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D D Kosambi: The Scholar and the Man

D D Kosambi enjoys a unique international identity as a brilliant, profound and original scholar who straddled many fields of knowledge where he made multiple scholarly contributions. This essay outlines the vastness of his intellectual canvas, provides a short biographical sketch and also describes some facets of a fascinating personality.

D D KOSAMBI: THE MAN AND HIS WORKjuly 26, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly34D D Kosambi: The Scholar and the ManMeera KosambiD D Kosambi enjoys a unique international identity as a brilliant, profound and original scholar who straddled many fields of knowledge where he made multiple scholarly contributions. This essay outlines the vastness of his intellectual canvas, provides a short biographical sketch and also describes some facets of a fascinating personality.Meera Kosambi ( is a sociologist who specialises in urban sociology and women’s studies. Some have greatness thrust upon them, and some have expectations of greatness thrust upon them – as do I, being a third-generation Kosambi. All my academic life has been a struggle to live up to the iconic name that locates me immedi-ately within an intellectual context in any academic circle in the world. I will mention just one telling incident that happened dur-ing my first visit to Columbia University in the early 1980s. I was then based at Rutgers University, New Jersey, as visiting research faculty in urban studies and paid a courtesy call on Ainsley Embree who was chair of Asian studies at Columbia. After estab-lishing my ancestry, he took me around and introduced me to the other faculty members, saying: “This is Dr Kosambi, and yes, she is”. This last was in response to the unasked question immedi-ately apparent on everybody’s face: “Is she the daughter of …?” It is not an easy task to lay claim to this intellectual heritage. This is therefore not a critical analysis of D D Kosambi’s multiple intellectual contributions to a wide range of academic disciplines. There are scholars far better equipped to do so, in any one of the fields of his intellectual activity (while I do not have expertise in any of them). What I would like to do is to indicate the amazingly wide range and scope of this activity. Kosambi has often been described as a genius, a “Renaissance man”, a towering intellec-tual giant and I myself would not have believed that such a man existed if I had not seen him at close quarters. Here I will only attempt to outline the vastness of his intellectual canvas, prefacing it with a short biographical sketch and end by touching upon some facets of his personality. The first two sections are inevitably drawn largely from secondary sources, given my lack of adequate intel-lectual credentials and Kosambi’s general unwillingness to share personal reminiscences or work-related matters with his family.1D D Kosambi was born on July 31, 1907 in a Gaud Saraswat brahmin family of Goa where he spent his first few years, speaking Konkani as his mother tongue. He had his early schooling in Pune where his father, AcharyaDharmanand Kosambi, a pioneering “Buddhist scholar of Buddhist studies”, was then based, teaching Pali at Fergusson College.1 Dhar-manand had already been invited once as visiting faculty to Harvard University, to work on some Pali Buddhist texts. On his second visit to Harvard in 1918, he took along his oldest daugh-ter, 19-year-old Manik, and his 11-year-old son Damodar, known to all by his nickname “Baba”, leaving the two younger daugh-ters with their mother in Goa. Actually, Manik was to go alone with him and Baba was to be kept in a hostel in Pune for his schooling. But his poor health made this impracticable and he was taken along too. Manik was enrolled in Radcliffe College
D D KOSAMBI: THE MAN AND HIS WORKEconomic & Political Weekly EPW july 26, 200835Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi was born on July 31, 1907 and died on June 29, 1966. July 2007 to June 2008 was celebrated as the D D Kosambi birth centennial.This special issue of EPW contains 10 articles that discuss many aspects of Kosambi’s work in history, numismatics, Sanskrit and archaeology; on religion, caste and other areas. Some of the papers present the main features of Kosambi’s work and discuss their importance at the time; others provide a critical re-examination of the research half a century later. One important area that is not covered in this collection is Kosambi’s work in mathematics. EPW invited scholars to write on his work in mathematics but it did not succeed in obtaining an article that examined this area of Kosambi’s research.EPW is grateful to Romila Thapar for her suggestionsandhelpinputting together the papers for this special issue. – Ed. which was then a woman’s college (affiliated to Harvard which was a men’s college) and Baba in the Cambridge Grammar School and later the Cambridge Latin School. After four years, when Manik graduated from Radcliffe, Dharmanand returned to India with her; Baba stayed behind alone in a hostel until he finished school in 1924. (Dharmanand provided money for his expenses; additionally Baba did summer jobs working on farms and in orchards.) Then he spent a year in India with his parents and Dharmanand tried to enrol him in a college in India. But that proved difficult because of the different educational sys-tems and Dharmanand took Baba back and enrolled him in Harvard College in January 1926. In addition to his studies, Baba also concentrated on physical fitness during his school days (when he was a boy scout) and later during his college days, working out in the gymnasium, swim-ming, rowing, going on long hikes, and developed a splendid physique. Academically he did brilliantly at Harvard, but during one semester he got one B along with three enviable A grades. The B upset Dharmanand into chiding him for wasting his time. As a challenge, Baba registered himself for a summer course in Italian (which he had not studied before) and received an A+ which the instructor had not given anyone before, as he informed Baba. He promptly sent the note to his father without comment [Arguimbau 1974].A college friend remembers Baba’s inexpen-sive room, with a photo of Gandhiji as the only decoration and lined with shelves full of books on many subjects and in many languages. At the same time, Baba could be a fun-loving and boisterous undergraduate (ibid). Intellectual BiographyIn his essay, ‘Steps in Science’, which sketches his intellectual autobiography, Kosambi speaks with appreciation of the excel-lent school and college education he had received in the US. He had majored in mathematics and studied, along with other