Works in Progress

The struggle to publish BR Ambedkar’s writing

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

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.”

In his final years, despite his deteriorating health and numerous political commitments, Ambedkar carved out time to write and revise the drafts of four ambitious books, eventually published as The Buddha and His Dhamma, Buddha and Karl Marx, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Ancient India and Riddles in Hinduism. Savita Ambedkar lists 18 titles that were in various stages of progress—“Some are chapters of untitled books, while some are essays created from a chain of thought.” He had written about eighty pages of an autobiography, titled Waiting for a Visa, which would be published on the eve of his birth centenary, in 1990. Ambedkar was also planning to write books about Jotirao Phule, Sayajirao Gaekwad and Mohandas Gandhi.