Vijay Surwade, an encyclopaedia on Babasaheb Ambedkar to whom we owe most of the pictures and a lot of the information used in A Part Apart: The Life and Thought of B.R. Ambedkar, was born in 1953 in Bhusawal, Jalgaon district, Maharashtra. His maternal grandfather Sakharam Senu Sonawane, received deeksha from Babasaheb in Nagpur in 1956. Two uncles, Rajdhar Raoji Surwade and Giridhar Raoji Surwade, instilled in young Vijay a passion for Babasaheb and his legacy. Surwade soon began collecting photographs, newspaper cuttings, and Dalit wedding cards where Babasaheb’s picture featured. He entered the thick of the Dalit movement in 1970 when he enrolled in Siddharth College, Mumbai. His time in the hostel Siddharth Vihar, in Wadala, brought Surwade in touch with a range of Dalit poets, writers and activists. The Dalit Panther, founded in 1972, left a deep impress. Around this time, he met Babasaheb’s second wife, Savita Ambedkar, known as Maisaheb. It was the beginning of a friendship and collaboration that resulted in several books and unearthing of new archival material. Working a bank job from 1978 to 2013, Surwade’s obsessive search took him through the length and breadth of Maharashtra, and sometimes farther to Delhi, Lucknow, Agra, Indore, Bhopal, Ahmedabad, Mhow and more. He bussed and walked to old studios, combed Dalit chawls, met other collectors, cajoled and pleaded with them, even offering prints from his own collection in exchange. Surwade rummaged dusty backrooms of several studios for glass and film negatives to sometimes find one rare print, and often not.
Five decades of ‘working like a man possessed’ has resulted in seventeen books in Marathi and English, of which nine are photo albums. Surwade has contributed to Jabbar Patel’s biopic Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar (2000), and to two museums devoted to Babasaheb: one by Symbiosis Society, Pune, in 1996, and the second by the Navi Mumbai Corporation in 2021. Every serious Ambedkar researcher stops at Surwade and his wife Mangala’s present-day home in Kalyan, near Mumbai. Their flat is a densely packed shrine, with every nook devoted to not just papers and books and projects in progress, but also to Babasaheb’s dentures, gold-rimmed spectacle frames, calling cards, a gold-plated Swiss watch (Movado) gifted by Babasaheb to Maisaheb, a broken violin string, and more treasures than the eye can take.
This profile of Vijay Surwade is an extract from p. 864 of A Part Apart
(In the image from L to R: Ashok Gopal, Vijay Surwade and S. Anand)