A one-man university whose thoughts and teachings shaped many, Professor Ram Bapat lived every minute of his life with extraordinary zeal and zest. The eminent academician passed away on July 2nd. He was 81
By Vidyut Bhagwat
Ram Bapat was a thinker, a significantly different one though. He loved teaching which was never confined to the four walls of the classrooms. For more than four decades he distributed knowledge freely to students from different disciplines and many generations of social and political activists.
Bapat lived seriously in the world of ideas but, he did not create an aura of his intelligence. At times he appeared to make others great while he remained a step behind them.
Younger generation students – urban and rural were comfortable with him and he was always available to them. He explained various concepts – in his own peculiar way – which is to contextualize these concepts. He understood that every student before him carried his or her past with conscious and unconscious beliefs. His struggle was to expand, enrich every student of his.
Intellectually rich, he was informal, a one-man university through which many students and activists were shaped. Wherever he went, he would collect a group of students around him and openly discussed, chatted, and, at times, gossiped with them. He was not a judgmental teacher and never branded his students as Leftists or Rightists despite their own obvious leanings. But he never left his ground. He did not accept any flag, any ism, and any dictatorial leadership. He had his own solid base which was created thorough his extraordinarily wide reading and deep thinking. He was sure about himself and that is how he remained his unique ‘self’.
Mahatma Gandhi, Vinoba Bhave and Karl Marx were his favorite thinkers. Though not an economist, he studied the prevailing stage of capitalism in depth. His interpretation of the stages of political economies was independent. This is why Bapat did not belong to any one particular school of thought. People at times called him confused but I think he always wanted to think dialectically. While talking about capitalism and its evils, he would go on for hours together but then never preached typical moral simplicity. After the 1990s, particularly, he understood the importance of the technological revolution and sincerely believed that those who wanted transformation should also be in touch with the new technologies and even media.
Bapat did not juxtapose East and West. He was concerned about all new thought from various parts of the world. In that sense he never glorified ‘the India’. But at the same time South Asia was at the core of his thinking. He believed in being rooted in one’s soil and culture.
He never allowed religion in the personal realm. If you believe in certain values and also belong to a certain faith, his advice would be to go in the public with all that. He had studied Hinduism and Buddhism with deep commitment. Dr. Ambedkar and his ideas of Dhamma were upheld by Bapat with great respect and while teaching he taught Ambedkar’s ideas in a nuanced way.
Bapat was known for his lack of writing and publishing. But his recently published book in Marathi titled ‘Paramarsh’ has six long prefaces written for crucial texts like Ram Manohar Lohia’s ‘Itihaschakra’ or M. P. Rege’s ‘Swatantrya, Samata ani Nyay’ are examples of his ability to understand, contextualize and explain the complex concepts.
In some ways I always found him to be more comfortable in a radical conservative framework like Bal Gangadhar Tilak. He was always conscious of being an Indian and as an Indian he believed that a universal, all encompassing Hindu identity was needed as against and in tune with pan – Christianity and pan Islam – the dominant organized religions.
Paintings, sculpture, music and especially trekking were his passionate hobbies. He would go on explaining Ajantha, Ellora sculptures and spend days together with groups of students. Bapat had many friends but he chose to be alone. His loneliness was his choice and he it bore with dignity. Somehow he was never after power, status and awards but, his students and friends all over India have immense respect for who he was. I would say he was endowed with a rare understanding the complexities of human life in totality. He lived every minute of his life with extraordinary zeal and zest.
Vidyut Bhagwat was the founder director of Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Women’s Studies Centre, University of Pune. She has written and published extensively both in English and Marathi on social movements, feminist literary studies and feminist theory.