These passages from the Khairmode biography of Dr. Ambedkar have been translated from the Marathi by Rohini Shridhar Shukla, and slightly edited for brevity and clarity by FWP.
Rohini Shukla is a Ph.D. student at the Department of Religion, Columbia University. Her task for this website is to translate select excerpts from Khairmode’s Marathi biography into English. Since Ambedkar’s multifaceted career is well-documented--on this timeline and otherwise--her aim is to give the reader a sense of who Ambedkar was as a person. What were Ambedkar’s daily routines like, what were his habits, favorite things to do, idiosyncrasies, general likes and dislikes, who was he as a son, adolescent, husband, student, and friend? Khairmode’s unparalleled biography provides a detailed picture.
For clarity, nicknames, kinship terms, and titles of respect have sometimes been replaced by proper names.
We had a Brahmin master by the name 'Ambedkar'. He would not teach us much. But he loved me a lot. During our lunch break, to eat, I used to have to go to my house which was far away from school. This, Ambedkar master did not like. But just for that time, because I would be free to roam around outside, I used to have a lot of fun going home during lunch break to get some bread. But our master came up with an idea. He would pack and bring some bread and vegetables, and every day, without fail, during lunch break, he would call me and give me some bread and vegetables from his own assorted meal. Of course, so that there would be no physical contact, he would drop the bread and vegetables into my hands from above. I feel proud when I say that the sweetness of that bread and vegetables of love is unfading....When in Camp School Satara, Bhiva did not have the slightest clue about what it meant to study. Whatever was taught in school, that is all he would study.... But what did they study in school? On this matter Ambedkar has told his memory in the following way:
Our Ambedkar Master was something else. When the school bell would ring, he would come to class, and would hand over the entire class to one older boy from our class named Rahimtulla ,and would carelessly just leave class. Ambedkar Sir would not teach much in school. That is why students would not have much homework….That Ambedkar sir did not impart proper discipline to study at the right age, this was not a complaint that BabaSaheb made at all. Much to the contrary, this teacher would treat him with great care and affection--this he has admitted, this I have already mentioned. Ambedkar master was his first teacher. About him, Ambedkar has said words of great respect. He said, "When I left to go abroad for a round-table conference, at that time he had sent me a very loving letter. I have it in my collection. In the future, if it ever comes to mind to write an autobiography, I will publish it in that." (Navayuga, 13-4-1947).
In the period from November 11, 1918, to March 11, 1920, while he was working at the Sydenham College as a professor, Ambedkar’s social and familial life, as described earlier, was distressed. The flame of his ambition to finish his university education that had been left incomplete at London University was kept steadily burning before the eyes of his mind. To meet the expenses that would be necessary to achieve it, he had collected the money remaining from his salary and saved it. He would give Rs. 100 monthly for household expenditure. He would be very meticulous to assure that household expenses were tightly managed. So much so that two match-boxes had to last an entire month, a third match-box should not be bought--this strict injunction he had given to Ramabai. That saintly woman would conduct household expenses in accordance with this command.
Ramabai’s life had been spent in a good Maratha household. She had not even seen the face of a school. Bhimrao had tried very hard to educate her, after they got married. Not standing in front of elderly/senior people, wholeheartedly following their wishes, worshiping and serving the husband--this was Ramabai’s manner of thinking. She would say to her husband, "What will come from educating women?!" That is why, even after Bhimrao made a lot of efforts to educate her, for many days Ramabai did not progress beyond just learning how to write. "My husband is highly educated"--this she was very proud of. She would consider herself her husband’s shadow and behave accordingly
Because of her husband’s encouragement, by 1920 she progressed enough to be able to properly express her own thoughts in letters. When Bhimrao was in the USA, she would write her letters in the name of Anandarao. But when Bhimrao went to London in the year 1920, he would send his letters addressing Ramabai. The distance between the intellectual and thinking levels of the wife and husband was as much as that between the earth and the skies, but that married couple loved one another with the love of two close friends. Bhimrao would call Ramabai by the loving nickname of Ramu. He would write the first salutation in the letter just as lovingly--"Dearest Ramu! Namaskar." In the postal address on the letter, however, he would write "Smt. Ramabai Ambedkar."....
Their first son Yashwanta was unwell from rheumatism from his very young days. The two children after him died early on. Compared to his university study, her husband did not have any moral sentiment/care for his family, and that was not proper--this idea would bother Ramabai. She would feel that just as the women around her were happy in their married lives, she should similarly be happy. That is why once in a while she would request Bhimrao to put his books aside and pay attention to his family life. At that time he would just laugh it off. Or sometimes he would get into a quarrel and say hurtful, condescending things, and would not stop short of raising his hand to her. When such fights escalated, Ramabai would silently do her chores like a machine. Sometimes her silence would last for four months. At such times Bhimrao would have to surrender. He would make excuses to first begin a conversation with Ramabai.
There was nothing else that would lead to such dire loggerheads between the husband and wife. Whenever it happened, it was on the topic of the husband’s study. Sometimes when Ramabai would be adamant, her husband would take out the final arrow in his quiver. He would say, "If you keep bringing such hurdles into my university study, I will marry a second woman. An illiterate woman like you, what do you know about the value of that [education]!" At that time Ramabai would say with great pride, "Go ahead, marry as many women as you like. But I will not let any one of them set foot in my house!" Most of the time, such fights would take a humorous form and in the end she would be content....
Ramabai made a firm resolve in her mind, and gave him unconditional permission to go to London to complete his hitherto incomplete university study. Moreover, she would make sure that no kind of obstacle emerged in her husband’s study. Seven or eight people in one room, and Bhimrao’s study in the other room. Of the people in the house, their suffering, shortage of money, hard work, etc.--all these things, she would make sure that her husband did not have an inkling of. She would make careful arrangements so that the children in the house ,and those of her neighbors, would not make a ruckus in front of her husband’s room. The husband would remain engrossed in reading and taking notes from his big fat books of economics. Having locked the door from inside, he would be completely engrossed in the trance-like state [samadhi] of studying. Ramabai would get tired of calling him again and again from outside when it was time to eat, and yet the husband would not get out of the trance of studying. Sometimes, without eating, he would be in this trance all day and all night. Ramabai would have to [as a religious duty] abstain from eating, along with him!