Cold comforts as time obtains more struggle

The light that rises by itself
Is its own torch:
He who has found awareness
Vibrates with awareness (558)

There is an inherent tension in Ambedkar’s coming into being as a leader, a mooknayak, and his associational aspiration for society where every person becomes a light unto themselves. He was compelled into action every moment of his life; uneasy lay his head, with its crown of thorns. Time has only obtained more struggle since his passing. And his figure becomes more and more a symbol, shining its perpetual succour on the continued cruelty of a past that never ends.

So the self always
Observes itself:
Without having to
Observe itself (559)

Even his death seems symbolic of a struggle. He chose to be consumed by flames on this day 62 years ago. Daya Pawar noted melancholically in his autobiography, Baluta, how this felt like the end of an era, when Mahars were traditionally buried after death. Perhaps Ambedkar was done with a long life spent engulfed in coldness. His arrows of logic, cold like steel. A cold night spent in Kamathi Garden after being kicked out by his Parsi landlords in Baroda in late November 1917. His sacrifice of poetry in favour of cold prose. His lone frigid battles in Parliament, in the Constituent Assembly, in London. The end was to be a burst into flames. The heat of his revolutionary dreams no more thwarted by the coldness of ‘normalcy’. His passionate espousal of an associated life, the warmth of a congregation huddled together, sharing the light of dhamma, become material in the disappearance of his body.

Neither fire enters camphor
Nor camphor enters fire
Both are
At once consumed (565)

Perhaps none of this was meant. But one finds a way of imbuing meaning into every little gesture Ambedkar makes. Caught in our tangle of insurmountable odds, he becomes a warm, protective shroud. This sometimes feels like an admission of weakness, of not having the strength to confront the battles we must wage for our own selves. The one surety we can find though, is the promise of knowledge. Ambedkar always compels us to think, he makes all forbidden thought touchable, charges us to break the caste-monopoly and to read and write without fear.

When One is taken out of One
The number that remains is no number:
The Observing One and Observed One
Are erased at once (566)

This is what we take refuge in here at Navayana on the occasion of his death anniversary. In the possibilities that words, confined to the smallness of books, open up in the fearlessness of an imagining mind. Two of the books we brought out this year, on 14 April (marking his birth) and 15 May (when Annihilation of Caste was first published in 1936), Republic of Caste: Thinking Equality in the Time of Neoliberal Hindutva by Anand Teltumbde and Ambedkar and Other Immortals: An Untouchable Research Programme by Soumyabrata Choudhury, have been a hit with our readers and we have already sold out the first print run of hardback copies. Now, we are announcing their paperback editions, both of which challenge us to think beyond the frames of reference that we accept as normal. On popular demand, we have also revived the graphic book, A Gardener in the Wasteland, based on Jotiba Phule’s Gulamgiri of 1873. Aparajita Ninan’s much praised art work—‘its visual aesthetic is unforgiving: stark yet detailed, compassionate yet divisive’—is true to the spirit of a man who inspired Ambedkar. The new cover, with a touch of red, furthers the cause of Phule’s war against Brahmanism. Our annotated Riddles in Hinduism, where Ambedkar sets the dynamite to Vedas and sastras, with an introduction by Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd, has been reprinted yet again—it remains a perennial seller as does, understandably, The Myth of the Holy Cow despite the author D.N. Jha not reckoning with Ambedkar’s pioneering work on the same subject way back in 1948.

It has been a while since we sent out a newsletter to our subscribers. It might appear that we have, since summer, disappeared in our aestivation. We apologise. Rest assured, the Navayana team, a small unit of three persons, has been working away—we have been so preoccupied that we even let 5 November 2018, that marked fifteen years of Navayana, pass without so much as shouting out a thank-you to you, our readers. No matter. In 2019, we will make readers part with their hard-earned money for a slew of books that are priceless—and the One that will be worth all this waiting. Ammunition for the battle ahead is being readied, about untouchability and touchability, that impinge on beef and its scarceness today—its sacredness be damned. We won’t say more, rest assured you will see Ambedkar taking One out of One and showing us how he stands, a subtle oscillation, between the Observing One and Observed One before they are erased at once.

The subtle oscillation
Between being the Observer
And the Observed Being:
When they fuse together become nothing (562)

In our April 2017 book, Ambedkar: The Attendant Details, one of Ambedkar’s associates, Sohanlal Sastri, tells us how Babasaheb loved the thirteenth century Marathi poet Dnyaneshwar: ‘Often did he recite the Dnyaneshwari Gita for me in Marathi and translate it for me,’ Sastri reminisces (and don’t let the Sastri surname make you jump to conclusions; it’s a title he earned, not caste, and you may read how in this beautiful book edited by Salim Yusufji, former editor at Navayana). Those who read and know only the ‘English’ side of Ambedkar may not know the deep interest Ambedkar—who was born into a Kabirpanthi family—had in Marathi sant-vani poetry. The short poems interspersed here are from Dnyaneshwar’s Anubhavamrut translated by Dilip Chitre as The Immortal Experience of Being, 3210 lines of meditation on Being which Chitre (also the translator of Tukaram and Namdeo Dhasal) says is ‘poetry expressed as a total worldview’.

On the prosaic front, Navayana is also holding an end of the year sale from 6 to 15 December; you can buy all of our titles at a generous discount—we are of course way slower than Amazon but unlike them we count on your love of our politics. Support your friendly neighbourhood anti-caste publishing house by buying all of the wonderful books we have produced. It pains us to use such neoliberal logic, but the performance of righteous radicalism is cold comfort in these times of wilful ignorance.

5 November 2003, Chennai. The launch of Navayana with Dr Narendra Jadhav presenting the first four titles to Mini Krishnan. To Jadhav’s left are Kanimozhi and P. Sivakami. In the background, Ravikumar and Anand (The New Indian Express).

 

6 December 2018