Works in Progress

The struggle to publish BR Ambedkar’s writing

31 March 2021
At Dadar’s Chaitya Bhoomi, where Ambedkar was cremated, stalls sell his books all year round.
Anurag Banerjee for The Caravan
At Dadar’s Chaitya Bhoomi, where Ambedkar was cremated, stalls sell his books all year round.
Anurag Banerjee for The Caravan

IN A RARE MOMENT OF LEISURE, on the night of 5 December 1956, at his rented bungalow on Delhi’s Alipur Road, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar chanted the Buddhist liturgy as it played on the radiogram: “Buddham Sharanam Gachchhami, Dhamman Sharanam Gachchhami, Sangham Sharanam Gachchhami”—I take refuge in Buddha, in his Dhamma and in the Sangha. His cook broke his reverie by asking him to come have dinner. He had to be coaxed several times before he agreed to eat a little rice.

On his way to the dining table, Ambedkar stopped at his library to pick out a few books to keep him company at night. Nanak Chand Rattu—a central-government employee who had been helping him with secretarial work since Ambedkar lost his official staff when he resigned as law minister, in 1951—took his leave around midnight. Ambedkar instructed Rattu that, the following morning, he should dispatch for publication a set of freshly typed drafts, including the preface and introduction to his book The Buddha and His Dhamma.

Ambedkar’s second wife, Savita, recalls in her autobiography that he was engrossed with his writing “till the last moment of his life.” Since technology such as photocopying was not yet available, she adds, he had to rely on handwritten or typed copies of rare books for his research. “He got typed copies of some books from the British Library in London,” Savita Ambedkar writes. “His thirst for knowledge was passionate and unmatched.”

Aathira Konikkara is a reporting fellow at The Caravan.

Keywords: BR Ambedkar Dalit Panthers Shiv Sena
COMMENT