Endings and Beginnings

‘Begin at the beginning,’ the King said gravely, ‘and go on till you come to the end: then stop.’
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

Often, the significance of the 15th of May is lost amidst the clamour of dates that populate the Ambedkar Calendar—1 January (Bhima Koregaon), 26 January (Republic Day), 20 March (Mahad Satyagraha Day) 14 April (birth anniversary), 14 October (conversion day), 6 December (death anniversary), 25 December (Manusmriti burning day) and so on. On this day, 15 May 1936, the first edition of Annihilation of Caste was published. It is a shame that the day on which what is perhaps the most consequential document for our political future was born is not as remembered as it ought to be. Babasaheb’s love for books is the stuff of legends: he even built a mansion, Rajgriha in Bombay, specifically for the purpose of housing his endless library. Every person should spend ten percent of their income on books, Babasaheb had once proclaimed. 

To commemorate the 83rd AoC Day we invite you to our modest Delhi office at 155 Shahpur Jat at 6 pm for an event that folds many into one, and one into many. You will meet a bevy of Navayana authors: Ajay Navaria, Uma Chakravarti, Bezwada Wilson, Soumyabrata Choudhury, Aparajita Ninan, Chandra Bhan Prasad, and the chief guest Unnamati Syama Sundar, author of our latest title No Laughing Matter: The Ambedkar Cartoons, 1932–1956.

We ask you—good and bad-minded women, men, those in-between or elsewhere, children and adults, ANI and ASI, avarna and savarna, goblins and trolls, pig- and cow-eaters and those that chew on grass in all its forms, all those who wish to make this unequal world a little more equal—to come with large bags (or boxes) to cart away free books. Grab them for yourself and for others. Saidiya Hartman’s Lose Your Mother, Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria, Kamala Visweswaran’sUn/Common Cultures, N.D. Rajkumar’s Give Us This Day a Feast of Flesh, Timothy Amos’ Embodying Difference: The Making of Burakumin in Modern Japan, Bhagwan Das’ memoir In Pursuit of Ambedkar, Jeremy Seabrook’s The Song of the Shirt, Angela Davis’ Women, Race & Class and Are Prisons Obsolete? and Cheran et al’s Waking is Another Dream, poems translated from the Tamil on the Genocide in Eelam, Shashank Kela’s A Rogue and Peasant Slave Adivasi Resistance: 1800–2000, Anne Monius’ Imagining a Place for Buddhism and more.

The first edition of Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste

There is a tragedy behind our farcical display: the generosity is a result of the unkindness meted out to these wonderful books, if kindness can be measured in purely monetary terms.

What does it mean to be in the business of books today? What do we do with authors and books we believe in when they do not do well? What do we tell authors who trusted us with their works that we could not sell? Do we blame the world, which has for long been synonymous with the market? At Navayana, as we take stock after sixteen years of being in the business of words, we are left with an embarrassing surplus: hundreds of copies of titles that did not sell—over five, seven, even ten years. We tried selling many of them for a song—Rs 50—during the Dalit History Month sale that ran through April. We let the sale spill a week into May. And we are still left with the problem of plenty.

That these books aren’t selling is surely not a reflection on the authors or the value of what they have to say. It’s an indictment of the world we live in. These free books, then, become even more special. To both at once mock and celebrate contemporary art—with a stolen hearsay idea to boot—we offer our unsold books stacked as conceptual sculptural installations built around the words AoC and AMBEDKAR, book sculptures that will melt away as you keep picking each brick of a book.

We could not cash in on these books—so we are offering them as art whose sole purpose is to bring about its self-obliteration, its annihilation. Come make a riot of it.