Junoon's Mumbai Local: What Are You Laughing At? with Syama Sundar & S. Anand

Kitab Khana

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 Constitution, evoked a 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 onjectionable 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 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. 

On behalf of Junoon, 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 paterns, they will unveil the double-eged nature of humour, and ask not only what we are laughing at, but also why?

Join us on Friday, 15 November 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.


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 Annhilation 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 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.

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 word. His work is featured regularly on the website roundtableindia.co.in. He is the author of No Laughing Matter: The Ambedkar Cartoons, 1932-1956.


यदि देहं पृथक् कृत्य चिति विश्राम्य तिष्ठसि. अधुनैव सुखी शान्तो बन्धमुक्तो भविष्यसि.. -- अष्टावऋ गीता