Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Make hay while the sun shines!

A solar plant Photo Vijay Soneji. .

D.D. Kosambi’s essays aptly titled “Adventures into the Unknown” reveal how the scientist pushed for solar power more than half-a-century ago when the world was busy playing with atoms

Believe it or not, India has set an ambitious target of adding 100 gigawatts of solar power by 2022. Before the Paris Climate Summit, it had pledged that by 2032, it would increase its share of non-fossil fuels to 40 per cent of the total power generation capacity. These decisions have come many years after India under the leadership of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had signed the controversial civil nuclear agreement with the United States with a view to meet its energy requirements. So, clearly, solar energy is the flavour of the season.
This reminds me that there was a time in the 1950s and early 1960s when those who advocated solar energy could be pitted against the scientific and technological establishment of the country and viewed with suspicion. D. D. Kosambi, a polymath genius who made seminal contributions in pure mathematics, quantitative numismatics, Sanskrit studies and the study of ancient Indian history and culture, was one such individual who came in direct conflict with the Department of Atomic Energy because of his strong views against the use of nuclear energy as he favoured solar energy in its place. He also had to cross swords with Homi Jehangir Bhabha, widely recognised as the father of the Indian atomic energy programme.
It was Bhabha who had invited Kosambi in 1945 to join the recently established Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) and help set up the School of Mathematics. In the initial years their relations were very cordial (as it is clear from Kosambi’s scribble on the newspaper cartoon that he forwarded to Bhabha) but soon differences cropped up as Kosambi emphasised that a country like India that received sunshine in abundance must place greater reliance on solar energy. That he was a die-hard Marxist, who was very active in the international peace movement, did not help matters.
In the 1950s, the Department of Atomic Energy had started funding TIFR and Kosambi’s continuance there became untenable. Moreover, the fact that he had also emerged as a major historian who had brought about a paradigmatic shift in the study of ancient Indian society also made his fellow scientists view him with suspicion as his non-scientific interests were not considered compatible with his senior position in TIFR.
Recently, Three Essays Collective brought out a collection of Kosambi’s essays titled “Adventures into the Unknown”. Ram Ramaswamy, Professor of Physics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, has edited this volume that contains hitherto unpublished material. In his preface, Ramaswamy informs that in 1960 Kosambi gave a talk to the Rotary Club of Poona and the text has been published here as “Atomic Energy for India”. In this essay, he underlines the need for research and development in the field of solar energy, a need to which our government seems to have woken up only recently. “Solar energy,” Kosambi says, “is not something that any villager can convert for use with his own unaided efforts, at a negligible personal expenditure, charkha style. It means good science and first-rate technology whose results must be made available to the individual user.” Nuclear disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima have proved visionaries like Kosambi right.
In 2013, Prof. Meera Kosambi, the sociologist daughter of D. D. Kosambi, edited a book that contained writings of her as well as on her father. Titled “Unsettling the Past”, it was published by Permanent Black. It also contains two other essays of Kosambi on the question of solar energy that were written between 1957 and 1964. In “Sun or Atom?”, Kosambi draws our attention to the fact that scientific and technological research in the developed world is inextricably tied to the military-industrial complex and therefore solar energy was being ignored.
He says, “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.” In another essay “Solar Energy for Underdeveloped Areas”, Kosambi cites another reason why significant technological advances were not being made to solve the problem of storage of solar energy: “The lands where technology is most advanced are just those which have very little sunlight as compared to India and Africa and where conventional forms of energy are highly developed.” However, he was quite confident that ultimately solar energy would become affordable and gave the example of aluminium. “But extracting this metal was a most costly process and aluminium was, a century ago, costlier than gold. Technology has made the metal cheap…”
As India finally turns to solar energy, it is very refreshing to read these essays that were written more than half-a-century ago.
The writer is a senior literary critic

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Government revises D D Kosambi Research Fellowship scheme

Source: the Times of India

TNN | 

Panaji: The state government has revised the D D Kosambi Research Fellowship scheme. The objective of the scheme is to encourage Goan scholars to undertake research in the field of Goan history, culture, arts, social studies and related areas. Three fellowships, under the scheme, will be awarded every year by the state - at the junior level, at the senior level and at the post-doctoral level.

