Saturday, June 28, 2014


"Institutions such as schools, churches, governments and political organizations of every sort all tend to direct thought for ends other than truth, for the perpetuation of their own functions, and for the control of individuals in the service of these functions" - Phædrus
chalega- better than a
If there is one person, whose legacy the writer would, in the eyes of posterity, love to inherit- or usurp if you please, it is DD Kosambi. If there is anyone in our era who qualifies for Shakespeare's dramatic words, it's him: 'His life was gentle, and the elements mixed so well in him that Nature might stand and say to all the world: This was a man!'

He was cast in the classic mould  as an hero. Just read the tributes paid to him by eminent personalities when he, a fitness expert at the height of his prowess, suddenly passed away in sleep, leaving people shocked and grieving. What is most adorable about him is the greatness and sheer breadth of his philosophical mind that allowed diverse antagonistic entities to coexist there in comfort-Bunyan,Charvaka, Bhratrihari, Marx, Statistics, Gandhi, Genetics, Archaeology, Atheism, Hinduism, Buddhism, humour, peasants, nuclear science, nature worship. Like Einstein he was different, a non-conformist with a difference. Did he not remark: 

Why should anybody ignore the beautiful lily of Indian Philosophy in order to concentrate upon the dismal swamp of popular superstition…Anyone with aesthetic sense can enjoy the beauty of the lily; it takes a considerable scientific effort to discover the physiological processes whereby the lily grew out of the mud and the filth..

Imagine- in spite his avowed animosity towards the Bhagvad Gita, he derived 'immense aesthetic pleasure from its power of expression and peculiar beauty'....Not many people can aspire to do that, for it involves felicity to take intellectual leaps from one concept to another, and be at ease with each. It comes only to monumental minds like Einstein whose thinking is in basically in terms of abstract, and then the abstract template or paradigm may be applied with equal ease and comfort to mathematics, to violin, to theology, to peasants, to love of pets, to cabbages, to Kings- or even as a sword in case of conflict! His mind worked with the sort of intellectual scalpel conceived by Phædrus quoted above, or in the language of software, he possessed an uncanny ability to programme quickly in machine language...whewww!

Damodar Dharmananda Kosambi- mind you, of amcho Goa again (b.1907 d.1966, a mere 59), master of all that he surveyed, made invaluable original contributions to Pure Mathematics as well as Statistics, but is best known as a Marxian Historian. Babasaheb Kosambi, as people affectionately called him. In the not too distant past, the Marathi male child would invariably be addressed as (choose one): Baba, Nana, Baban, Balu, Raja, Dada, Anna, Sonya, Tatya, Appa, and upon growing up the appellation would get suffixed with Saheb or Rao or Bapu, depending upon the station in life. Likewise, in case of the girl child: Baby, Tai, Jiji, Akka, Chhaku, Rani, Thaku, Manu, Didi...being Deccanese, you find the flavours both of North and South...
DDK also studied at Cambridge, Mass., Harvard etc. He taught Mathematics and German at BHU, then Mathematics at AMU, then Mathematics for 12 years at the Fergusson, served for 3 years at TIFR, then taught at University of Chicago and Princeton, returning to India thereafter for good, to engage in full time writing of commentaries and books on Ancient Indian History and Sanskrit texts. For some time he also served as Scientific Advisor to the Government of the Peoples’ Republic of China.

