Ambedkar the Bibliophile

 

The importance of books in Dr B.R. Ambedkar’s life cannot be overemphasized. In the middle of his political and intellectual career in 1934, despite meager resources, Ambedkar built a large house only to accommodate his immense collection of books—the Rajgriha in Bombay. This in a land where people celebrate their gods for achievements such as decapitating a ‘shudra’ who bothered to acquire education; where, till date, only 2.24 percent among Dalits manage to graduate.

 

One story is worth recalling. In 1917, Ambedkar returned to Bombay from London before heading to Baroda to try and fulfill his obligations to Maharaj Sayajirao who had given him a loan to study in Columbia University and LSE. Over four years in New York and London, Ambedkar collected books. According to biographer Dhananjay Keer, Ambedkar purchased over two thousand rare books in New York alone.

 

While Ambedkar reached Bombay via S.S. Kaiser-i-Hind, the other steamer containing his books and other luggage had been torpedoed by a German submarine and sunk. Upon his arrival, Ambedkar had little money to cover even the household expenses, forget paying for the rail fare to Baroda. At this juncture, the loss of his books proved oddly helpful. Since he had insured his books, Messrs Thomas Cook & Co. sent him the insurance money, and with this he tided over domestic expenses and managed the money to be able to reach Baroda.

 

What awaited Ambedkar in Baroda was, of course, humiliation. No one would give him a place to stay and he was turned out of even a Parsi inn. In eleven days, he was forced to return to Bombay. Speaking of this experience, Ambedkar was to later write:

 

My five years of staying in Europe and America had completely wiped out of my mind any consciousness that I was an untouchable, and that an untouchable wherever he went in India was a problem to himself and to others. But when I came out of the station, my mind was considerably disturbed by a question, ‘Where to go? Who will take me?’

 

Ambedkar’s love for books remained undiminished all his life. In 1931, attending the Round Table Conference in London, Ambedkar is said to have acquired books that were contained in thirty-two boxes. While the Maharashtra and Union governments have acquired the house in London where Ambedkar had stayed in 1920–22, his own house for books, Rajgriha, faces neglect as this report says.

rajagriha

 

It is another irony that almost seventy percent of the writings of Ambedkar have only been published posthumously, running to several thousand pages. Many of these regarded as classics today—such as Riddles in Hinduism or Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Ancient India—did not see the light of day during his lifetime. In fact, he could not even publish his opus, The Buddha and His Dhamma, because he ran short of money.

 

Several Dalit writers and scholars, and Ambedkarite publishers in small towns and cities of India, many of whom have, with no resources other than passion and political will have strived to make public the writings of Ambedkar after his death in 1956

Several Dalit writers and scholars, and Ambedkarite publishers in small towns and cities of India, many of whom have, with no resources other than passion and political will have strived to make public the writings of Ambedkar

 

At Navayana, we are privileged and honoured to not just re-publish some of his works but also be associated with persons such as the late Bhagwan Das who was among the first to publish Ambedkar’s writing after his death in 1956. Our year-end offer of 50 percent discount on most of our titles is but a small effort to reach out to our readers directly.

 

In the coming year, we shall present you with some of Ambedkar’s essential works—as always with value additions—at jaw-dropping prices.

 

Till then, happy reading, and Jai Bhim!

 

 


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