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At his alma mater, B R Ambedkar’s name finds no place in list of ‘illustrious’ alumni

On the eve of Ambedkar’s 124th birth anniversary, Newsline traces the places in Mumbai where he lived and worked.

Written by Anjali Lukose | Mumbai | Updated: April 14, 2015 9:56:20 am
B R Ambedkar, Ambedkar anniversary, ambedkar traces in mumbai, Siddharth College of Arts, mumbai, mumbai news, city news, local news, mumbai newsline Dr Ambedkar’s study after its renovation at Rajgruh, Hindu Colony. (Source: Express Photo by Vasant Prabhu/ Amit Chakravarty )

The ashes of Babasaheb Ambedkar, the Father of the Constitution remains locked inside cupboard 13 along with “rare books” from his collection on the ground floor of Siddharth College of Arts, Science and Commerce.

These are some of the artefacts in the strong room protected by a formidable iron door made by Chubb Lock & Safe Makers of London. This strong room, says Principal UM Maske, served as the locker room for a Japanese bank in the building before it was purchased by Ambedkar to house the college.

On Ambedkar’s birth anniversary, Newsline visited the places in Mumbai where he once worked and lived. Far away from plans for a grand memorial and bidding for his London house, these places remain forgotten and neglected.

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For the teetotaler Ambedkar, his beloved corner at the erstwhile Wayside Inn at Kala Ghoda is now the table closest to the bar. The erstwhile Irani cafe has made way for Chinese cuisine-serving ‘Silk Route’ and was once famed for being the spot where Ambedkar wrote parts of the Constitution. “The windows of the Irani cafe, although painted on the outside are shut and the interior bears no resemblance,” said manager Andrew Cabouse.

Cobbler Sudesh Das on the pavement outside remembers an uncle, who spoke of how Ambedkar used to sit by the window sipping tea. Almost 58 years later, the uncle is gone and so is the corner.

While there’s nothing left of the Wayside Inn, a reclining chair used by Ambedkar sits inside the library at Anand Bhavan, two blocks away. This chair “on which Ambedkar read, researched and wrote the constitution” have been sourced from his fourth floor room atop Siddharth Law College in Anand Bhavan. A room that finally made way for a ‘moot court hall’ in the 1990s, recalls Maruti Chaudhari, senior clerk at Siddharth College.

Interestingly, Elphinstone college at Fort, of which he was an alumnus, somehow misses Ambedkar’s name in the list of ‘illustrious Elphinstonians’ on a plaque of alumni between 1856-1956. Besides a flex banner announcing his birth anniversary — a new addition, according to the watchmen — the college has no visible memory of Ambedkar ever having been there. “We have a space crunch and we have so many illustrious alumni such as Dadbhai Naoroji, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Chimanlala Harilal Setalvad and others, so it becomes difficult to allocate a special place for a single person. Also, the previous principal wanted to have busts but the building has a heritage tag, making things tough,” said a senior lecturer at the college.

The space crunch is because the ground floor and a part of the first is occupied by the Directorate of Archives. The Archives section is the only place that reminds one of Ambedkar — through his writings.

“Instead of statues and memorials at Indu Mill, the government should take interest in these places that formed the key areas for Ambedkar during the drafting of the Constitution. Take the case of Rajgruha (Ambedkar’s house), can’t the government rehabilitate the tenants and then preserve Ambedkar’s house, that is very much in Mumbai?” asks principal Maske.

“Every year, for show, people do things on April 14 and December 6, but making statutes does not achieve anything. What would be even better is for all of us to imbibe his teachings, something that is lost in our generation, in governance as well as daily life,” he adds.

Meanwhile in Hindu Colony in Dadar, the only other room where Ambedkar spent time reading and writing is on the first floor of Rajgruha, his home since 1937. This room with an attached balcony remains intact, the exact location of which is again a mystery to locals. A small spiral staircase leads to Ambedkar’s bedroom, kept intact save the white -washed walls. The room retains its characteristic high ceiling and wooden carvings on the doors.

The Bungalow has a memorial for Ambedkar on the ground floor, complete with his busts, statues and photos of his younger days, with other prominent leaders as well as his funeral procession.

The entire bungalow, which the family shares with tenants, has been under repair and reconstruction for two years. “ We have preserved the Bungalow for many years. The Ambedkar family has ensured they keep the belongings and memories of Babasaheb Ambedkar untouched,”said Rakesh Gaikwad, one of the caretakers.

Back at the small library at Buddha Bhavan, in Fort, lies a “prized possession”. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s original copy of the Constitution of India with his name embossed is the biggest treasure in this library, along with the abridged version, signed by him.

This copy of the Constitution lies among the “rare” private book collection of Ambedkar, alongside another of his reclining chairs inside the library of Siddharth College.

“We have 1,300 books that were part of Ambedkar’s private collection. Now, just researchers and some interested students visit the library and take these books. We only see a surge during the days surrounding April 14 and December 6. Sadly, the public is largely unaware,” said Shrikant Talwatkar, the librarian.

By: Anjali Lukose and Neha Kulkarni

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