other words, when you subscribe to Caravan, you get the Bhimayana hardback for Rs 665 only.

About the artists:

Durgabai Vyam and Subhash Vyam are Pardhan Gond artists belonging to the same clan as the legendary Jangarh Singh Shyam. The artist-couple lives in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. Durgabai has won acclaim for her paintings and for illustrations for several books. Subhash is an accomplished sculptor and has worked with many media. This is their first graphic book and their first book together.

Paul Gravett, the London-based graphic art curator, says, “The pages I have seen are wonderful, their figures and clothes drawn in intense patterning, faces mainly in profile with large single eyes, and their pages divided into panels by curving, decorated borders. Accusing, pointing fingers are repeated in one panel. Even the balloons have shapes and tails uniquely their own: bird-like outlines for regular speech; a scorpion’s sting as the tail for venomous dialogue; and a distinctive eye in the thought bubbles to represent the mind’s eye. What better art to retell this tale today?”

The hardback collector’s edition of Bhimayana, printed on special paper, is priced at Rs 995 in the Indian market (overseas USD 50/ GBP 32/ Euro 38, plus actuals on postage). Set in a generous 8″ x 11″ (just about A4), half of the 108 pages are in breathtaking colour. For a copy of this limited edition to be home-delivered within India, send Rs 995 (inclusive of postage) demand draft in favour of “Navayana Publishing” to 155, 2nd Floor, Shahpur Jat, New Delhi 110049. Ph 011-26494795. This offer is open only for orders from India.)

A paperback is also available simultaneously for Rs 395 (overseas orders USD 30/ GBP 20/ Euro 25, plus actuals on postage).

In Malayalam, the DC Books-Navayana edition (Rs 195) will also be available from 15 January 2011 from DC Books. For other language rights and bulk orders and discounts write to Also available are Tee-shirts from People Tree, single-page canvas reprints of the book and the entire book as a canvas print. Buy a copy of Bhimayana and choose a page you like and ask for an A3 print on canvas or special paper.

Distributed by IPD Alternatives: 35A/1, Shahpur Jat, New Delhi 110049. Ph: +91-11-26492040/ 26495016. Email:

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Published by Nikhil Sablania


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