"Only topics that are closely connected to Goa will be accepted. However, authentic topics pertaining to Goa may also be considered for the fellowship depending upon the decision taken by the expert committee," the revised scheme document reads.

An individual who has completed post-graduation and is 35 and younger will be eligible to undertake research in the junior category. For the senior category an individual who has completed post-graduation and is above the age of 35 will be eligible. And for eligibility at the post-doctoral level, the individual will have to have completed PhD. There is no age bar for the third category.

"In case of exceptionally talented scholars of proven record with authentic work to their credit, the rules regarding educational qualifications may be relaxed, if recommended by the selection committee. The fellowship shall be awarded to any scholar only once in his lifetime under each category," the scheme states.
Eligible scholars for junior category will be awarded a fellowship up to Rs 10,000 per month for a maximum period of two years, on case-to-case basis. Scholars in the senior and post-doctoral category will be awarded a fellowship of Rs 20,000 per month for a maximum period of two years, again on case-to-case basis.
Every year, the department of art and culture will release an advertisement inviting applications for the "D D Kosambi Research Fellowship" for scholars and a selection committee constituted by the government will select scholars for the fellowship.
The project report in the form of two hard copies and a soft copy will have to be submitted within a period of 30 days after the completion of two years of the fellowship. The project submitted will be exclusively the property of department of art and culture, as per the scheme guidelines.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Reality and Myth

by Ram Ramaswamy
Some years ago, a friend of mine at JNU proudly told me about a book that he had picked up from the library “sale”, a book that had once belonged to D D Kosambi (DDK). Apparently it had not been checked out for years, and was therefore deemed unworthy of staying on in the library, as if finding a place on the library shelf was just some sort of evolutionary game, a survival of the fittest and no more…
The JNU had, at some point in time, acquired Kosambi’s personal collection of books, that was, according to Mr R P Nene (DDK’s friend and assistant, in an interview in June 1985) “sold by his family after his death to the JNU at the cost of Rs. 75, 000.” Details of how this happened are not too clear- Kosambi died in 1966, the JNU was founded in 1969, and the initial seed of the JNU library was that of the “prestigious Indian School of International Studies which was later merged with Jawaharlal Nehru University.” Our website goes on to say that the “JNU Library is a depository of all Govt. publications and publications of some important International Organisations like WHO, European Union, United Nations and its allied agencies etc. The Central Library is knowledge hub of Jawaharlal Nehru University, It provides comprehensive access to books, journals, theses and dissertations, reports, surveys covering diverse disciplines.”
09d8db678a716ec2ebc8487af584ae82The amount paid suggests that the books were viewed as very valuable: Rs 75K in the late 1960’s was a huge sum of money. And given that, it was quite amazing that the collection had not been kept as one, but the books had apparently been shelved by subject (!) and were then like any other books, and so subject to the periodic culling that most libraries undertake to clear shelves and make space for new books. (In some sense I was not too surprised, having myself bought a book that had been owned by AnandaKentish Coomaraswamy and that had somehow made its way to Princeton. The initials AKC were pencilled in on the first page, but apart from the bookplate, there was little else to show that it had been his. Unfortunately that book is no longer with me, and in hindsight, I think that when libraries acquire collections from scholars of note, they should make some attempt to keep the collections intact. Mercifully the JNU has done that now with more recent acquisitions..).
Untitled 5Nevertheless, a chance conversation shortly thereafter on the vagaries of libraries and the nature of intellectual inheritances started me off on my exploration of Kosambi and his mathematics. The idea was, on the face of, a simple one. What was the extent of Kosambi’s mathematical contributions compared to, say, his contributions to history or numismatics. How would the math stack up?  Having been in TIFR before I came to JNU, I had also heard of how he travelled from Pune to Bombay every day on the Deccan Queen, how he was fired from TIFR, etc. etc. But I also found out that precious little was known of DDK’s other life by the historians. That the mathematics was too different and far too difficult is all too true, but still.
Untitled 2To start with, I thought it would be good to put together his life mathematical, namely all his math and stats papers. Much of that was on the web, except that it was in bits and pieces, and all over the place. No single bibliography was accurate, and no matter where I looked, there were gaps. Many of the Indian journals where he published were not (and still are not) digitized. Some of the names that were given in the existing lists were incomplete or incorrect, many papers were missing. The Rendiconti della Reale Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei or the  Sitzungsberichten der Preussische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Physikalisch-mathematische klassewere both uncommon journals that were impossible to locate anywhere in India, for instance. I went to the Ramanujan Institute in Chennai in late 2009, looking for copies of the Journal of the Indian Mathematical Society and Mathematics Student where DDK had published a lot of his work in the 1930’s and 1940’s. It’s too depressing to recount that visit… Nothing could be located, and I left empty-handed after a wasted morning.
Untitled 4In 2010, though, I was visiting professor at the University of Tokyo for a month, and luckily, the Komaba campus where I was located, housed the mathematics department and more importantly, its library. It took a few hours spread out over several days, but before long, I not only had the bulk of DDK’s papers in photocopy or in digital form, but I also discovered, via MathSciNet, of DDK’s nom de plume S. Ducray, under which name he had written four papers. I also had access to the reviews of many of his mathematical papers by others, and could see many very famous names among the reviewers. As an aside, I should add that the library of Tokyo University is one of the few that have the complete sets of Journal of the Indian Mathematical Society and Mathematics Student, including the volumes published during the World War II years, when Japan and India were on different sides…

