Babasaheb's Tiger

Navayana's new book In The Tiger’s Shadow is on Namdeo Nimgade. Born into a family of landless bonded laborers in the dustbowl of Sathgaon in western India, Namdeo Nimgade was 14 when he finally managed to attend his village school where, being an ‘untouchable’, he had to stand on the ‘hot verandah and listen to lessons through a window’. Inspired by Dr B. R. Ambedkar, he steadfastly pursued his education. After graduating from Nagpur, Nimgade went on to complete his Ph. D. in soil science from the University of Wisconsin in 1962—perhaps the first dalit after Ambedkar to earn a doctorate in an American university. In the 1950s, as an associate at the Indian Agriculture Research Institute in Delhi, Nimgade got to spend time with Dr Ambedkar and throughout his life, remained singularly committed to the Ambedkarite movement.

Nimgade narrates incidents in his life with candor and delightful humor—whether recounting his great-grandfather Ganba’s combat with a tiger in a forest or his ‘forbidden’ love for a nondalit woman. Moving away from the framework of victimhood narratives, Nimgade’s life is an inspiring story of triumph against odds.

"Our family name Nimgade probably derives from the neem tree, which is known for its healing properties and health benefits. Many people from our untouchable community bear names referring to trees or plants, such as my brother-in-law, Khobragade—which refers to a coconut. There’s similarly Ambagade, referring to mango, Jamgade to guava and Borkar to berry. Quite likely, these arboreal names derive from the peaceful Buddhist period in Indian history, and are cited as further evidence that many of India’s untouchables were previously Buddhist."

In The Tiger’s Shadow: The Autobiography of an Ambedkarite, by Namdeo Nimgade. Foreword by Christopher S. Queen, Harvard University. Rs 350 | 310 pages | Paperback Demy 1/8 | ISBN 9788189059309