From: Shiva Shankar <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Mon, Dec 6, 2010 at 8:21 PM
Subject: Outcaste in Vidarbha to scientist in Wisconsin
'In the Tiger's Shadow' by Namdeo Nimgade
Reviewed By Anand Teltumbde
Outcaste in Vidarbha to scientist in Wisconsin
Sunday, Dec 5, 2010
As a Dalit autobiography, it naturally transcends the personal
narrative of the author's life story and seamlessly entwines with that
of Dalits following their legendary leader Babasaheb Ambedkar, with
whom Nimgade had a long acquaintance
Dalit autobiography is essentially a new genre of literature created
by the first generation of Dalits in the turbulent times of the late
1960s, when they had begun to come out of universities with a rolled
up degree in their hand and a blank wall as their future.
Within a decade of Dr Ambedkar's demise, their movement appeared to
crumble: their leaders deserted it and joined enemy camps, their
people faced more and more atrocities, and all the constitutional
promises made to them were being made a mockery of.
Inspired by the movements of Blacks in the US, their protest found
expression in a body of work that is today read as Dalit literature.
Although writers like Baburao Bagul, Bandhu Madhav, Shankarao Kharat,
and Annabhau Sathe were already writing about the lives of Dalits,
Dalit literature acquired its unique identity only later, following
the formation of Dalit Panthers. Poems, short stories, novels and
autobiographies written by Dalit writers projected the perspective
that 'Dalit is dignified' (rather like 'Black is beautiful'),
rejecting the sub-human status imposed on them by the Hindu social
Autobiography, as a matter of fact, came a decade later, after the
initial barrage of poems and short stories. Dalit writers, like the
black writers from Frederick Douglass to Malcolm X and Eldridge
Cleaver, narrated their life stories focused on the painful histories
of Dalit selfhood.
Baluta of Daya Pawar and Athavaniche Pakshi of PE Sonkamble were one
of the first autobiographies published in 1978. They created waves and
was soon followed by a spate of autobiographies during the 1980s:
Lakshman Mane's Upara (1980), Shankarrao Kharat's Taral Antaral
(1981), and Baby Kamble's Jine Amuche (1986), just to name a few.
As in the case of Black autobiographies, they immediately caught the
fancy of readers because of their bizarre and voyeuristic value.
They were soon picked up for translation into other languages,
including the foreign ones. They overtook the market for other forms,
bringing corresponding name, fame and even pecuniary benefits to their
Though these autobiographies projected the subjectivity of their
writers, they simultaneously portrayed the collective Dalit self as
As Stephen Butterfield writes of African-American autobiographies,
"the self belongs to the people, and the people find a voice in the
self." Subjectivity in these autobiographies is thus complicated by
the deep connection between the individual self and the communal self.
Nimgade's book is no exception. His narrative, comic at the surface,
has a strong undercurrent of anguish and pain inflicted by the caste
system. Compared to most Dalit autobiographies written by seemingly
successful people that subtly celebrate personal achievements,
Nimgade's narrative never strays from its undertone of humility.
Yet his achievements are not small when compared with that of theirs.
After Ambedkar, he is perhaps the first Dalit to have obtained a
doctorate from an American university, and that too in physical
science. But he humbly puts it all down to inspiration from Dr
While others inspire awe in common Dalit masses by playing up their
accomplishments, Nimgade seeks to assure them that if they persevere,
they too can overcome the odds and reach their goals.
This book, therefore, can serve as a real inspiration to millions of
aspiring Dalit youth.
Thus, apart from being different from other such autobiographies,
Nimgade's narrative also contains a unique treasure in the form of his
reminiscences of Dr Ambedkar. Besides numerous references, one entire
section (out of six) of the book is devoted to Dr Ambedkar. It
provides valuable insights into the persona of the great man.
Dr Ambedkar makes several appearances in Nimgade's story, apart from
being his mentor, and eventually inspires him to mentor and help poor
students all his life.
Like all other Dalit autobiographies, this book was also originally
written in the language of the writer, Marathi, and was titled
Dhulitun Dhyeyakade (From dust to destiny). Indeed, it was an amazing
leap, for Namdeo of Sathgaon to become Dr Nimgade. Unlike other Dalits
who have penned their memoirs, Nimgade is not known to be a writer.
But with the support of his close friends and relations, he has done a
good job of it. The Marathi book was translated into Hindi by him and
his wife on public demand. This English translation, also done by him
with editorial help from others, is almost as good as the original in
its expression and readability.
It must be read not only by all those who want to understand the Dalit
universe but also by those who enjoy a good Indian book in English.
Anand Teltumbde is a writer and a civil rights activist.
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