Syama Sundar grew up in Vijayawada on a diet of Calvin and Hobbes, Dennis...
In 2012, a 1949 cartoon by Shankar included in a school textbook, which showed Jawaharlal Nehru whipping a snail-born Ambedkar to speed up the making of the Constitutiuon, evoked strong protest from Dalits. Dalit activist and Lok Sabha MP Thol Thirumavalavan, supported by members cutting across party lines, raised the issue in parliament, called the cartoon “insulting to Ambedkar, Nehru and the whole nation.” HRD Minister at the time, Kapil Sibal, withdrew the book and stopped its distribution, and set up a committee of experts to remove objectionable cartoons from textbooks. These protests and actions were met with a savarna counter on the grounds of artistic freedom.
In response to this episode, cartoonist and scholar Syama Sundar, pursuing his PhD at the time, decided to undertake an archival survey of cartoons of Ambedkar in the English language press. The collection of over a 100 cartoons by some of our best cartoonists – including Shankar, Enver Ahmed and R.K. Laxman – tells a story of thoughtless bias and hostility, and asks us pressing questions about the social context of humour.
We are delighted to invite Syama Sundar – Ambedkarist, cartoonist, archivist – and S. Anand – publisher, anti-caste junkie – to Mumbai Local, to talk about the politics of cartoons and the politics of laughter. They will focus on Sundar’s book No Laughing Matter: The Ambedkar Cartoons, 1932-1956, taking us through selected images, the stories associated with them, and the stories of sourcing them! Drawing out patterns, they will unveil the double-edged nature of humour, and ask not only what we are laughing at, but also why?
Join us on Friday for an evening that promises to make us re-look at cartoons, as not just those funnies that we love to see in papers, but images and expressions that carry deep connotations.
Curated by Bishakha Datta
RSVP for this session begins on Monday 11th November, 2019.
Syama Sundar grew up in Vijayawada on a diet of Calvin and Hobbes, Dennis the Menace, Chacha Chaudhary and Amar Chitra Katha. He is doing his doctoral research at Jawaharlal Nehru University on the art featured in Chandamama, the popular Telugu children’s magazine founded in 1947. Syama Sundar is well-known for his Ambedkarite cartoons in the non-savarna social media world. His work is featured regularly on the website roundtableindia.co.in. He is the author of No Laughing Matter: The Ambedkar Cartoons, 1932–1956.
S. Anand is the publisher of Navayana. He is also a poet, translator, and most recently a curator. He is more often the co-author or annotator of a book than the author. The result of such collaborations are Bhimayana (2011) the graphic biography of Dr B.R. Ambedkar; the annotated critical editions of Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste (2014), Riddles in Hinduism and most recently Beef, Brahmins and Broken Men: An Annotated Critical Selection from The Untouchables; and Finding My Way, the life and times of the artist Venkat Raman Singh Shyam, which has been just reissued as Ganja–Mahua Chronicles. Some of his translations of Ghalib were published in the Evergreen Review.