He fell out with Dr. Bhabha and left TIFR because “when scientists were debating the relative advantages of solar and nuclear energy, Kosambi argued for the sun whereas Bhabha preferred uranium and had the backing of Jawaharlal Nehru…” He wrote thus in favour of solar energy:

The cost of research on direct utilization of solar energy would be far lower than for atomic energy. India has much greater supply of solar energy than most other countries; in fact, the problem is to keep the land from being blasted altogether by the sun. One difficulty is that the sun’s energy is not constant. There is the variation between sunrise and sunset, with nothing at all at night. Again, cloudy days make a difference. The problem of storage, however, is not too difficult. Better storage batteries can certainly be produced, to give long life without heavy servicing. Another method would be to pump water by use of solar energy, at whatever variable speed the sun allows, into high-level tanks (say on towers). The water can then come down by gravity through turbines which turn electric generators, and can be further used for irrigation. The advantages are that the fuel—the sun’s radiation—costs absolutely nothing, and there are no harmful exhaust gases or radioactive byproducts. Moreover, the installation can be set up anywhere in India, and will work quite well except perhaps in the heaviest monsoon season. The research is of no use for war purposes. That is why it attracts some of us, but does not attract those who control the funds…” (the parting kick in the para being for Bhabha- read
His taike on India’s population problem:

“Children are the sole means of support for those among the common people who manage to reach helpless old age. The futility of numerical ‘planning’ of the population, when nothing is done to ensure that even the able-bodied have a decent level of subsistence, is obvious to anyone but a born expert. Convince the people that even the childless will be fed and looked after when unable to fend for themselves and birth control will become popular..”
What monumental foresight – how much ahead of the times! We imagine he was not the recipient of a Padma-this or a Padma-that or a Padma-other because the Government had not the guts to offer one to him. You know what Baba would have said. He’d convulse in his virtual grave if someone tried to award one posthumously. We always believed that the Padma awards should be rechristened 'Pavlovshri' etc, for what are they  but instruments for seeking affiliation to the ruling classes' beliefs and morality (we can keep artistes out of the pale of these accusations, he, he). These awards are not meant for non-conformists like Kosambi, in whom one sees an aks i.e. عکس of Phædrus. But does this mean that our educators deprive our generations of information on this person, who is one of the greatest of Indians? Our opening quote is intended to address this conundrum which should leave compatriots curious about the method by which our society chooses its mentors. The ચોર of ચોરવડ is a super-hero and few know about DDK! If it were not for the democratic features of the net, the very traces of Kosambi, who himself discerned whole societies in a grain of sand, would ironically disappear. But for any of us who desires to know about D D Kosambi, each word ever penned by Kosambi is available for free-his life is an open non-copyrighted book..the best things in life are still free...but surely he has a cult following

The most poignant tribute, when he died, came from A.L.Basham, the famous British historian…here are some excerpts:
“When his attention turned increasingly to anthropology as a means of reconstructing the past, it became more than ever clear that he had a very deep feeling for the lives of the simple people of Maharashtra. When he described local festivals, and religious ceremonies or showed the excellent colour slides that he had taken of them, one felt that he would have liked to participate, to identify himself with the peasants worshipping at a village shrine or making a pilgrimage to Pandharpur…
“ realized that the range of his heart and mind was very wide. He had a great love of literature in all languages. Once he impressed me by quoting passages from John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress from memory. I was astonished that he should know this seventeenth century English religious classic so well, and suggested that his taste for Bunyan was rather incongruous in a professed unbeliever. He replied that he loved Bunyan because his language was so beautiful and simple, he was a product of the popular culture of the time, and he imparted valuable moral lessons, even to one who had no faith.…..

“Impatient with hypocrisy, inefficiency, bureaucracy, dogmatism and intolerance, a man of very deep convictions and strong principles, with a very powerful will, he may have made enemies as well as friends…
“I am not qualified to pass judgment on his work in mathematics, and have hardly the right to assess his editions of Sanskrit poetical texts, which, according to the specialists, are marvels of their kind….