sub-jects, the mandatory European languages – Greek, Latin, French and German – on which he was to build later.2 The rich library collections had exposed him to the wonders of all branches of knowledge from astronomy and the physical sciences, from plumbing the depths of the psyche and delving into the collective human past, to fathoming the mechanisms of the human body, its ailments and cures. He mentions being most impressed by the writings of Alexander von Humboldt, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud and H G Wells, and the lives of Louis Pasteur and Claude Bernard. Given his intellectual capacity and energy, Kosambi could have made his mark in any one of these branches on knowl-edge. That he chose mathematics was because he “could not resist its fascination. Mathematical results possess a clarity and give an intellectual satisfaction above any others. They have absolute validity in their own domain, due to the rigorous logical process involved, independent of experimental verification upon which applications to the exact sciences must depend. Mathematics was the language of nature, “scientiarum clavis et porta” as Roger Bacon put it” [Kosambi 1974: 195]. After graduating from Harvard with high distinction (summa cum laude) in 1929, Kosambi found it difficult to receive a scholarship for further studies, partly because of the economic depression of the time and partly because his mathematics pro-fessor was unsure of his commitment to the subject, given his tendency to traverse over a wide field of disciplines (with his father’s encouragement). He returned to India for good. Subse-quently he could have emigrated to the west, but chose to stay in India close to his cultural roots and Indological research materi-als, except for occasional visits.Academic PursuitsKosambi taught mathematics all his life, until retirement – starting with Benares Hindu University immediately upon returning to India (1929-31). Here he was not in tune with the ideological ethos of the founder and vice-chancellor, M M Malaviya (who was a friend of Dharmanand’s) although he threw himself into teaching with enthusiasm and even held additional classes for students in German which he believed to be the language of science. He was soon recruited by Professor Andreville, a mathematician from Paris who had been invited to head the department at Aligarh Muslim University. Here he collaborated on mathematical research with another colleague, Vijaya Raghavan. From Benares and later from Aligarh, he published research papers in mathematics, in Indian as well as French and German journals. Students were impressed by this young “meat-eating brahmin” who also played hockey with them. (Gaud Saraswat brahmins traditionally eat fish but not meat; Dharmanand, as a Buddhist, was a vegetarian.) In 1933, following the departure of his two mathematics col-leagues, Kosambi left Aligarh and joined the faculty of Fergusson College at Pune. Here he became known as an exacting professor, not easy to understand and not popular with those who expected to be spoon-fed, but highly admired by the bright and serious stu-dents who were willing to work hard. He also managed the library of The Indian Mathematical Society. His colleagues in mathematics, though highly qualified, had given up research and focused on institutional matters. Their resentment of his intel-lectual pursuits and perceived arrogance was essentially a clash of two radically different academic systems and cultures – Harvard and Pune which measured mathematical ability solely by the British degree of “wrangler”. It was also a clash of the rela-tively egalitarian American ethos and the convention-bound, hierarchical Indian culture. Ultimately, as his fellow professor V V Gokhale (1974: 362) bemoaned, Kosambi had to leave the college because of our “examination-ridden system and uninspiring standards of education”.
D D KOSAMBI: THE MAN AND HIS WORKjuly 26, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly36After 14 years he left because of a serious difference of opinion with the authorities, and joined the newly established Tata Insti-tute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Mumbai in 1946, invited by the noted scientist Homi Bhabha who was the director (and about the same age). Their initially warm collegial relationship soured after a few years, mainly due to a clash of personalities, even as Bhabha strayed away from research and focused on insti-tution-building, as a “managerial scientist” [Panse 2007: 113]. Another major divergence was ideological – the capitalist-Marxist divide apart, their perspectives on atomic energy were contradic-tory. Bhabha was involved in developing India’s atomic energy, with full support from Jawaharlal Nehru, while Kosambi repeatedly articulated his vision of solar energy as most appro-priate for a developing country like India. Additionally, Kosambi’s lack of sole concentration on mathematics served as an excuse. His contract atTIFR was not renewed in 1962; he had himself been well enough aware of the situation to expect to be relieved of his post much earlier. In 1964 he was appointed scientist emeritus by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and affiliated himself to the Maharashtra Association for the Cultivation of Science at Pune. About this time he also accepted the invitation from Major-General E B Habibullah, commandant of the National Defence Academy at Khadakwasla near Pune, to found the Archaeological Society in the “hobbies” section of the academy. With an enthusi-astic band of instructors and cadets, he hunted for microliths and megaliths, rock carvings and other artefacts across the Deccan tract (as he did with his group of dedicated though informal stu-dents). In the process, he discovered the Karsambla caves in the forest at the foot of the Western Ghats below Bhaje caves, which Habibullah (1974: 328) describes as containing “evidence of fres-cos and decorations that must have made Ajanta provincial”, though in a state of decay due to greater exposure to the weather. This discovery resulted from Kosambi’s thesis that Buddhist caves were located at a day’s march of merchant caravans along major trade routes (and not at inaccessible spots suitable for hermits, as had been believed). This interest in investigating trade routes had earlier led him to suggest to the government of the then Bombay state that the proposed, expensive funicular through Naneghat should be abandoned in favour of a motorable all-weather road that could be made economically through the next pass to the north [Banerjee 1974: 315].Honours and AccoladesDuring all this time he won several prizes – the first Ramanujan Memorial prize in 1934 (at the age of 26), and a special Bhabha prize