Goodwill hunting in the absence of laughter

There is a joke about Pagliacci the clown, made popular by Alan Moore, which goes like this. A man goes into the doctor’s and tells him how terribly depressed he is. Life doesn’t seem to give him any joy and everything appears bleak. The doctor tells him about a new hit act in town—Pagliacci the Clown—which was sure to cheer him up. But doctor, cries the man, I am Pagliacci!

Not all laughter is created equal. Sometimes laughter is cruel. Often it is imbued with a derision derived from larger structures of power. Navayana is proud to announce No Laughing Matter: The Ambedkar Cartoons, 1932–1956, a book that rescues a lost history and asks us to consider what we are laughing at. Archived and edited by scholar and cartoonist, Unnamati Syama Sundar, No Laughing Matter was necessitated by the 2012 NCERT cartoon controversy: a class XI textbook carried an image of a snail-borne Ambedkar being whipped by Jawaharlal Nehru. As the controversy brewed, Syam was plagued by the need to uncover how Ambedkar was depicted in cartoons in his lifetime. The result is a collection of 122 cartoons from English language newspapers, accompanied by annotations which amount to a veritable political biography of Ambedkar. The book also provides bellicose takedowns of the ‘humour’ these cartoons claim for themselves. No Laughing Matter is now available on our website for Rs 450.

In other news, our annual Dalit History Month sale continues. Books are available at heavily discounted prices until the end of the month. Angela Davis’ Are Prisons Obsolete? is priced at Rs 50. Poems from Sri Lanka by Tamil poets such as Cheran and Latha are also likewise going for Rs 50. A collection of three plays by Marathi dalit playwright Premanand Gajvee, The Strength of our Wrists, which sits barely sold in our office, can be availed for a mere Rs 100. You will find that our entire backlist is full of exciting and reasonably priced books. Our website is also accepting international orders now. Overseas customers can make payments via PayPal, and Navayana books shall reach you wherever you might be. Help us in this difficult time to empty our warehouse, so we can afford to house new books. There are myriad reasons that have made it difficult for us to laugh in these past few years. They say laughter is the best medicine, but sometimes medicine is the best medicine. Inject us with your goodwill so we can keep doing what we have to do. Make books, make politics.

As always, Jai Bhim.

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