“You did Bhimayana, the book on Ambedkar’s life. Will you work with me and help me tell my life? Of course, I’m not famous like Ambedkar and my book may not sell as much. But I do want to tell my story and that of my community. I’ll make the art, you make up the words. I will show, you tell.”
In February 2012, the artist Venkat Raman Singh Shyam, walked into Navayana’s office in Delhi’s Shahpur Jat to meet its publisher, S. Anand. Nephew of the legendary Gond artist, the late Jangarh Singh Shyam, Venkat had already done a series of nine sketches in what he called the autobiography series—including the one where he is a blindfolded rickshaw-wallah in Delhi called Losing My Way.
The work was compact, powerful, magical. Anand was not sure he’d ever have anything more meaningful to say. Soon Venkat coaxed Anand, and Anand coaxed Venkat, colours seeped into words and words into colours, and over four years and many journeys, they made a book, Finding My Way, that went beyond even their immodest expectations.
Venkat quickly annotated this smugness with a pithy forest saying that now adorns the book as one of the epigraphs: डोंगर मा बैगा बसे/अपने पादे अपने हसे — The Baiga lives in the forest-hill/ Smells his own fart, and feels a thrill.
John Berger, who taught us the many ways of seeing, had this to say: “This is a special and beautiful book. It transports the reader to another time and age and space and perspective to a degree that I’ve never seen before... It’s like flying a carpet. We are taken out of ourselves to meet another reality.”
The art historian B.N. Goswamy was impressed too: “Each page crackles with excitement ... A remarkable work in which words and images embrace each other and then slowly begin to sink into our awareness.”
The artist Gulammohammed Sheikh calls it “an exceptional document… charts an unexplored textual territory of narration with an unusual incandescence”. Shuddhabrata Sengupta, artist with the Raqs Media Collective, says: “Finding My Way is a breathtakingly luminous conversation about how life is lived, and about how it must be lived. One cannot just read this book, it asks to be dreamt.” (Read their endorsements in full here.)
When Chiki Sarkar, then between jobs, saw and read an earlier draft, she felt she had to publish this book. Sarkar’s new venture Juggernaut is publishing it for the trade market: in a large format hardback and a smaller sized paperback, both at affordable prices.
While these editions will help take our book out to the general reading public, at Navayana, we wanted to create a really beautiful edition for art lovers and collectors. If you wish to savour Venkat’s rich and vivid colours and thinner-than-hair penmanship—pages that take weeks to make—you need to experience it on superb paper, like Berger, Goswamy and Sengupta did.
So we have created a special, limited, numbered edition of just 300 copies, each priced at Rs 10,000 (USD 200). Each of these copies will be signed by Venkat Raman Singh Shyam, the man who is trusting the world with his stories. We believe this limited edition crosses the threshold between art and a book—and we hope you will be interested in buying a copy.
Watch the official trailer made by Tarun Bhartiya (stop, pause, rewind, and watch again), browse the sample pages, see a video on how Venkat does a ‘Selfie with Rembrandt’.
Believe us: this book will definitely outlast the device on which you are reading this message. It may outlast the people who made it. But it will be outlasted, for nothing is everlasting. Like Kabir says, not even what Kabir says will last.