in 1947, among others. He was invited to go abroad several times. In 1948-49, he was a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) fellow to the US andUK for electronic calculating machine research. In the winter semester of 1949, he was a visiting professor in path-geometry at Chicago and later a guest of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton where he had extensive discussions with Albert Einstein. In 1955 he was invited by the Soviet Academy of Sciences to lecture and to attend their first conference on the peaceful uses of atomic energy. He was invited by the Academia Sinica (Beijing, China) to suggest statistical methods for the forecasting of food-crops and quality control in industry. For lectures on Indian history, he was invited by the University of London and the School of Oriental and African Studies, where he first met A L Basham. He attended conferences and gave lectures in most countries of the world and kept up an active, worldwide correspondence. From 1950 Kosambi was seriously involved in the World Peace Council. In June 1955, he headed the Indian delegation (the larg-est) to the World Peace Conference at Helsinki, Finland, which was chaired by the famous French Nobel-laureate Frederic Joliot-Curie, and attended by J D Bernal and Jean-Paul Satre, among others. Basham (1974: 18) has remarked that Kosambi seemed to have “only three interests, which filled his life to the exclusion of all others – ancient India, in all its aspects, mathematics and the preservation of peace”. He worked hard and with devotion for all three, “according to his deep conviction”. In the meanwhile, in 1931 Kosambi had married Nalini Madgavkar of Mumbai, who had graduated in mathematics and Sanskrit from Wilson College, in an arrangement between two family heads (of the same subcaste) who were on close friendly terms. The marriage of the fiery intellectual and committed Marxist to the gentle, soft-spoken young woman from a wealthy and progressive family, with conventional accomplishments (and some unconventional ones like tennis, swimming and horse-riding), has been a puzzle to many. The reason for the arranged marriage must have been Kosambi’s extreme shyness with women. Incidentally, his three sisters chose their own husbands: the oldest Manik married B K Ram Prasad, an Iyengar; the middle sister Manorama married T R Sathe, a (Maharashtrian) Chitpavan brah-min; and the youngest Kamala married B V Bhoota, a Gujarati.The couple eventually settled down in Pune in the then Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute colony. Here Kosambi designed a bungalow in the Goan (Hindu) style, built in 1936 on a plot of land bought by his father and with money contributed by his father-in-law. The two daughters, Maya and Meera, studied at the nearest Marathi-medium school (because of Baba’s insistence on the mother-tongue being the only appro-priate medium for school education) and then Fergusson College.3 Maya did her MA in psychology, got married in 1960 and went abroad. I did my MA in English literature and briefly taught at Fergusson College, becoming the third-generation Kosambi to do so – Dharmanand had taught Pali there and D D mathematics and statistics. In 1966, I went abroad myself for further studies.4 This happened after Baba’s death on June 29, 1966, shortly before his 59th birthday.2Kosambi’s astounding intellectual journey effectively demon-strates the meaninglessness of disciplinary boundaries and the insistence on formal training and degrees as the only marker of knowledge. Mathematics was to be the meridian along which his life was plotted for many years. The famous British scientist, J D Bernal (1974: 331) (who knew Kosambi as “a man of quite exceptional intelligence and charm, particularly in the work concerned with the Indian peace movement”), assesses that mathematics was
D D KOSAMBI: THE MAN AND HIS WORKEconomic & Political Weekly EPW july 26, 200837“his main contribution to science, particularly in the field of statistics and Stochastic theory”.Intellectual JourneyFor some 20 years, Kosambi’s main work lay in tensor analysis and path-geometry (a term he coined). Even if he had confined himself to mathematics alone, his contribution would have been substan-tial, as shown by the numerous papers he published in Indian and international journals.5 But his intellectual journey led him to traverse diverse disciplinary fields. While engaged primarily in mathematics, he wrote a paper on genetics which was very suc-cessful. What became known as “the Kosambi formula for chromo-some mapping” was widely used by professional geneticist, although, as he says, he was “accused at times of not appreciating his own formula”.6 The formula was an advance over the existing chromosome theory of heredity, comprising the arrangements of genes and their recombination through the phenomenon of cross-ing over. N R Bhat, agricultural scientist and specialist in genetics and plant breeding, has written about having tested Kosambi’s empirical formula on plants, and found it to have a good fit. In Bhat’s (1974: 300) inevitably complex and technical words, “the Kosambi formula”, though “largely an intelligent empiricism”, is the only one so far which gives satisfactory additive estimates of map lengths irrespective of the kinds of organisms and the lengths of their chromosomes on which recombination data are gathered.Interest in NumismaticsAs a mathematician, Kosambi taught himself statistics by selecting practical problems to solve. One of them was a study of punch-marked coins, undertaken about 1940. The only large hoard avail-able was that of Taxila coins and as a control group he used mod-ern coins. After weighing over 7,000 modern coins (making a total of about 12,000 coins), he says, “it was possible to lay the founda-tions of numismatics as a science, as contrasted to a branch of epig-raphy and archaeology”. His articles on numismatics were numer-ous enough to merit publication in a separate volume entitled Indian Numismatics, though this happened years after his death [Kosambi 1981]. In his Introduction to the volume, B D Chattopad-hyaya says that in assessing Kosambi’s contribution to the study of Indian numismatics, one should remember that the chronology of the punchmarked coins was not his only concern. If, in his lan-guage, “every hoard of coins bears the signature of its society”, then what Kosambi was aiming at was to decipher this signature in the hoards of coins as also elsewhere. Out of his vast range of – possibly controversial – observations in this regard, Chattopad-hyaya (1981: viii-ix) mentions a selected few: that coinage began with traders, that the composition of the two hoards of coins (pre-dominated by Magadha coins) at