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Popular Literature Unit 4 Graphic Novel
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1. Write a short notes of Bhimayana : Experiences of Untouchability.
Ans: Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability begins in “the recent past”. A young man waiting at a bus stop complains about his unsatisfactory job and blames his lack of advancement on the system of reservations that ensures job quotas for people from the backward and scheduled castes. As a young woman waiting at the bus stop responds and engages in the debate, this man trots out a series of arguments that will be familiar to those of us who have had this debate before. That caste has been abolished; that his own merit has been unfairly overlooked; that in arguing with him the woman is talking “like one of them”. It’s almost a parody of the ignorant and privileged, and it works only because we have all met people like this. It is at this point that the unnamed woman sets out to educate him about the continuing violence perpetrated against Dalits, and she does this with reference to B.R. Ambedkar.
This framing narrative provides us with a context in which to read the main body of the text. First, it is explicitly, openly didactic. This is not a criticism of the text; simply a statement of its form. Secondly, Ambedkar’s story here is told specifically in terms of how it is relevant to present day caste discrimination.
With art by Durgabai and Subhash Vyam, Bhimayana is physically gorgeous. The artists here have chosen to eschew the traditional panel style of the graphic novel (in S. Anand’s afterword they describe this as “forc[ing] characters into boxes”), and the pages are open and free-flowing, divided in places by traditional dignas. Durgabai and Subhash Vyam are working from the Pardhan Gond tradition, and each page is filled with details that act as clever signifiers.
There are the animals, for one thing. Nature is all over this book — fortresses are fierce beasts; trains are snakes; the road is a peacock’s long neck. The handle of a water pump turns into an elephant’s trunk. The first section of the book, which deals with the right to water, is full of water-based imagery — when the young Ambedkar is thirsty his torso turns into a fish, and when he urges a crowd to stand up for their rights the speakers morph into showers sprinkling water into the audience. A section on shelter has the recurring imagery of the banyan tree and its many twisted roots. Even the speech bubbles have significance — harsh or prejudiced words are given a tail like a scorpion’s to evoke their sting. Gentle words are encased in bubbles shaped like birds, and unspoken thoughts are given an icon to denote the mind’s eye. Trying to work out what each of these symbols mean is part of the joy of the book. With this in mind it’s rather a pity that the afterword should explain everything —this assumption that we need a translation makes me feel rather as if a layer of separation has been placed between the reader and the book.
The text itself, by Srividya Natarajan and S. Anand, is workmanlike, serving mostly as a background for the art. Bhimayana doesn’t attempt a comprehensive biography of Ambedkar; what we get instead is a selection of important scenes from his life. At no point does Bhimayana attempt (or claim) objectivity. We are allowed to see the justifiable bitterness against the Hindu religion — at one point the text even makes a flippant comment about the priests’ attempt to “purify” water touched by Dalits by using cow urine. The scorpion speech bubbles are occasionally applied to comments that are well-meaning, if ignorant and harmful.
Yet none of this is evidence of any kind of simplistic reading of caste. It’s clear throughout that caste oppression is a complex, many-tentacled beast — Bhimrao faces discrimination from Muslims, Parsis and Christians as well as Hindus. If it’s possible to draw from this book a child’s narrative of good versus evil, this is because the simplest narratives are the most politically expedient. Bhimayana is always conscious of that, and of the sort of book it aspires to be.
2. Write The Importance of Bhimayana for Children of India.
Ans: The irony of a history text book of school is that the major emphasis is on key words and major events mentioned and reiterated by a classroom teaching methodology. The children grow up learning that untouchability, injustices and discrimination have been eradicated by the implemen-tation of fundamental rights and directive principles of the state policy. However with little or no exposure to ground realities,a holistic comprehension of the real scenario is impossible. They grow up to be citizens who are apathetic about cases against atrocities of the depressed classes, with a half-baked sense of justice.The over dependence on the power of written history as an undeniable, incontestable domain also gives fillipto such a sentiment.