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

'Classroom is the worst place to teach science'

A news report from Panaji where the ongoing DD Kosambi Festival of Ideas. Arvind Gupta has been an inspiration and a big time contributor in keeping DD Kosambi's writings available on the internet, including via this blog.

TNN | Feb 3, 2016, 10.23 AM IST

Panaji: Play is very serious business. If there is no play, there is no learning taking place, said IITian Arvind Gupta, well-known for his movement to popularise science among children by making toys from everyday waste. He also said that like Finland, India, too, should give its teachers a status equivalent to IAS officers, to turn its faulty education system around.

Gupta, who was the guest speaker on day two of the D D Kosambi Festival of Ideas being held at Kala Academy.

In his lecture on Tuesday Gupta awed the audience with demonstrations of some science experiments for which he used every day and inexpensive objects. "Barbies, He-Mans and such toys are very sexist and very expensive. Hopefully, they will become extinct like the dinosaurs," said the 'toy-inventor' who maintained that the Goa science centre and 36 similar centres established by the central government across states are unimaginative in their displays. "These science centres do nothing besides occupying five acres of state land," Gupta said.

Gupta also criticised the government's Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan mission and the NCERT syllabus, calling them ineffective.

"The classroom is the worst place to teach children science as all the science is outside the classroom. If children see the science that exists in real life, they will be hooked," he said. Gupta said that adding achieving learning through experiments is possible in a state like Goa, where the target size is small. He said that each private school in the country needs to lend its teachers for a few days to a government school to trigger a big movement in experimental learning.

Paying tribute to the genius of D D Kosambi, Gupta said, "He was spared the Indian childhood because his father, the great acharya Kosambi, had left for Harvard in the 1920s. Had he been sent to one of our schools he would not have excelled." He said that Kosambi was not given due recognition for his work during his lifetime after he wrote a critique of Jawaharlal Nehru's book 'The Discovery of India' and "exposed Nehru's lack of knowledge of Indian history."The Goa government, Gupta said, could consider making a comic strip on the lines of the Amar Chitra Katha series on the life of Dr Kosambi to inform young generations about his genius.

Responding to an audience question, Gupta said that he did not want students to make joining IITs their top priority, rather they should follow their passion, no matter what it was.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A confluence of ideas

A confluence of ideas

The 9th D D Kosambi Festival of Ideas will be held from February 1 to February 5 at Kala Academy, Campal, Panaji. This year, Sudha Murthy (author), Arvind Kumar Gupta (toy maker), George Papandreou (former prime minister of Greece), Poonam Khetrapal Singh (regional director of WHO South-East Asia Region), Richard Schechner (theatre director, author), will share their thoughts and Ideas with the people of Goa