Taxila helps one to reconstruct the economic history of both Taxila and the Mauryans during a specific period, and that the paucity of indigenous coins in the post-Gupta period was a marker of a decline in inter-village trade.The study of old coins aroused Kosambi’s intellectual curiosity about the kings who struck the coins. The study of old records, he says, “meant some mastery of Sanskrit, of which I had absorbed a little through the pores without regular study”, having worked informally with his father. He acquired the requisite mastery by applying his usual problem-solving method. He took up a specific work, the simplest being Bhartrihari’s three ‘shatakas’, or centu-ries, of epigrams (subhashitas). His first articles on the topic were published in 1945. But Bhartrihari’s text was defective, necessi-tating text-criticism, which he undertook by studying about 400 manuscripts [Kosambi 1948].During the five years that the proc-ess took, he “rescued over 50 poets from the total oblivion to which lovers of Sanskrit had consigned them, not to speak of add-ing to our meagre knowledge of many others”. In the process he had, in his own words, “fallen into Indology, as it were, through the roof” [Kosambi 1974: 199-200]. In his article on Bhartrihari’s philosophy as articulated in his Vairagya-shataka, entitled ‘The Quality of Renunciation in Bhartrihari’s Poetry’, Kosambi’s polyglossia comes into full play.7 Here he cites, in addition to Bhartrihari’s Sanskrit verses and the occasional Buddhist Pali verse, Lolfgang von Goethe in German and Dante Alighieri in Italian, while encompassing with ease the works of Moriz Winternitz and William Shakespeare, Plato and Aeschylus, and Indian saint poets such as Kabir, Tulasidas and Tukaram. Sanskrit Literature By now Kosambi had become so renowned for his text-criticism, that he was invited to edit the text of Vidyakara’s Subhashitarat-nakosha for the Harvard Oriental Series.8 (His text criticism was modelled on Dharmanand’s edition of the PaliVisuddhimagga, also published in the Harvard Oriental Series, in which he had possibly assisted him.) In his Preface, the series editor Daniel H H Ingalls acknowledges that “Kosambi has assembled here a wealth of precise data which not only aid the understanding of the present anthology but furnish precious material for the historian of Sanskrit literature”. Ingalls (an emphatic non-Marxist) also throws interesting light on his disagreement with Kosambi, “not only because I judge the artistic merits of the poems to be higher than he does, but because I feel that a class theory, while it may explain to some extent the content of a literature, is a very improper guide to its excellence”. Ingalls concludes by asserting that this difference of opinion had certainly “not weakened the bonds of friendship” between them [Kosambi and Gokhale 1957: Preface x]. Kosambi’s insistence on treating Sanskrit texts and later also ancient myths as sources of data for analysing social and cultural life of their period of originrather than as sacred words beyond analysis also led the more conservative Sanskrit-ists in India to perceive him as an iconoclast.Kosambi’s last Sanskrit work was to be the posthumously published translation of the Sanskrit play Avimaraka, believed to be by Bhasa.9 The translation of this playful love story was origi-nally made by J L Masson and revised in accordance with Kosam-bi’s suggestions. As an acknowledgment of his debt to Kosambi, Masson has dedicated it to him with the touching Sanskrit quota-tion: “A man is not dead when those he loved remember him”.Indian HistoryIn the meanwhile, his intellectual journey had taken Kosambi much farther afield. From Sanskrit which he had mastered, it was a natural progression to ancient Indian history, the social setting
D D KOSAMBI: THE MAN AND HIS WORKjuly 26, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly38
D D KOSAMBI: THE MAN AND HIS WORKEconomic & Political Weekly EPW july 26, 200839of Sanskrit literature. In history-writing, Kosambi is credited with having wrought a revolution through his redefinition of the nature and scope of history. For one thing, he dismantled the entrenched notion of fixed periods – ancient, medieval and modern periods of Indian history. For another, he designed an integrated methodology for harnessing diverse sources. In his famous and seminal essay – which he labels a “note” – entitled “Combined Methods in Indology”, he critiques the prevalent practice of placing sole reliance upon linguistic sources. Rather “the linguistic study of the problems of ancient Indian culture would be more fruitful if supplemented by an intelligent use of archaeology, anthropology, sociology and a suitable historical perspective” [Kosambi 2002: 3]. Accordingly, he supplemented his archival sources by extensive fieldwork. Kosambi’s first book on ancient Indian history, the path- breaking AnIntroduction to the Study of Indian History (1956), became so highly influential that, in Irfan Habib’s opinion, within five years of its publication, it was considered mandatory reading for professors and students of Indian history all over the world. The book, together with two more that followed – Myth and Reality (1962) andThe Culture and Civilisation of Ancient India in Historical Outline (1965) – has been translated into many lan-guages within and outside India.10 Such was the resonance of these books among historians, that some like Romila Thapar have regarded him informally as a guru without having actually studied with him.Marxism – Historical FrameworkHow exactly Kosambi selected Marxism as his basic historical framework is not known, though the early decades of the 20th century had witnessed a strong interest in Marx and socialism in theUS. Dharmanand mentions being first introduced to Marx by a Dutch fellow passenger, during his first voyage to the US in 1910. During this visit, he made a study of Marx and frequently attended lectures at socialist meetings.11In 1912, he gave a lecture on Marx in Pune’s famous Spring Lecture Series. He subscribed to the socialist idea of equality, but not the need or inevitability of violent revolution. DD had probably acquired his knowledge and interest in Marxism from his father and from his intellectual milieu, and expanded them further through his copious reading.Acknowledging his debt to Marx’s “theory of history known as dialectical materialism” or Marxism, Kosambi spells out his his-torical perspective as “the presentation, in chronological order, of successive developments in the means and relations of produc-tion” [Kosambi 1975: 1]. A study of material culture acquires special significance in the case of India, because of a lack of historical records or chronicles; besides, even in