“As a historian he made very important contributions to the study of many aspects of Indian history. His statistical analysis of the punch-marked coins has produced one of the most convincing interpretations of these so far to have been offered. His An Introduction to the Study of Indian History is in many respects an epoch making work, containing brilliantly original ideas on almost every page; if it contains errors and misrepresentations, if now and then its author attempts to force his data into a rather doctrinaire pattern, this does not appreciably lessen the significance of this very exciting book, which has stimulated the thought of thousands of students throughout the world…..
Here is a passage form C.D.Deshmukh's autobiography of DDK (he,he,he,) which will be of interest to my poha brothers . You won't get the full picture about DDK till you read this:
This episode well illustrates his personality in those days. (q 12) Principal R.B. Joshi had said, ‘the students of the Holkar College of Indore had organized an excursion. They had planned to stay in Dr. Sukhtankar’s Bungalow at night and spend the next day climbing up and down the mountain seeing the waterfalls of Patalpani, Brahmakund, Mendikund, etc. Vishnupant Barpute, the chief of the Scout Movement in Indore was our leader. Damodar Dharmnanda, i.e., Baba Kosambi had joined us. ‘We all appreciated Baba’s company. All of us were curious about the way the son of a world renowned Maharashtrian, educated in America would talk and behave with us. In the beginning we would watch him from a distance because there was such a lot of disparity between him and us. We could talk in English falteringly while he would talk mostly in English fluently and that too in American English. He talked in Marathi too but only a little and it sounded quite unnatural. For an age of 16 or 17, he had a brawny and hefty body. His solid shoulder muscles peeping through the open collar of his Khaki shirt looked like the sloping sides of a pyramid. The portions of his arms below the half sleeves of his shirt, from the elbow downward were shaped like a sculpture. Attired in khaki shirt and khaki Knickers with a haversack flung on his back and a solid stick in his hand stirring around, his attractive figure arrested our attention. Despite these heroic qualities he talked so freely and with such ease that i felt he was one of us. His English became intelligible to us and we sensed the difference between spoken English and bookish English. He gave toffees that he had brought with him to all of us. He occasionally would take a toffee back from someone telling him, ‘Hi, you have one too many!’ and give it someone else. I heard this idiom for the first time and remember it ever since. At times he did not spare even Barpute from his banter.
‘When he took off his clothes for bathing in the Mendikunda, his form in perfect proportion like a Greek statue astonished us. He then started talking about exercise and showed us how to exercise and build the muscles of the back and the shoulders into perfect shape without using dumbbells, chest expanders and such other equipment. 
(Incidentally Vishnupant or Tatya Barpute is the writer's direct ancestor from paternal grand-mother's side. Their association arose on account of a common bond- Boy Scouts; it's the final seal of pojitivess, and YT proclaims- he is a Boy Scout too...once a Scout, always one- the logic goes reverse really- a Boy Scout is for ever...we remembering inducing Bharat Scouts, Daryaganj, Delhi 110006 to open a savings accounts with Chabiwala Bank, Janakpuri, Delhi 110058, when YT was the Branch Manager there.. in AD 1985...)

A senior DDK tends Bonzo in his Poona home: When employed in TIFR, DDK reputedly did up-down to Bombay daily in Deccan Queen

Favourite Literature: a habit of his which did not meet the approval of western scholars including Basham, was juxtaposing  thoughts and skills of Sanskrit poets, on those of western poets of eras far removed, say Goethe or Blake, to the disadvantage of the former that is Sanskrit poets. Basham held his Marxism responsible for the alleged mis-judgement based on class-related content. Bring me my bow of burning gold quoted on the masthead of the blog is a virile and passionate sample of William Blake's poetry which Kosambi loved.
Read only short story DDK wrote for children, explaining the beginning of everything, with a touching passsage on the traditional practice of worshiping the Bodhi tree. Although a non-believer, he wrote on matters concerning sentiments with an earnest empathy that can be possessed by an ardent believer...therein lies DDK's greatness..
BARC work environment: This establishment has a dark record of suicides. While reporting on the suicide by a young scientist Ms Titas Pal, in 2010, the Mid-Day, as a sequel to scientists' laments on the HR, wrote the following words:
The Niligri building where Pal stayed in flat no 1414, has a history of suicides. A BARC resident, on condition of anonymity, said that in 1996, the entire building was fenced with metal grills to prevent any suicide attempts.

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