The 9th D D Kosambi Festival of Ideas will be held from February 1 to February 5 at Kala Academy, Campal, Panaji. It is truly a platform of sharing thoughts and mutual interaction. Young students, along with people from various social strata participate in this festival.
This year, Sudha Murthy(chairperson of the Infosys Foundation in India and trusty of the Infosys Foundation USA, a prolific writer in Kannada and English), Arvind Kumar Gupta (toy maker), George Papandreou (former prime minister of Greece), Poonam Khetrapal Singh (regional director of WHO South-East Asia Region), Richard Schechner (theater director, author, editor of TDR, and University Professor at the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University), will share their thoughts and Ideas with the people of Goa.
The inaugural address is by Sudha Murty who will speak on ‘The Circle of Life’; on February 2 Arvind Kumar Gupta will speak on ‘Nurturing Scientific Spirit in Children’, on February 3 George Papandreou will speak on ‘Intercultural Dialogue for Humanising Globalisation’, on February 4 Poonam Khetrapal Singh will speak on ‘Sustainable Development Goals, the Challenges and Opportunities for Health’. The concluding lecture will be held on February 5 where Richard Schechner will speak on the topic- How to perform the 21st century.
All these lectures will be held at 5 p.m. at Dinanath Mangueshkar Kala Mandir, Kala Academy, Panaji
The Directorate of Art and Culture had initiated the D D Kosambi Festival of Ideas to commemorate the birth Centenary of the legendary Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi the Indian mathematician, statistician, historian, and polymath who contributed to genetics by introducing Kosambi’s map function. He is well-known for his work in numismatics and for compiling critical editions of ancient Sanskrit texts. D D Kosambi was also a Marxist historian specialising in ancient India who employed the historical materialist approach in his work. He is described as the patriarch of the Marxist school of Indian historiography. He was an enthusiast of the Chinese revolution and its ideals, and, in addition, a leading activist in the World Peace Movement.
About the speakers
Sudha Murthy: Sudha Murthy was born in 1950 in North Karnataka. She started her career as an engineer with TELCO (now Tata Motors) and is now the chairperson of Infosys Foundation. A prolific writer in English and Kannada, her books have been translated into all major Indian languages and have sold over four lakh copies around the country. She is a columnist for English and Kannada dailies with 25 books and 156 titles to her credit – including novels, non-fiction, travelogues, technical books, and memoirs.
Arvind Kumar Gupta: Arvind Gupta graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur (1975) with a degree in Electrical Engineering. He has written 24 books on science activities, translated 175 books into Hindi and presented 125 films on science activities on Doordarshan. His first book ‘Matchstick Models & Other Science Experiments’ was translated into 12 Indian languages and sold over half a million copies. He has received several honors, including the inaugural National Award for Science Popularization among Children (1988). For 11-years he worked in a Children’s Science Center located at the Inter-University Center for Astronomy & Astrophysics, Pune. He shares his passion for books and toys through his popular website

Saturday, January 9, 2016

A Scholar in his time: The contemporary views of Kosambi the mathematician

Thanks to Arvind Gupta for sending this paper.
University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad, TS 500 034

Kosambi introduced a new method into historical scholarship, essentially by application of modern mathematics.” J. D. Bernal [1], who shared some of his interests and much of his politics, summarized the unique talents of DDK [2] in an obituary that appeared in the journal Nature, adding, “Indians were not themselves historians: they left few documents and never gave dates. One thing the Indians of all periods did leave behind, however, were hoards of coins. [...] By statistical study of the weights of the coins, Kosambi was able to establish the amount of time that had elapsed while they were in circulation . . .
The facts of DDK’s academic life, in brief are as follows. He attended high–school in the US, in Cambridge, MA, and undergraduate college at Harvard, graduating in 1929. Returning to India, he then worked as a mathematician at Banaras Hindu University (1930-31), Aligarh Muslim University (1931-33), Fergusson College, Pune (1933-45), and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (1945-62), after which he held an emeritus fellowship of the CSIR until his death at the age of 59, in 1966.
Today the significance of D. D. Kosambi’s mathematical contributions [3–71] tends to be underplayed, given the impact of his scholarship as historian, and Indologist. His work in the latter areas has been collected in several volumes [72] and critical commentaries have appeared over the years [73, 74], but his work in mathematics has not been compiled and reviewed to the same extent [75, 76, 77, 78]. Indeed, a complete bibliography is not available in the public domain so far [79]. This asymmetry is unfortunate since, as commented elsewhere [75], an understanding of Kosambi the historian can only be enhanced by an appreciation of Kosambi the mathematician [80].
DDK is known for several contributions, some of which like the Kosambi-Cartan-Chern (KCC) theory [81], carry his name, and some like the Karhunen–Lo√®ve expansion [37, 39, 82], that do not. The Kosambi mapping function in genetics [40] continues to be used to this day [83], but the path geometry that he studied for much of his life [84] has not found further application. DDK’s final years were mired in controversies, both personal and professional. His papers on the Riemann hypothesis (RH) [65, 66] brought him a great deal of criticism and not a little ridicule, while his personal politics put him in direct conflict with Homi Bhabha and the Department of Atomic Energy. This contributed to his eventual and somewhat ignominious ouster from employment at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. His early and passionate advocacy of solar energy was practical and based on sound scientific common sense. In some of his arguments, he seems even somewhat Gandhian, and although this was a contrary position to hold in the TIFR at that time, the essential validity of his argument remains to this day [85].