Texts like the Bhimayana bring about a revolutionary change in the thinking processes. The verbal-visual texts are remarkable in the narration as they stem from histories from below. India being predominantly an oral society, the tales are unfurled anew at every performance, the telling is different, and it liberates the reader from a rigid storyline and accelerates cognition from various angles of a discourse. The discourse itself becomes fluid in such cases, which gets reflected in the language and the imagery used by the artists. The graphic novel hasa huge ramification on the political consciousness of the readers, encourages diverse thinking and makes them question the issues of equality, discrimination, and imbalances in the society.
It is explorative, non-judgmental and open to new ideas and forms.To sum up, it makes Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar very approachable and relatable, his ideas and causes succinct and justified. The use of animal imagery, earthen colours and traditional fonts give a wholesomeness to a story which has still now remained caged in unblurry boxes of the history text books. The interjections by the newspaper clippings reinforce the existence of a parallel system which thrives on casteist power and murky politics, inhumane, nasty and brutish. The Exposure through tribal art and an interesting narrative style would be instrumental in triggering off basic human goodness in the future citizens of India, and make it a better place to live in. This is what the great man Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar must have dreamt of eventually for his nation.
3. Discuss the Bhimayana-The Interface of Memory, Orality and Art in the History of India.
Ans: The Gond art was brought to the forefront by Jangarh Singh Shyam in the mid-nineties who belonged to the Gond tribal community in central India. Their traditional work consisted of maintaining family genealogies, transmitting legends and myths through paintings all which was transmitted to them through the oral culture within the community. The process of internalising the Ambedkar journey came easy to Durgabai and Subhash Vyam as they heard the stories orally from their daughter. Even though they were made acquainted to the genres of graphic novels by the writer Srividya Natarajan, of Will Eisner, Art Spiegelman, Joe Sacco, Shaun Tan and Osamu Tezuka, the artists counter posed their own ideologies to the visual imagery of the texts. They could relate to the trauma of seclusion and exploitation better than the most.
They however did not adhere to the western method of restraining the journey of Ambedkar in panels and gutters, they rather preferred to make it with a lot of open spaces; with air to breath.They felt that their art applied to a system which was „lchulla? and felt that they could not cage an expansive person like Ambedkar in boxes. The open spaces provide the readers to make cognitive constructs of real and imagined events, creating meaning, interpreting symbols and an ability to predict and create cognitive mind maps, opening their visual fields. Bhimayana Is neither a compilation of single-sheet pictures nor is straight out linear narrative. The Use of theGond digna is like a double-edged frame containing allusions to grass and grain, running and whirling water, and paling reeds.
In the book, digna take the shape of broken circles, ‘fan-like insects, and natural forms like fish and hilltops.Edmunds (2006) suggested that with the sequential art children do not need to decode texts to learn and practice comprehension skills.With an art inspired by the earth and its myriad wonderments, the process of a text book reading becomes easy and approachable. Bhim is the pint size superhero of the novel, with doe like eyes who speaks in speech bubbles drawn in the shape of birds. Interestingly the novel has made a demarcation in the form of speech bubbles as a mark of protest, and subtly introduced the boy Bhim in the text. All the characters who are oppressed, differentiated against or denied speak in the form of bird like speech bubbles, whereas the oppressor ? speech bubbles are markedly different in the form of a scorpion ? sting.
The same pattern follows in the story wherein the graphic patois gives reasons to sort out why a stick that beats has eyes similar to a panopticon, why a water pump seems to want to burst into tears.As Foucault argues in his book Discipline and Punish that prison did not become the principal form of punishment just because of the humanitarian concerns of the reformists, but it is about the cultural shifts that led to the predominance of prison via the body and power. The casteist society that.. deniesuniform access to water to young boys from a water pump by the help of sticks isalsoabout a society that enforces its biases through misuse of power andpolitics of numbers.The politics of numbers has been following ‘a trajectory which Anand Teltumbde, Dalit activist and author of Khairlanji(2008), while absolutely in favour of the quota system describes it as “a graveyard of dalit aspirations. “The numbers of Dalits are dwindling in places where there has to be a show of strength in numbers, the state also plays the role of a panopticon displacing rural Dalits to appropriate lands for mega projects and global investors leaving behind a trail of helplessness and inadequacy.
