To understand this essay, it’s very important to fathom what a graphic novel actually means. According to a dictionary, a novel means a fictitious prose narrative of book length or the representation of a character with some degree of realism. And the graphic is something engraved with the help of art. So it’s easy. A graphic novel is the narration of any character with the help of visuals like art or a novel in a comic strip format. Similarly, Bhimayana is a graphic novel which takes to the journey of B.R.Ambhedkar by using Gond art. This piece of art has the tendency to grasp the attention even of those people who have no love for reading. This is because the Gond art multiplies the power text have over people.
Bhimayana is about that time when untouchables were discriminated at an uncontrollable rate. The thinking of people was bizarre that a single touch could kind of give them Ebola. This is depicted through the personal experiences of Ambedkar, as a 10-year-old schoolboy, who was denied water from the hand pump, accommodation and right to education because of his ‘mahar’ status. In this novel, a strange power is gifted to the discriminated population. A power to accuse. Majority of the figures contain lines and dots. If looked carefully, this book also contains a lot of eyes and finger, as if they have developed their own voice. The finger is pointed as if it’s accusing and voicing their suffering silently. The eyes look creepy and observing everything that’s happening to them. Also, there are a lot of animals drawn, each with their own significance. In book 1, issue deals with the right to water, so a lot of water imagery is done. Ambedkar asks for water during class with a fish in his stomach. This conveys the message to the reader in the most effective and quickest way possible that he is thirsty. The fish motif, as both desire and injustice, repeats wherever untouchables are shown struggling to access to water. That’s the main element in the novel. Symbolism. This is what narrates the whole story. By seeing the story instead of reading, it’s like you can touch its essence.
Historically, Dalits were reduced to performing jobs that according to Hindus were polluting. They handled dead people and animals, soil, and waste respectively as cremators, cobblers, potters, sweepers, and scavengers. Those who farmed were landless and indentured. That’s why in Bhimayana, they are compared or rather placed beyond animals in the social ladder. For instance, there is barber for cow and deer but none for untouchables. Precisely due to this reason so many animals are drawn. Once Ambedkar and his brothers were on the way to Goregoan when dusk changes to night, the road seems like a snake ready to swallow the kids. Also, there are many birds drawn especially when someone is speaking. They are for the good folks like Ambedkar. Whereas figures that have a look-alike of scorpion stinger are for people who humiliate untouchables. They appear every time in the form of bubbles when there is a heated argument between the two castes. Lions represent anger. It appeared when the boys argued with Kirin peon about how the letter didn’t reach their father. Then again it appeared during the riots when untouchables, the buffalo, and Brahmins, the lion, are fighting over a pond disguised as fish. During the Mahad riots, Ambhedkar gives a speech and the water pops out of the loudspeaker conveying the message “water for all” and persuading untouchables to drink from the public well. Book 2 is about Shelter so a lot of images of trees are drawn. When Ambedkar is thrown out of the motel room, thrones are fashioned out on his body. It’s as if he himself felt that he has thrones on his body because no one would touch him.
Another element that’s hard to miss is the absence of boxes. The description of a graphic novel, in the beginning, is precisely for this reason. This novel is a bit different from graphic because there are no strips. It seems as if the picture does not want to be caged in boundaries created by the society. This is what Durgabai Vyam said, “The books were full of boxes. I did not want to do a book that cages art in little boxes. I like to draw in open spaces, where they can breathe.” There is the use of Digna pattern so the art flows across two pages at a time.
One of the most eye capturing element in this book is the use of colors. Every single color used in the book has its own significance. The use of contrasting colors throughout the novel suggests the conflicting ideas among different castes. In the stating pages, the use of orange and green color from the Indian flag suggests how the people of the same country have opposite views. The blue color is used in majority especially in the first chapter that’s about water and water is blue. One reason for using this colors could be to demonstrate how the most basic human need is denied to the untouchables. The imagery strongly depicts the thirst. And at some places, instead of using blue for water, yellow and brown color is used. For example inside of the well. It is to show how the water suddenly transforms into the desert when Bhim tries to quench his thirst. Animals are drinking water but he is denied. For humans, it’s orange and yellow and for animals its lush green. This shows the acceptance of animals into society and rejection of humans. During the trip to Goregaon, the color of the forest is dark instead of green. The use of soothing colors is to make the audience realize the fact that this conflict can be solved if law and order are followed.
The choice of using Gond art to show Ambedkar’s story makes sense, tribal art to show the story of a tribal boy. But it is also used to globalize this art from Madhya Pradesh and to make people aware of the condition of tribal caste. To call it just a book would be like putting it the same category of other books. I would rather call it a magnificent work of breathtaking art that makes an attempt to symbolize the story of an extra-ordinary tribal leader.