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Professor B.S. Baviskar (1930-2013)

 B.S. Baviskar

Professor B.S. Baviskar (1930-2013)

 

Former students and colleagues of Professor B.S.Baviskar reminisce about his life and times.

Shanti GeorgeProfessor Baburao Baviskar (1930-2013) and the Department of Sociology
Meenakshi ThapanOf sociology and sociological pasts: Remembering Professor Baviskar
Tulsi Patel  ‘A gentleman who walked on a razor’s edge
Radhika ChopraA student remembers

 

 

 

"Professor Baburao Baviskar (1930-2013) and the Department of Sociology"

Shanti George
(April 2013)

Independent researcher, The Netherlands
(Former faculty at the University of Delhi, the University of Zimbabwe and the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague).

 

Professor Baviskar’s professional story is closely entwined with the story of the Department of Sociology at the University of Delhi, so it amused him to note that he had discovered the Department through one of the many happy coincidences that marked his life and that he liked to reminisce about (often when sitting on the lawns of the Department or looking out at the lawns from his room there).

During his studies for a master’s degree at the Delhi School of Economics in the late1950s, Baburao Baviskar would chat with a friend who was studying at the Department of Sociology that was located on the same part of the campus.  Baburao discovered that that the issues of agrarian society, caste and class that were closely familiar to him from his childhood in rural Maharashtra were the main stuff of discussion in classes and tutorials in the Department of Sociology.  This impression was confirmed when he looked at the texts that were required reading.  Once he gained the master’s degree in economics, Baburao then crossed to the Department of Sociology in 1960 to study for a second master’s degree in this subject, again combining studies with a job at All India Radio that helped support his wife and children.

On entering the Department, Baburao came under the influence of Professor M.N. Srinivas who was establishing a national centre for the advanced study of sociology, a subject that in India -- Srinivas maintained -- could not be prised apart from social anthropology.  Baburao found himself a top performer in the final exams at the end of the two year master’s programme.

He also found in the Department an intellectual home.  Here he could draw on his privileged access to rural life in the part of India where he had grown up, and articulate these insights with debates within sociology and social anthropology more generally, as well as within the more distinctly Indian sociology that Srinivas and his students were working to establish.  A modest fellowship for doctoral studies allowed him to relinquish the job at All India Radio and to travel back to Maharashtra to carry out fieldwork on the political dynamics within the sugar cooperatives there.  Teaching duties at the Department and his involvement with the Indian Sociological Society meant that writing up his fieldwork proceeded slowly.  At the same time his rich real life exposure was transmuted by the debates within a vibrant national academic centre for sociology that provided a critical distance from the ‘field.’

Baburao’s professional home remained the Department, although he received regular invitations to visit universities in other parts of the world, especially centres of development studies.  His doctoral dissertation was written up as a book (The Politics of Development: Sugar Co-operatives in Rural Maharashtra, 1980, Oxford University Press, Delhi) during a fellowship at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex.  The Department of Sociology added Master’s and M.Phil. courses in the sociology of development to its syllabus.  Baburao’s work illustrated that the sociology of development was not some narrowly applied branch of the discipline but brought sociology and social anthropology into conversation with urgent issues of daily life in so called ‘developing’ countries.

Some key debates within social science and development studies concerned the role of cooperatives within rural development, especially given ideological polarizations between capitalist and socialist trajectories.  Baburao’s work on sugar cooperatives in rural Maharashtra provided an empirically grounded and nuanced picture.  He enjoyed a long professional collaboration and friendship with another researcher on social change in Maharashtra, Donald Attwood of McGill University.  Together they organized comparative studies of rural cooperatives, both internationally and across India, as seen in the volumes that they produced together: Who Shares? Co-operatives and Rural Development (1988, Oxford University Press, Delhi) and Finding the Middle Path: The Political Economy of Cooperation in Rural India (1995, Westview Press, Colorado).  

In the last years of his life, Baburao worked with Attwood on a very different book that illuminated the creative complementarities that can characterise the relationship between two ethnographic researchers who study the same ‘site,’ one an insider (as Baburao was in rural Maharashtra) and the other an outsider from far away, like Attwood.  This manuscript – Inside-Outside: Two Views of Social Change in Rural India, forthcoming -- was close to completion when Baburao died in early April this year.  He also brought to this discussion his later experience of fieldwork on dairy cooperatives in rural Gujarat, where he was something of an outsider.  He was a senior figure in an Indo-Dutch collaborative study of dairy cooperatives across India, coordinated by Martin Doornbos at the Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands (Baburao was on two occasions a visiting fellow there).