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Researchers, activists bat for Mhatoba shrine status quo

Ananya Dutta,TNN | Sep 21, 2015, 03.00 AM IST

PUNE: The shrine dedicated to Mhatoba on top of Vetal Tekdi is an important cultural and historical site and should be maintained as it is, instead of obscuring it with a modern structure, feel experts and environmentalists.

"The Mhatoba shrine is important from an archaeological point of view as well as in terms of the folk and cult geography of Pune. Building a modern-style temple on the site would erase the actual ritual association that pastoral communities had with the shrine," said Indologist and researcher Saili K Palande Datar.

As far back as 1962, historian and polymath D D Kosambi had commented on the importance of the site in mapping the cult of Mhatoba. In his book 'Myth and Reality — Studies in the Formation of Indian Culture', Kosambi terms this shrine on the hilltop as "the original locus" of the Mhatoba of Kothrud village. According to him, it came here along with "herdsmen" from Wakad, where there is a temple to Mhatoba and his consort — a structure older than 1678AD.

Kosambi also found prehistoric artefacts in the vicinity of the shrine, including what may be megaliths (large stones) from an ancient burial site.

"I have been visiting the site from the 1960s. It used to be as Kosambi has described it, 'a red-daubed boulder' minimally covered with a tin shed. It was revered by Dhangar and Wadar communities, who would offer a sacrifice to the deity when passing through Pune," said environmental activist Vijay Paranjpye.

Palande Datar said the communities that have historical associations with the shrine, such as the Dhangars, don't even pass through the area anymore. "Altering the structure would be an appropriation of their cultural symbols and amount to an erasure of history. Introducing something new will damage the cultural significance of the site," she said.

She said that several hills in and around Pune are associated with similar folk and tribal deities, many of them closely connected with the conservation of biodiversity. The Waghjai and Taljai goddesses on Taljai Tekdi for instance were associated with their own sacred groves on the hill.

"Both these deities are Mother Goddesses worshipped by forest-dwelling communities. Over the years, the land-use pattern of the hill has changed, but they were originally protectors of its environment," she said.

A key aspect of retaining the shrines in their original form is that many of them were not meant to be enclosed by any artificial structure. Kosambi had noted that the "primitive origin and nature" of the cults was shown by the injunction that the stone must be open to the sky. He saw it as a sign that the cults date back to a period "before houses were in fashion, and when the 'village' was on the move".

"The shrine on top of Vetal Tekdi, along with its natural precincts, is a very important cultural heritage site. The shrine as I have known it all these years was always open to the skies. It should be maintained as it is, without disturbing its natural precincts," Paranjpye said.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

A dissenting voice silenced, again

Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi died in 1966. He was both a formidable mathematician and an unparalleled historian. His remarkable scholarship, his reading of ancient Sanskrit texts aside, he also had a very caustic, irreverent style. His Myth and Reality should be required reading for every believing Hindu. I would say also for every atheist but I suspect that Indian atheists of the educated variety are already very well acquainted with D D Kosambi. He is a star in the galaxy of Maharashtra’s fine traditions of scholarship and writing. Through his work he cut through several myths and exposed our many realities.

Mourners follow the funeral procession for scholar MM Kalburgi as he is taken to be buried at Karnataka University in Dharwad on August 31. Pic/AFP
Mourners follow the funeral procession for scholar MM Kalburgi as he is taken to be buried at Karnataka University in Dharwad on August 31. Pic/AFP

I think about Kosambi in the aftermath of the murder of writer and scholar M M Kalburgi in the Karnataka town of Dharwad on August 30, shot down by gunmen who rang his doorbell. Kalburgi was what we like to call a “rationalist”. That is, he was not religious and had written against idol worship and superstition. For this, his life was under threat from members of organisations which hold allegiance to the Sangh Parivar and related Hindutva outfits. He had only recently asked the government to withdraw police protection. Perhaps neither fear nor giving in to threats was part of his character.

