The Unexpected Journey to The Entertainment Industry
Bhajju Singh Shyam is an Indian artist whose story began in 1971 in Patangarh, Madhya Pradesh. He was born into a family of the Gong Pradhan Tribe. He had a difficult childhood as his family couldn’t provide for him and his two siblings, “one of us would have books, the other would have a uniform, and the third would have a bag. If we were all one child, we would have made it through. But we were three and there wasn’t enough to go around.”
At just 16 years old, he decided to leave Patangarh in order to get a job so that he could support his family. He initially started off working at a tree plantation project in Amarkantak, where he earned Rs. 2 every time he planted a sapling. A year later, this job made him very unhappy and as a result, he moved to Bhopal, working as an electrician and a night guard. Once again, Bhajju found himself immensely unsatisfied. That is when in 1993, Bhajju’s uncle Jangarh Singh Shyam, who was also a renowned Gong artist at the time, changed Bhajju’s life forever by asking him to be his apprentice. As a child, Bhajju always helped his mother with painting the walls of their house and so according to Bhajju, “after going through many jobs, he decided this would be just another one.”
After working with his uncle for some time, filling in the patterns in Jangarh Shyam’s artworks, Bhajju’s talent was recognized and so he was encouraged to start working on his own art. Soon subsequently, Bhajju got motivated to continue working in the field of Gond art when five of his paintings sold for Rs. 1200 at an exhibition in Delhi. He began working independently, perfecting his skills, selling his art, and eventually getting recognition as an artist. His success later skyrocketed when his art pieces had attracted a lot of attention at an indigenous art exhibition in Paris in 1998. This led to the most important opportunity of his career- an invitation to go to London to paint murals at a posh restaurant.
This amazing opportunity inspired his first book- “London Jungle Book”. This was the first time he was going abroad and traveling in an airplane, and so every experience he had has been expressed well by his creative illustrations and narrations. Readers of his book can sense the childlike wonder Bhajju felt every time he encountered something new and unfamiliar. He managed to transform every mundane and ordinary thing into an extraordinary spectacle.
The artwork on the right shows Bhajju’s unique interpretation of an airplane as “the heaviest animal I have ever seen is an elephant. So that creature came to my mind when I painted the plane. A plane taking off is as much of a miracle as an elephant flying.”
Bhajju’s personal beliefs and experiences are reflected in the striking art he creates. This is also specifically shown in his artwork below is called “The King of the Underworld”, which is Bhajju’s artistic interpretation of the London subways.
When explaining this art piece and his vision, Bhajju says, “In Gond belief, there is another world below this one, and I discovered there is such a world in London as well. So, I have thought of the underground as London’s world below the earth, and the tube as the earthworm that rules it.”
His children’s book has been very successful and has been published in 5 foreign languages! Moreover, an exhibition of the original paintings from the book has toured the United Kingdom, Germany, Holland, Italy, and Russia. Bhajju has also illustrated, co-edited and contributed to eight other books since 2004. In addition to that, he has won many different awards, such as the state award for Best Indigenous Artist. Furthermore, he has traveled to Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Kyrgyzstan, England, and France, which is his personal favorite, for different events including art and literature festivals, workshops as well as exhibitions.
Despite his unexpected success, Bhajju remains very humble, down to earth and modest. According to him, his book gained popularity in the first place because “There were no pretenses; if I did not know what it was like to be on an airplane or how to speak English, I just didn’t, and I wasn’t afraid to write about it in my book. It was almost as if people loved it for its sincerity and my curiosity about ordinary things.”
Bhajju Shyam is an extraordinary illustrator who hasn’t received enough credit for his amazing work. He gives all the children that read this book an incredible message to appreciate every regular thing and reimagine it with creativity and to always retain their child-like wonder and inquisitiveness. He is a truly wonderful, out-of-the-ordinary artist who had an unexpected journey to success.