Europe which abounds in such written records, he argues, they have been supplemented by archaeology. But, having committed to the Marxist theory, he also cautions us that: “The adoption of Marx’s thesis does not mean blind repetition of all his conclusions (and even less, those of the official, party-line Marxists) at all times. … What Marx himself said about India cannot be taken as it stands” (ibid: 10).Kosambi’s disagrees with Marx’s thesis of the small unchang-ing and self-sufficient villages, and his argument that the villages produced only what they required and not commodities for exchange. Kosambi finds this analysis “misleading”, because the self-sufficiency of Indian villages has been exaggerated:Most villages produce neither metals nor salt, the two essentials that had mostly to be obtained by exchange, hence implied commodity production. …The villages did not exist “from times immemorial”. The advance of plough-using agrarian village economy over tribal India was a great historical achievement by itself. Secondly, even when the size of the village unit remains unchanged, the density of these units plays a most important role; the same region with two villages, or two hundred, or twenty thousand cannot bear the same form of superstructure, nor be exploited by the same type of state mechanism. …Change of quantity ultimately means change of quality. Similarly, we cannot let pass without challenge Marx’s statement that ‘Indian society has no history at all…what we call its history, is but the history of successive intruders who founded their empires on the passive basis of that unresisting and unchanging (village) society’. In fact, the great-est periods of Indian history, the Mauryas, Satavahanas, Gupta, owed nothing to intruders; they mark precisely the formation and spread of the basic village society, or the development of new trade centres (ibid: 11-12).Kosambi’s original analysis of the nature of Indian feudalism and his concepts of “feudalism from above” and “feudalism from below” have also been the subject of a great deal of discussion – and controversy – among historians of India:Feudalism from above means a state wherein an emperor or powerful king levied tribute from subordinates who still ruled in their own right and did what they liked within their own territories – as long as they paid the paramount ruler. … By feudalism from below is meant the next stage where a class of landowners developed within the village, between the state and the peasantry, gradually to wield armed power over the local population. This class was subject to military service, hence claimed a direct relationship with the state power, without the intervention of any other stratum (ibid: 295).An excellent example of Kosambi’s (1962a) “combined meth-ods” is the article “Urvasi and Pururavas” – his most dazzling piece of scholarship, as the late Ravinder Kumar called it once in an informal conversation. Kosambi locates this ancient Indian myth within its social origins through the use of both linguistic and other cross-cultural sources. Starting with Kalidasa’s play on the same theme, he examines the legend in its eight different sources, from theShatapatha Brahmana to the Mahabharata. The essay traverses over the question of the Aryan or pre-Aryan origin of the myth, a discussion of goddesses of birth and death, and takes the reader over references to and illustrative drawings of Indian, Hittite, Harappan and Indo-Greek artefacts. All that can be added to this very inadequate outline is that the essay ends with a discussion of the Greek myths of husband-sacrifice and widow-burning, and their Indian parallels. The whole is held together by a series of seemingly casual statements which reveal a deep and wide inter-disciplinary knowledge.Another essay that created a sensation, especially in the US, was his ‘Living Prehistory in India’ which appeared posthumously in theScientific American (February 1967) and which pivots on the salience of fieldwork. In Kosambi’s words:Since by definition [the prehistorian] works with evidence other than written records, he sometimes turns for illuminating parallels to living peoples who themselves have not written history. Perhaps nowhere in the world can such parallels be found more readily than in India.12Based on a study of tribal communities which “preserve many features – in fossilised form, as it were – of Indian history”, he
D D KOSAMBI: THE MAN AND HIS WORKjuly 26, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly40analyses the custom of hook-swinging which possibly stemmed from the ancient human sacrifices, and the conflict between the worship of the mother-goddess and the father-god.This extensive re/writing of history elicited the expected and contradictory responses. B D Chattopadhyaya (editor of Kosambi’s Combined Methods in Indology and Other Writings) captures this simultaneous valorisation and demonisation in these words:Kosambi has gradually emerged as an icon, with his name and work often, and on disparate occasions, invoked by social scientists, journal-ists and even sometimes practitioners of contending political ideolo-gies. The image is that of a pioneer of genuine Marxist scholarship of the Indian past, that of the ‘father of Scientific Indian History’ who effected a ‘paradigm shift’ in Indian historical studies; at the same time, he is also viewed as a nasty iconoclast with a ‘predeterministic’ approach, imposing an alien framework and an inappropriate perspec-tive on Indian cultural heritage, as an excuse for rationality [Chatto-padhyaya 2002: xiii]. Kosambi’s historical writings make serious and heavy reading, leavened by scattered touches of humour. But few are aware that he wrote a very short story about the uprising of 1857 called ‘The Kanpur Road’ which is a piece of great literary beauty. Its initial two-thirds was written as an “English A” theme at Harvard in 1924; it was expanded and published in the Fergusson and Wil-lingdon College Magazine in 1932.13 This is a fictionalised first-person account of an encounter with one Govind Singh, a forlorn survivor of the uprising, having killed his own brother fighting on the side of the rebels, in “fratricidal loyalty” to the British army. But a deeper meaning is not absent: Kosambi reads the uprising itself as a fatal encounter of Indian feudalism with Brit-ish industrial capitalism, with Govind Singh’s sword being one of the many that had “opened the first secure path for the grimy civilisation of Birmingham, Manchester and Sheffield in many an unhappy corner of the world”. As for the issue of loyalty, Kosambi concludes: “Govind Singh had never eaten British salt; only Indian salt taxed by the British” (emphasis in the original). 