As the news of his death broke, a Bajrang Dal activist tweeted words to the effect that people like Kulbargi who mock Hinduism will die a “dog’s death” and suggested K S Bhagwan, another Kannada writer, was next. The tweet and account were soon deleted. The activist was arrested and then let out on bail even before he was produced before a magistrate. He has been involved in three earlier cases of assault.

It is tempting to blame the BJP government at the Centre for the rise of Hindutva right-wing bravado and audacity. But the problem runs deeper than one election result. Karnataka is a Congress-ruled state but is no less a simmering communal cauldron for all that. Moreover, atheist and anti-superstition activist Narendra Dhabolkar was shot in Pune, while on a morning walk in 2013, in what was then a Congress-NCP-ruled state. Veteran communist leader and rationalist Govind Pansare was shot in Kolhapur in February 2015, before the general elections and the state Assembly elections.

The suspects for all three murders are the same, however — Hindutva outfits. The undertone is chilling: if you are seen to oppose Hindu practices, death will be your reward. It is dangerous to dismiss this as the thinking of kooks, nutcases and fringe elements. We are talking about more insidious and fearless elements of our society, who obviously feel they can get away with murder. And we are also talking about tacit acceptance from larger sections of society. In spite of being around 80 per cent of the population, there are Hindus in India who are riven with insecurity about their numbers and an imminent threat from religious minorities. I have heard gentle arguments about how you should not criticise Hinduism or this is what will happen, with a small aside that murder is not correct.

Interestingly, the same people were very quick to come out in support of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the horrific attack on it by Islamists. They possibly do not see the irony in condemning violence by those who believe Islam has been “abused” while saluting those who murder when Hinduism is “insulted”.

Some people will argue that it is best not to challenge such murderous ideologies and thus remain safe from attack. But how far will that get us? Must we all look askance at the atrocities committed by IS and then pretend that Kalburgi, Pansare and Dhabolkar were not murdered for threatening the status quo? Is there space left in India for argument or is a “dog’s death” now an acceptable response?

Many years ago, Minoo Masani told me about a conversation he had many many years earlier with C Rajagopalachari. Rajaji asked him, “Do you believe in mumbo-jumbo?” Masani answered, “No.” Rajaji’s reply: “Then you will find life very difficult in India.”

So what would we make of Rajaji and Masani in today’s India? And if it comes to that, DD Kosambi? I am re-reading Kosambi’s Myth and Reality while you ponder on that.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist.  You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona

Monday, March 2, 2015

Meera Kosambi Passes Away

Reposted from Permanent Black

Over our many years of publishing Meera Kosambi's books, including her brilliant translation of the memoirs of Dharmanand Kosambi, the author became a friend with whom much was shared and exchanged. She will be deeply missed.

A detailed blogpost will follow shortly.

A wide-ranging writer and intellectual, she authored numerous essays and books on topics ranging from Marathi theatre to the social ecology of Mumbai.

Noted sociologist Meera Kosambi, the youngest daughter of the great historian and mathematician D.D. Kosambi, passed away at a private hospital in Pune on Thursday after a brief illness aged 75. 

Ms. Kosambi, who did not marry, had an illustrious academic pedigree. Her father, a polymath, was India’s pre-eminent Marxist historian, while her grandfather was the renowned Buddhist scholar and Pali language expert, Acharya Dharmananda Damodar Kosambi. 

Ms. Kosambi, who did her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Stockholm, wrote, co-wrote or edited more than 15 books which reflected a lifelong preoccupation and passion for with the notion of the modern, emancipated Indian woman. 

While all her works are shot through with brilliant and incisive scholarship, Ms. Kosambi’s crowning achievement was to turn the light on Pandita Ramambai, the great 19 century Indian reformer and educationist and early pioneer of women’s emancipation in India. 

Through her splendid translations of Returning the American Gaze: Pandita Ramabai’s the people of the United States (1889) and a volume of Ramabai’s Selected Works, Ms. Kosambi was instrumental in salvaging the great reformer’s reputation from the debris of time and restoring Pandita Ramabai to the pedestal of one of Modern India’s most illustrious figures. 