The izame of number is always pitched in the same fashion, a few against the majority.Interspersed between the chapter divisions are the current news articles in never ending circles about the atrocities heaped on the Dalits even today, which is one of the most striking features of the graphic novel. The symbolism in the Bhimayana is the next important feature of the graphic text. It is divided into three segments primarily, Water, Shelter and Travel. If one looks into the Dalit history, these are the main areas in the day to day living of a dalit , in which he/she has been a victim to continual harassment and torture. The oral culture of the tribal paintings amply bearsout the fact, by the characters and storyline line of the book. Ambedkar is marked with glasses, perhaps to emphasise his erudition.
Muslims have little beards. Brahmins have puny tufts of hair poking out from shaved heads. Characters neither smile or frown. And eyeliner has been applied artfully to bring about the intentions behind the apparently impassive faces. The contouring of the faces are marked by the gestures borne out by jutting chins, for example the sadness of Bhim ? aunt, who waves goodbye to him and his cousins, graduates across her mercurial chin. Furthermore, Ambedkar ? speech at the Mahad Satyagraha bursts out as fresh blue water through loudspeakers in the shape of spouts. The murder of a Dalit farmer for digging his own well magnifies in the menace of a giant floating hand plough. This harks back to the time when art was used to interpret day to day life, till the time verbosity took over.
4. The Politics of Storytelling — A Review of Bhimayana: Incidents in the Life of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar.
Ans: Bhimayana: Incidents in the Life of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar is a graphic biography of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar published in 2011 by Navayana, a publishing house that focuses on the issue of caste from an anti-caste perspective. In this ground-breaking work, Pardhan-Gond artists Durgabai Vyam and Subhash Vyam interweave past events with current occurrences, infusing vibrant life into the graphic idiom through their awe inspiring art. My attempt in this essay is to examine the artistic choices that went into the making of this graphic novel, and to weigh their political significance against the majority of the literature available to us in modern India.
Bhimayana is a political graphic novel published by Navayana, self-proclaimed as India’s first and only publishing house to focus on the issue of caste from an anti-caste perspective.
[i] Named after Dr B.R. Ambedkar’s socially and morally concerned interpretation of Buddhism, Navayana translates to ‘new vehicle’.[ii] In relation to this, there seems to be a certain significance of Thimayana’ as a title. A semantic analysis of the word indicates an obvious reference to `Ramayana’. In the words of Durgabai Vyam, the artist responsible for the novel “While doing the book I once told Anand (the publisher), this is like the Ramayana! He said, ‘No, this is Bhimayana’ — and that’s how we hit upon this title.”
[iii] Bhimayana translates to Bhirn’s journey, which is an accurate description of the plot within the novel, however, its deeper political significance exists in the parallels it draws with Ramayana. Reworked folk songs have acted as key tools for the Bahujan Samaj Party in spreading Ambedkar’s ideology since the 1990s. For instance, in one song. Kaushalya Rani (the eldest wife of King Dashratha in Ramayana) is replaced by Ambedkar’s mother.[iv] Ram is a central figure in Hinduism and is revered as `maryada purushottama’ or.the perfect man.[v] Replacing his image in popular culture with that of Ambedkar’s is a powerful subaltern move which essentially flips the Hindu social order on its head, with an Untouchable man as the ideal.
The graphic novel is a term first coined in English in 1964, thus being a very young form of artistic expression. [vi] Pardhan-Gond artists Durgabai Vyam and Subhash Vyam added their own twist to the art form_ not confining their characters to boxes, creating .spa,- for all to breathe’. With customary tribal patron_: dwindling over the past century, tribal art has become dying medium, and in this context, the decision to employ tribal artists to illustrate the story of an Untouchable leader becomes all the more significant.
Several artistic choices throughout the novel are quite obviously politically charged. The speech bubbles that contain dialogue are of two types. One is in the shape of a bird, and it contains the dialogues of ‘characters whose speech is soft, the lovable characters, the victims of caste’. The second type takes the shape of a scorpion’s tale, holding the dialogues of ‘characters who love caste, whose words carry a sting and contain poison’. This polarisation of characters is a clear representation of the authors’ perspective, which is unabashedly anti-caste. It depicts Ambedkar as the well-meaning protagonist and caste Hindus as the evil antagonists. A third bubble is that of the thought bubble, pictured to be stemming from the mind’s eye to ‘contain words that cannot be heard but can be perceived’. This appears to be a subtle reference to the Third eye in Buddhism, which is the inner eye or eye of wisdom.[vii] The artists incredibly infuse deep meaning into features that can be overlooked as simple aesthetic tools.