3Dazzling and meticulous scholarship notwithstanding, Kosambi was no ivory-tower scholar; his primary concern was the practi-cal utility and social relevance of his research. He believed that science should benefit society. Thus he advocated the use of solar power in a developing country like India, though his advocacy received barely a lukewarm response at the time. He was also passionately committed to the peaceful uses of atomic energy and was involved in the World Peace Council from about 1950 to 1962. It is of interest to note that Kosambi dedicated his Subhashi-taratnakosa volume (1957) to “all those who work for peace by peaceful means”. Earlier, upon his return from the US, Kosambi had immedi-ately and inevitably been caught up in the nationalist struggle. Dharmanand had already joined the struggle, having met Gandhiji first in 1916 during the latter’s visit to Pune, through Acharya Kripalani. He was subsequently to host Gandhiji at his home in Pune. In 1922 Dharmanand joined the Puratattva-Mandir of Gandhiji’s Gujarat Vidyapith at Ahmadabad, and taught Pali and Buddhism there for three years. In May 1930, soon after Gandhiji’s salt satyagraha at Dandi, Dharmanand went to Shirode in Goa to join the proposed salt satyagraha there as a volunteer, but was compelled by circumstances to become its leader, much against his will. His participation in the non-violent struggle continued, and he was subsequently jailed for a few months at Thane.14DD’s participation in the nationalist struggle was less dramatic, although he remained a staunch nationalist, and wore khadi for many years. About his activities in the years preceding independence, he says:Months passed in unorthodox activities such as aid to the wounded [most probably during the Indian naval ratings’ uprising in Mumbai’s docks in 1946, which led to a British massacre of Indian sailors and civilians]; helping an occasional “underground” worker no matter how silly his plans and how meagre my dwindling resources; trying to persuade some groups of students that wrecking the college, where I then lectured on sufferance while they were supposed to be receiving an education, would be ineffective as a method of forcing the British to quit India.15Culturally, Kosambi was a citizen of the world, and also – with his unique combination of intellectual width and depth, nation-alist commitment to India and its culture, and American habits and mannerisms – a misfit everywhere. He was a larger than life personality and even his personal life was an important state-ment. His integrity – personal and intellectual – was beyond question. Secularism formed the core of his personality. He made no distinction based on religion, caste race or gender, and brought up his children with the same secular ideology. He was very simple, almost puritanical, in his habits – he never touched liquor, cigarettes or paan, never drank any beverage other than milk or cocoa, and started drinking coffee (milky Nescafe) late in life, in the mid-1950s. He wore simple clothes, and spent his money mainly on books (and chocolates, for he had a strong sweet tooth), and occasional indulgences like the weekly Wednesday lunch with friends at his favourite Chinese restau-rant near the Gateway in Mumbai. He also helped the needy of his acquaintance with loans or gifts of money. His insistence on commuting in the comfort of the first class surprised many. Ingalls makes the (oft-quoted) tongue-in-cheek remark about their Pune-Mumbai journey together: “I, the American capital-ist, had never travelled in India by other than second class fare. My Marxist friend insisted that I join him in his first class compartment” [Ingalls 1974: 27]. Kosambi had a tremendous capacity for hard work – any time of the day or night. This he had perhaps imbibed from his father. In his usual state of self-induced poverty, Dharmanand had uncomplainingly trudged the rough and snowy path through the Himalayas up to Nepal barefoot in the hope of obtaining Buddhist texts. DD may not have gone to such extremes, but was nevertheless capable of sustained hard work, whether it was reading, fieldwork, or any other part of his research.The PersonalityAll his life, Kosambi remained very health-and fitness-conscious; weight-lifting and walking were his regular activities. He would walk every morning to the railway station more than three miles away, with his backpack filled with books, to catch the “Deccan Queen” to go to work at TIFR in Mumbai (having found the
D D KOSAMBI: THE MAN AND HIS WORKEconomic & Political Weekly EPW july 26, 200841Mumbai climate too disagreeable to stay there). He was one of the first handful of Pune-Mumbai commuters, when the concept of commuting hardly existed in India. He would sometimes play bridge with co-passengers, but usually did his work. In fact, the preface to his Introduction to the Study of Indian History mentions the Deccan Queen as his address. He also took long walks up the hill behind our house with our two dogs and an air-gun. Earlier, in theUS, he had conducted ballistic research by firing guns repeatedly. At home in Pune, he would do regular target practice in the garden with his three air guns, fixing small paper targets on a tree. One did not think of Kosambi as an artist, though his collec-tion of art books certainly established him as a connoisseur of art. But photography was a hobby that he took very seriously, striving for artistic perfection. He was an enthusiast of black-and-white photography and even developed his films himself in his study – turned into a dark room for the occasion. Later he made colour slides for his ethnographic work. He was not gener-ally a connoisseur of music, but had a strong preference for Paul Robeson’s songs and Subbulaxmi’s bhajans – in an eclectic mix. For relaxation he played gin rummy with us, a bridge foursome being hard to come by at short notice; nobody in the family played bridge beside my mother. But perhaps his most favourite relaxation was reading murder mysteries. His shelf of light read-ing was peopled by everyone from Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie to Ellery Queen and Erle Stanley Gardner (alias A A Fair). Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple were household names with us, as were Perry Mason, Della Street and Nero Wolfe.The contradictions and complexities that make up any indi-vidual were perhaps accentuated in Kosambi’s case. As a person he could be warm and effusive or abrasive and abrupt, depending on his frame of mind. Many have shared with me warm memo-ries of his kindness and some have recounted memories of less than kind and pleasant encounters. He could not suffer fools gladly, as many have observed – but then nor could he suffer less than brilliant mortals gladly and that covered most people around him. But while he did not always get along with famous academics, he always hit it off with villagers on his field trips. His sense of humour has been described as “devastating”, and his jokes did not always amuse others as they amused him. Even his closest friends found that conversation with him was apt to turn into a monologue by him rather than a dialogue with him, and that with his boundless energy, he was “more exhausting than exhausted” [Banerjee 1974: 316].The Genius at HomeHis social life was usually part of his intellectual life (and both were outside the ambit of the family). One of his closest friends and a regular visitor to the house was V V Gokhale, professor of German at Fergusson College and his sometime collaborator (with whom he corresponded informally through notes written in German). R P Nene, then a young and active communist party worker and eager student of the Marxist interpretation of Indian history, was another regular visitor for many years and remained so even after Kosambi’s death. Kosambi’s devoted band of informal students who visited the house often and accompanied him on field trips was an international group – comprising Indi-ans, of course, and also Americans, Europeans, Japanese and others. He taught them a lot, as they have often shared with me and probably expected a lot from them in turn – as he did indi-rectly from his two children. The noted German Indologist and ethnographer Gunther Sontheimer who revered him as a guru, must have felt the same pressure. Gunther was very complimen-tary about my PhD thesis, remarking how proud my father would have been to see it. Being more forthright and honest (DDK-style), I responded that he would probably have given me a solid firing for a shoddy piece of research, for who could pass muster with him? Gunther replied that if he stopped to think of my father’s reaction to everything that he himself wrote, he would have to go to the nearest tree and hang himself!D D Kosambi was not your average father. A genius cannot be average at anything – that goes without saying. He was a strict disciplinarian and a perfectionist, though he never put pressure on us regarding studies or marriage. More importantly, he raised us as he would have his sons. I always stood in awe of him; Maya was bold and fared far better. She married a Bengali college friend, B B Sarkar, in 1960 and went with him first to the US and then to Sweden. In-between, she came back to have a child. This daughter, Nondita, was with us until she was three and then went to Sweden to join her parents. Surprisingly, when it came to Nondita, Kosambi was exactly your average grandfather – a very fond and doting grandfather. Usually, when he was at home, we had to be very quiet and not disturb him because he would be working. “Quiet, genius at work”. We were not allowed to enter his study except when he asked for something. And thenwe would have to stand outside the door and ask, “May I come in?” – in English, although we spoke only Marathi at home. Sometimes little Nondita would go crawling into his study and I would run after her to stop her. Then he would wave me away, saying, “Leave us alone”. Leave us alone. So it was not just the genius at work – it was the geniusand his grand-daughter at work. She would clamber up on his knee and if he was typing, she would put her little fingers on the typewriter keys. None of this amounted to disturbance. Always impressed by what I thought of as Nondita’s great courage in treating DDK as a favourite playmate, I began to wonder later whether she had also inherited – or imbibed by osmosis – his intellectual and scientific quest.16 Nondita’s little playmates from the neighbouring houses would often come to our house to play. Baba would give them sweets, which made him a popular “neighbourhood Ajoba”. With his characteristic self-deprecating humour he would say, “When I was young, I was known as Dharmanand Kosambi’s son. In my adulthood I was known as Maya’s and Meera’s father. Now I am known as Nondita’s grandfather.” The obvious – and obviously incredible – implication was that he did not have an independent identity of his own. But he knew – and we all know – that he always had a unique, international identity as a brilliant, profound and original scholar straddling many fields of knowledge. And this identity will endure as long as scholarship itself endures.
D D KOSAMBI: THE MAN AND HIS WORKjuly 26, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly42Notes 1 Dharmanand Kosambi (1876-1947), known rever-entially as ‘Acharya’, had left his village home in Goa as a young man in his quest for knowledge of Buddhism. He had also become a Buddhist monk for a few years, before turning householder again, as the religion allowed. For his very interesting life, see his partial autobiography, Nivedan, appended with a biography:Dharmanand: Acharya Dharmanand Kosambi Yanche Atma-charitra ani Charitra (The Autobiography and Biography of Acharya Dharmanand Kosambi) edited and partly written by J S Sukhthankar, Mumbai: The Goa Hindu Association, 1976.2 D D Kosambi, ‘Steps in Science’ inScience and Human Progress, 1974, pp 193-205. The present outline is based largely on this essay and on the biographical sketch in the same volume. The other commemoration volume also contains per-sonal reminiscences:Indian Society: Historical Probings; In Memory of D D Kosambi, edited by R S Sharma, Indian Council for Historical Research, New Delhi, 1974. Two biographies of Kosambi have been written, both in Marathi: Chintamani Deshmukh,Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi (Jivan ani Karya) (The Life and Work of DDK), Granthali, Mumbai, 1993; and Sudhir Panse,Uttunga ani Ekaki Sanshodhak, Damodar Kosambi (Damodar Kosambi: A Lofty and Lonely Researcher), Lokavangmaya Griha, Mumbai, 2007. 3 As an ideology, education in the mother tongue was fine, especially in view of Kosambi’s distaste for Anglicisation of any kind. (Our lifestyle at home was by and large that of a middle class Maharashtrian family and we called our mother Aai and father Baba, as Maharashtrian children customarily do. ‘Baba’ was, incidentally, DDK’s childhood nickname that stayed with him, as mentioned already.) But the educational experi-ment that started with my batch cut down radi-cally on English, so that when I went to college, I could not converse much in English, let alone fol-low lectures adequately. This was a handicap in an educated and cosmopolitan family like ours, further aggravated by Baba’s assumption that I had somehow inherited the requisite linguistic skills from him, along with more esoteric ones like reading the Brahmi script.4 I returned to India after an unexpectedly long domicile of 20 years in Sweden where Maya had lived with her family until her tragically early death in 1975. There I studied (obtaining a Mas-ter’s degree, a PhD and the post-doctoral degree of ‘Docent’, specialising in urban sociology), taught and conducted research – with frequent visits to India, partly for collecting research data and partly to be with my mother. After returning to India in 1986, I taught sociology briefly at the University of Pune. In 1991, shortly after my mother’s death, I joined the SNDT Women’s University in Mumbai as a professor and director of the Research Centre for Women’s Studies. 