A wide-ranging writer and intellectual, she authored numerous essays and books on topics ranging from Marathi theatre to the social ecology of Mumbai. 

She retired as a professor and director of the Research Centre for Women’s Studies, a post that she held for a decade, at the SNDT Women’s University in Mumbai. 

From the Times of India 

Sad news of the death of prominent sociologist, writer, and translator Meera Kosambi, in Pune on February 26, was received as
a double blow in her ancestral Goa. Many friends and admirers did not know she was ailing. The news was a shock.

There was also immediate recognition that an era had passed—76-year-old Meera Kosambi was the last living link to the prodigious intellectual legacy of her father, D D Kosambi, and her grandfather, Dharmanand Kosambi, who set out on foot from Sancoale in Goa in 1899 to found one of the greatest intellectual dynasties of the 20th century.

Every Indian schoolchild learns about the Tagores, but very few are taught about the Kosambis, despite three generations of truly exceptional achievement backed by pioneering work in multiple fields of research and scholarship. This 'recognition gap' can be attributed to the fact that the Kosambis stood alone, usually far ahead of their contemporaries.

Meera's description of her grandfather aptly summarizes the family character: "solitary thinker(s)... refusal to court public adulation, coupled with plain-speaking and unwillingness to compromise."

The combined story of the Kosambis is almost unbelievable.

Dharmanand's powerful thirst for knowledge—first, about Buddhism—led him to leave his wife and infant daughter and walk out from Sancoale across the border of Portuguese India to Pune, then Varanasi, where he learned Sanskrit while subsisting like a mendicant.

He trudged to Nepal to study Pali, then to Sri Lanka where he was ordained a Buddhist monk. By 1910, he was working at Harvard University in the USA. After learning Russian, this intrepid Goan scholar went on to teach at Leningrad University as well.

Dharmanand returned to India to participate in the freedom struggle against the British. He was imprisoned for six years for his key role in the salt satyagraha. But he continued to write and teach about Buddhism—his influence led B R Ambedkar to convert.

When he sought to give up his life through voluntary fasting just before independence, Mahatma Gandhi prevailed upon him to reconsider, but Dharmanand was steadfast. He died at Sevagram in June 1947.

In the introduction to her masterly translations of 'the essential writings' of Dharmanand, Meera acknowledged: "I did not
know my grandfather", but sought to "claim him as an intellectual ancestor".

She did meet him as a child, and her rigorous, sensitive approach to translating his writings from Marathi —especially the spellbinding autobiographical 'Nivedan' —more than demonstrates a powerful connection.

Even stronger ties bound the adamantine scholar D D Kosambi to his devoted daughter.

Her last book 'Unsettling the Past: Unknown Aspects and Scholarly Assessments of D D Kosambi', was released in Goa in December 2013.

Meera's father was a spectacular polymath with major contributions to the study of ancient history, mathematics, Sanskrit literature, numismatics, and energy policy.

He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard in 1929, before returning to India and writing a long series of highly original papers—backed by painstaking, innovative fieldwork—that define the meaning of 'Renaissance Man'.

Just as Meera's terrific translations of her grandfather's work have proven integral to Dharmanand Kosambi's continuing relevance, her collection of D D Kosambi's writings secured her father's place in history.

The three essays on solar energy alone illustrate how far ahead he was of his time. If India had heeded him instead of his some-time nemesis Homi Bhabha, there is no doubt the country would be far ahead today.

The youngest link in the Kosambi intellectual chain was much more than merely the champion of her father and grandfather.

Meera was a strikingly distinctive feminist thinker and writer, as well as one of the most meticulous scholars and translators
of her generation.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Some Theoretical comments on DD Kosambi's The Culture and Civilization of Ancient India

A paper by R. Sundara Rajan.

Indian Philosophical Quarterly : Volume 3. January 1976

"Conflict is the main spring of Marxian social dynamics, whereas in Kosambi, there is no such clear identification of a dynamic factor; he merely speaks of successive changes in the means and relations of production. But if we wish to identify the dynamic factor in Kosambi's model of change, we have to look to another context and surprisingly enough, it turns out to be population growth"

Alternate download from source: Indian Philosophical Quarterly, University of Pune