Alongside his web of international collaborations, Baburao remained firmly anchored in the Department of Sociology.  His mentor Professor Srinivas moved to Bangalore, leaving the Department in the able hands of professors such as M.S.A. Rao (Baburao’s doctoral supervisor), A.M. Shah, Andre Beteille and J.P.S. Uberoi.  Baburao was later one of the editors of a multi-volume tribute to Professor Srinivas (Social Structure and Change, with A.M. Shah and  E.A.Ramaswamy,1996-98, Sage, New Delhi).  In due course, Baburao joined the ranks of the professors and took his turn at being head of department.  When he retired, he moved across Delhi in 2000 to the Institute of Social Sciences, where as a Senior Fellow he was involved in a nationwide study of local governance in rural India (Inclusion and Exclusion in Local Governance: Field Studies in Rural India, with George Mathew, 2009, Sage, New Delhi).  Distance did not, however, dilute Baburao’s affection for the Department of Sociology.  His last published book was Understanding Indian Society Past and Present (co-edited with Tulsi Patel, 2010, Orient Blackswan, New Delhi, paperback edition 2011), a collection that honoured A.M. Shah’s long contribution to Indian sociology and to the Department, through essays written by Professor Shah’s former colleagues and students.

The Department of Sociology is located in an unusual building, framed by lawns and ornamented by a distinctive gul mohor tree.  This building would be an ethnographer’s delight, given its openness to observation.  Sitting on the lawn outside, as students do with their books and notes, you can view three floors of faculty offices, all with doors and windows that open onto one of three tiers of veranda.  You can then observe which members of faculty are in or out, when they come and go, to what extent they visit each other and who the people are waiting in the veranda outside to see them.  Observers can look in, and faculty can look out.  On one such occasion, some thirty five years ago, Baburao looked out of his first floor office and saw sitting on the lawns an M.Phil. student in distress -- me, with an half hour deadline to submit to the Department office the topic of my dissertation-to-be, torn between various choices -- and he came downstairs to counsel me gently.  He continued to do so over the decades, even when I was far away from those lawns and had moved away from a conventional academic career.  Today I marvel that he did this, and hope that I have internalized enough of his wisdom to continue without his guidance.  Despite his illness, last August he attended a seminar I gave at the D.S. Kothari Centre at the University of Delhi, on disciplined freedom and democratic spaces within relationships (whether that of teacher and student or parent and child).  This is now available as Working Paper 3 of the D.S. Kothari Centre (http://www.du.ac.in/index.php?id=965), and is dedicated to him as a teacher who embodied the principles discussed.

The physical structure of the Department of Sociology not only allows relatively close observation of individual faculty but an overview of their rhythms more generally.  In my time as a student there, the professors who lived on campus had a routine of walking to the Department punctually in the morning, returning home for lunch (and perhaps to greet their children when these were deposited home by school buses) and then going back to the Department at around 4 pm -- when the children went out to play and working spouses would soon  return -- to stay until 8 pm or so when they walked home for the evening meal.  Baburao too followed this rhythm.  On winter evenings when it grew dark early, students passing through the campus would notice that the lights were on in these professors’ rooms.  If you had emerged from the Ratan Tata Library in the building opposite, to sip wearily from a cup outside the coffee house that faces the Department, you would see those lights burning and think ‘If Professor X and Y and Z can do this, so can I,’ and you would then return to the library reading room for another session of study.  Baburao was one of those who kept the lights on in the Department over the years, literally and metaphorically. 

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 (Shanti George with Professor B.S.Baviskar)

 

"Of sociology and sociological pasts: Remembering Professor Baviskar"

  Meenakshi Thapan
(April 2013)

Department of Sociology, University of Delhi

 

In his Sketch for a Self-Analysis (2008) Bourdieu dismisses autobiography as ‘conventional and illusory’ and seeks instead a form of ‘self-socioanalysis’ in understanding his engagement with social science. To avoid   slipping into nostalgia, maudlin memory and a kind of self-indulgence,  Bourdieu sought in this work to look at himself as if he were the object of analysis. It is so typical of Bourdieu to abandon the conventional for a form of self-analysis which nonetheless rests on autobiographical content as much as it does on sociological analysis. It is when the lives of others are inextricably interwoven with one’s own that we remember them the most, when they have played a significant role in shaping our life’s journey, when they have uttered a single statement or issued a particular order, that has lasting implications for us, then, we seek to remember them and perhaps valorize them for posterity. 

