Experiences of Untouchability
art: Durgabai Vyam, Subhash Vyam
text: Srividya Natarajan, S. Anand
Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891–1956), one of India’s foremost revolutionaries, grew up untouchable. Battling against the odds, he gained multiple doctorates, campaigned against social discrimination and the caste system and went on to draft the Constitution of India. Throughout his life Ambedkar faced routine discrimination: in school at the age of 10; in Baroda after his return from Columbia University; and while travelling in later life. The discrimination experienced by Ambedkar continues to haunt a majority of India’s 170 million dalits as many 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 with contemporary incidents, infusing fresh energy into the graphic idiom through their magical art.
Durgabai Vyam, who has illustrated a dozen books and won the BolognaRagazzi award in 2008 for The Night Life of Trees, says Bhimayana is her most accomplished work yet. Subhash Vyam began as a sculptor before turning to painting. They live in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh.
Srividya Natarajan is a dancer and novelist; she lives in London, Canada. S. Anand is the publisher of Navayana.
Frankly written and drawn in the mnemonic idiom of modern Gond art, the book ends up beautiful, punchy, and always readable.—The Comics Journal
An unusual graphic biography—The Times Literary Supplement
The composition of each page is intricately bound to the flow of the narrative, such that the form easily guides readers through the work.—Jeremy Stoll, Indiana University, Journal of Folklore Research
This is a magnificent work of breathtaking art that symbolises the soul-stirring biography of an exceptional leader.—The Hindu
Perhaps this book will help us see how many injustices we tolerate as long as they are perpetrated against Dalits, while complaining about the “injustice” of reservations.—TimeOut Mumbai
The book is littered with irreverent and playful inversions of the western graphic book genre.—Hardnews
Bhimayana jettisons sequential, cinematic narrative style and brings visual magic realism into a new universe.—The Washington Post
The drawings flow freely on the page, and hence are more expressive, and in unexpected ways.—DNA
One of top 5 political comic books.—CNN
The fluid, magical art plays tricks on the mind, even as the reader discovers newer interpretations each time he re-visits the book.—MidDay
“A graphic novel depicting a life that must have flashed meteor-like across the Indian sky in mid-twentieth century. The story is told in a way that connects Ambedkar’s struggles and triumphs to events very much like the one I started with: violent attacks in our contemporary times, every day targeting Dalit bodies and Dalit homes or institutions with brutal assaults.”—Amitava Kumar in JJ books.
‘Highlights one of the biggest denials of human rights still in existence on the planet. Among the Top 5 political comic books’—CNN.com
‘An extraordinary book’—John Berger
‘Beautiful… unforgettable’—Arundhati Roy
‘Distinctive… challenging in all the right ways’—Joe Sacco
‘Evocative masterpiece’—The Hindu
‘Ambedkar’s plea for justice can be heard again through this compelling documentary’—Times Literary Supplement