Bhimayana is generous with its symbolism. The ecology of Pardhan Gond art is such that even when dealing with urban subjects, we see freefalling animals, birds, and trees. A thirsty young Ambedkar is visualised as a fish and happiness is depicted not through smiling faces but a dancing peacock. The artists introduce poignancy into situations and characters through drawings where words would otherwise be lacking. The novel features the image of pointing fingers throughout the narrative. One may interpret the pointing fingers as being aimed in a discriminatory fashion towards the Untouchables. A more pronounced observation, however, may be supplemented by the fact that most statues of Ambedkar erected in his honour depict him pointing forward.
This could be a metaphor for progress, a collective movement towards a better, equalitarian future. Another example of universal equality in the novel is shown in the drawing of people; each person irrespective of caste, class, or gender, is drawn in black and white with similar strokes and textures. It subtly encourages the readers to view every character as fundamentally alike. A more pervasive, though perhaps understated symbolic value is injected in the colour blue. It is featured prominently in the novel, whether as bright blue water, or a more muted blue in the clothes of Ambedkar. This bolsters the use of the popular Ambedkarite greeting `neel salam’ or blue salute, which embodies Ambedkarite ideals.[viii]
The writing in Bhimayana is lucid and accessible. The historic tale of Ambedkar is seamlessly interwoven with modern examples. The text borrows heavily from contemporary news articles, a tactic which triumphs in giving the reader a solid foundation in the reality of caste. The matter is structured to retain the interest of the reader, and when combined with the artwork, we are presented with a piece of literature that is unapologetically deliberate in its narrative.
Bhimayana is a departure from the norm that successfully punctures the mainstream narrative and aims spotlights at issues that escape widespread coverage. The novel is remarkable for the authors’ immersion of the story within a folk-art tradition and their crafting of a politically-engaged account that remains open to a diversity of audiences. If it is possible to draw from this book a child’s description of good versus evil, this is because the simplest narratives are the most politically expedient.
5. What are the roles of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, Sarojini Naidu, and Rajendra Prasad in Indian society?
Ans: B. R. Ambedkar, Sarojini Naidu, and Rajendra Prasad played a vital role in Indian society because of their contributions to Indian independence.
B.R. Ambedkar’s role in Indian society can be felt today as he was an important voice in crafting India’s constitution. B.R. Ambedekar was vocal in suggesting that a free India had to embrace equality in as many forms as possible. He was a fierce opponent of “untouchability,” the idea that society should be stratified into higher and lower castes. He argued that an independent India should be free of caste discrimination, going as far as embedding this idea in the new nation’s constitution.
Sarojini Naidu was called “the nightingale of India.” Her writing and public oration reflected her passion towards Indian freedom from British control. Naidu used her renown as an artist to become a force of political change. She was active in the Indian National Congress movement. In the 1940s, she participated in the “Quit India” movement. Despite being jailed, she did not reject her insistence on a free and independent India. When India achieved Independence in 1947, “the nightingale” became a part of political history as she became governor of the state of Uttar Pradesh. She was the first woman to serve in such a capacity.
Rajendra Prasad was the first president of India. Prasad was an important force in the movement for Indian independence. He worked with Mahatma Gandhi as an agent of nonviolent civil disobedience and took part in Gandhi’s Salt March. Like Gandhi, he was imprisoned for his political actions. However, with independence, he became India’s first president.
Indian society views Ambedkar, Naidu, and Prasad as important forces. Indian independence is due, in large part, to their contributions. Even after achieving freedom, their commitment to the country was underscored by their public service to the fledgling republic. In Ambedkar’s insistence on banishing caste discrimination, the promises and possibilities of the world’s largest democracy can be realized. Naidu’s example proved that the new nation could welcome women and men as political brokers of power. Finally, President Prasad demonstrated how civic duty is the ultimate reflection of love of country. Each of them saw a vision for the new India, a reality that Indian society appreciates and still pursues today.
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