5 See the ‘Bibliography of Kosambi’s Writings’ in Science and Society, pp 365-75.6 Kosambi, ‘Steps’, p 198. This was most probably D D Kosambi’s article entitled ‘The Estimation of Map Distance from Recombination Values’, Annals of Eugenics, Vol 12, 1944, pp 172-75. The element of uncertainly exists because unfortu-nately he did not have a complete collection of his own essays. 7 The essay is reproduced in D D Kosambi,Exasper-ating Essays, People’s Book House, Poona, 1957, pp 72-93; and also in D D Kosambi,Combined Methods in Indology and Other Writings edited by Brajdulal Chattopadhyaya, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2002, pp 703-20. 8 The Subhashitaratnakosha compiled by Vidyakara, edited by D D Kosambi and V V Gokhale, Harvard Oriental Series No 42, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1957 (Harvard Oriental Series, edited by Daniel H H Ingalls, Vol 42). Incidentally, Ingalls has contributed an interesting and amusing piece about his personal interaction with Kosambi toScience and Human Progress, as have many others of Kosambi’s friends and colleague. 9 Avimaraka (Love’s Enchanted World), translated by L Masson and D D Kosambi, Motilal Banarsi-dass, Delhi, 1970. 10 D D Kosambi,An Introduction to the Study of Indian History, Popular Prakashan, revised 2nd edition, Bombay, 1975; D D Kosambi,Myth and Reality: Studies in the Formation of Indian Culture, Popular Prakashan, Bombay, 1962, reprinted 1983; D D Kosambi,The Culture and Civilisation of Ancient India in Historical Outline, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1965, also published as Ancient India: A History of Its Culture and Civilisa-tion, Random House, New York 1965.11 Dharmanand Kosambi, Nivedan reproduced in Dharmanand, op cit, pp 163, 170.12 The essay is reproduced in Kosambi,Combined Methods, op cit, p 30.13 The story is reproduced in D D Kosambi,Exasper-ating Essays, People’s Book House, Poona, 1957, pp 67-71.14 Dharmanand, op cit, pp 213-16. Dharmanand then travelled widely within and outside India, wrote many more books on Buddhism in Marathi, and spent the last year and a half of his life at Gandhiji’s ashram at Vardha where he fasted unto death in July 1947, tired of persistent ill health and feeling that he had lived out his life.15 Kosambi, ‘Editor’s Preface’ inEpigrams, op cit, pp1-11 (reference p 2).16 Nondita unfortunately never met her grandfather again; he died three years after she left India. She is now a medical doctor with a double speciali-sation and a PhD in one of them, cardiology. She practises as a cardiologist at the most advanced hospital in Sweden, at Huddinge outside Stockholm.ReferencesArguimbau, Lawrence B (1974): ‘Baba of Harvard Days’ inScience and Human Progress: Prof D D Kosambi Commemoration Volume, Popular Prakashan, Bombay, pp 318-21.Banerjee, A K (1974): ‘DDK: A Rough Diamond’ in Sci-ence and Human Progress, op cit, pp 311-17.Basham, A L (1974): ‘“Baba”: A Personal Tribute’ in R S Sharma (ed), Indian Society: Historical Prob-ings; In Memory of D D Kosambi, Indian Council for Historical Research, New Delhi, pp 16-19. Bernal, J D (1974): ‘D D Kosambi’ inScience and Human Progress, op cit, pp 331-34.Bhat, N R (1974): ‘The Kosambi Formula for Chromo-some Mapping’ in Science and Human Progress, op cit, pp 296-300.Chattopadhyaya, B D (2002): ‘Introduction’ in D D Kosambi,Combined Methods, op cit, pp xiii-xxxvii.– (1981): ‘Introduction’ in DD Kosambi,Indian Numismatics, Orient Longman, New Delhi, pp v-xi.Deshmukh, Chintamani (1993): Damodar Dhar-manand Kosambi (Jivan ani Karya) (The Life and Work of DDK), Granthali, Mumbai. Gokhale, V V (1974): ‘Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi’ inScience and Human Progress, op cit, pp 361-64.Habibullah, E B (1974): ‘Tramping with Kosambi through History’ inScience and Human Progress, op cit, pp 327-30.Ingalls, Daniel H H (1974): ‘My Friendship with D D Kosambi’ in RS Sharma (ed), Indian Society, op cit, pp 2-33.Kosambi, D D (1948): The Epigrams Attributed to Bhar-trihari, Including the Three Centuries (Singhi Jain Series, Vol 23), Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay. – (1962): Myth and Reality: Studies in the Formation of Indian Culture, Popular Prakashan, Bombay, (Reprinted 1983). – (1962a): ‘Urvasi and Pururavas’ inMyth and Real-ity, op cit, pp 42-81. – (1965): The Culture and Civilisation of Ancient India in Historical Outline, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London. Also published asAncient India: A History of Its Culture and Civilisation, Random House, New York, 1965. – (1974): ‘Steps in Science’ inScience and Human Progress, op cit, pp 193-205. – (1975): An Introduction to the Study of Indian His-tory, Popular Prakashan (revised 2nd edition), Bombay. – (1981): Indian Numismatics, Orient Longman, New Delhi.– (2002): ‘Combined Methods in Indology’ in Brajdulal Chattopadhyaya (ed), Combined Methods in Indology and Other Writings, Oxford University Press, Delhi, pp 3-21.Kosambi, D D and V V Gokhale (eds) (1957): The Sub-hashitaratnakosha compiled by Vidyakara, Harvard Oriental Series, No 42, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts (Harvard Oriental Series, edited by Daniel H H Ingalls, Vol 42).Panse, Sudhir (2007):Uttunga ani Ekaki Sanshodhak, Damodar Kosambi (Damodar Kosambi: A Lofty and Lonely Researcher), Lokavangmaya Griha, Mumbai.Sharma, R S (ed) (1974): Indian Society: Historical Probings; In Memory of D D Kosambi, Indian Council for Historical Research, New Delhi.For the Attention of Subscribersand Subscription Agencies Outside India It has come to our notice that a large number of subscriptions to the EPW from outside the country together with the subscription payments sent to supposed subscription agents in India have not been forwarded to us. We wish to point out to subscribers and subscription agencies outside India that all foreign subscriptions, together with the appropriate remittances, must be forwarded to us and not to unauthorised third parties in India. We take no responsibility whatsoever in respect of subscriptions not registered with us. MANAGER

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