Bhajju Shyam, a Gond artist, has been conferred the country’s fourth-highest civilian award, Padma Shri.
A Class X dropout from Patangarh in Dindori district, one of Madhya Pradesh's poorest and most backward tribal areas, Bhajju was picked to stand among the world's best children's books illustrators. For his book ‘The Night Life of Trees, he was awarded the Bologna Ragazzi “New Horizons” Award at the 2008 Bologna Children's Book Fair.
Bhajju worked as a night guard and electrician before becoming an artist. Fed up with financial constraints, Bhajju decided to leave his village at the age of 16 and landed at Amarkantak in Anuppur district where he worked at a tree plantation and used to get Rs 2 for every sapling he planted.
Bhajju was ushered into the world of art by his uncle, Jangarh Singh Shyam, a noted Gond artist. Bhajju's confidence got a boost when five of his paintings were sold for Rs 1200 at an exhibition in Delhi.
He gained prominence when his artworks were exhibited at Paris in 1998. Then came the turning point of his life, when he was invited by a London-based restaurant in 2001 to paint murals on interior walls.
However, unlike other travellers, Bhajju’s creative and inquisitive brain did not treat his trip to London as a journey. He expressed his experiences in a book ‘London Jungle Book’ and his illustrations and narration took the creative world by storm. This book has been published in five foreign languages.
Bhajju has come a long way from helping his mother decorate the mud walls of their tiny hut with drawings. He is now the toast of the global children's books circuit.