In 1977, I was seeking to enroll for a Masters’ programme at the University of Delhi. I had an undergraduate degree in Psychology (Hons.) from the same university in 1974 but no idea of which discipline to pursue for the Masters. The only clarity in my mind was that it could not be Psychology which had not been particularly inspiring at the undergraduate level and which I felt was inadequate to understand human beings who surely did not exist in isolation but in society. That is all I knew. A good friend, in hindsight, took me to the Delhi School of Economics in August and, as I alighted from her car, she said, ‘there is a galaxy of stars in the sociology department. You will learn some good stuff. Have a try there’. I remember asking my way to the department, stopping near JP’s stall, and asking some students who pointed me in the right direction. When I got to the office, I found very busy people, pounding away at their clattering typewriters, talking on the phone, and no students. I hesitantly asked for admission to the M.A. programme and was brusquely informed (was it by Mr Kalra, I wonder?) that admissions were over, classes had begun and where had I been all summer. I hung around, like students do, begging them for more information, telling them I did not know about admission regulations, and just stood there for what seemed like forever. Then, a short man in a white bush shirt and off white trousers walked in from another door, with some files and left them with the section officer. I was still stammering and muttering about admissions and my own fault and not knowing about the schedule, etc. when this man asked who I was and what I wanted. The section officer did not let me speak but informed him that I was someone who had just wandered in seeking admission and that he had informed me that it was closed. This man then invited me to his office down the corridor on the same floor. It was Professor Baviskar who was perhaps in charge of admissions that year. He sat me down and asked me why I wanted admission to a Masters programme in sociology. I told him I did not know why but I needed to return to academia after a gap of three years. He asked me what I had been doing and as I prattled on about J. Krishnamurti and the Krishnamurti schools where I had taught for two years, he asked about what I had read in those years. So I told him more about Krishnamurti, as I had read a lot by him and on him, and some Theosophy, about Annie Besant and Madame Blavatsky and her mumbo jumbo, and how Krishnamurti was different from Theosophists and yet influenced by them. I told him about Krishnamurti and education and I wondered, he must think I know no sociology, and then I stopped. He asked me about my job as a marketing assistant with ITDC in Delhi which was a completely brainless job but he wanted to know how one could market hotels as opposed to products. I then proceeded to talk about marketing strategies in the hotel sector and how one draws up packages to attract customers from particular kinds of target populations. He asked, what kinds of target populations? I remember telling him about honeymooners and ‘empty nests’. He seemed fascinated by the world of hotel marketing which had appeared to be so utterly depressing and soulless to my experience. He wanted me to explain all this to him in great detail and he kept asking me questions and I wondered what all this had to do with sociology but his questions did not stop. I must have been with him for over 45 minutes or an hour. He then took me back to the office, told the section officer to have me fill out the admissions form, submit all my mark sheets and pay my fees later, but to go downstairs and start attending classes immediately. So I went to the classroom, it was  around noon, the class was on, I quietly entered and sat at the back of class, and listened to a lecture by Professor JPS Uberoi that went straight over my head. As I walked out at the end of the class, and heard the animated discussion among my peers, I was grateful to Professor Baviskar for allowing me entry but wondered if I had done the right thing.  

Over the years, Professor Baviskar was not only my teacher, tutor and mentor, but became a friend. This was partly to do with the fact that my best friend in those days was Shanti George, a student in the  M.Phil. programme, who was working with Professor Baviskar. We spent many memorable moments together, drinking chai and chatting with Professor Baviskar on the lawns and in his office. He smoked cigarettes, what he called OP Brand (Other People’s Brand) and was always willing to have a chai and an OP Brand cigarette in his free time. He told us about his childhood, and his school, and his college which was in another town, about the struggle and difficulties of growing up in less privileged circumstances. There was no self-pity in his account, only a factual narrative of his own journey as a sociologist. He invited us home for dinner one evening, a real treat for two hostellers and once, with Don Attwood, to dinner at Moti Mahal in Daryaganj which Shanti and I talked about for many days!  As the years went by, I did a course in the Sociology of Development with Professor Baviskar in the MPhil programme in which I remember receiving an ‘O’ grade,  completed my PhD in 1984, and having taught briefly in an ad-hoc position in the department, left for a postdoctoral position, as Commonwealth fellow,  at the University of London in 1985. 

When I returned in 1986,  filled with the arrogance of accomplishment and self importance, I  thought I would sail into a position in the department! I had a PhD, postdoctoral experience and some publications. Professor Baviskar was head of the department, and at the interview for the position of lecturer, I remember his emphasis on my publications to the committee. He asked me to circulate them and my PhD thesis to the members and was very supportive and positive. I did not however get the job and along with a colleague, who is now Professor of Sociology elsewhere, was appointed Research Associate in the department. I remember we both went to Professor Baviskar and asked him pointedly why, with all our qualifications, we had not only not been appointed lecturers but had been placed at the bottom of the salary scale as research associates.  In retrospect, I think we were lucky not to have been thrown out of his office and he listened to us with patience, repeatedly emphasizing that  he was  merely head of the department, not the entire selection committee. He did however ensure that we were placed higher up in the salary scale. Thus began the next phase of my engagement with the department as an intellectual and collegial space.

During the next few years, I was to know Professor Baviskar closely as a colleague and was particularly struck by his keen attention to every detail of the department. The annexe extension was built or completed during his tenure as Head, if I am not wrong, and I remember him in deep conversation with university engineers and building contractors, supervising details himself. His commitment to the structural dimensions of building a department brought home to me the fact that institutions cannot be built by ideas alone and need strong physical and infrastructure support. It is also not possible to always have the support of the entire department in whatever one seeks to do.  Collegiality is not built on consensus but on contestation and starkly opposing viewpoints: I realized this in the fiercely divisive and sometimes raucous staff council meetings which at that time astounded me. Professor Baviskar however maintained a calm, patient and civil demeanor through all the differing opinions that prevailed. Stardom then is not about intellectual ideas alone, but about building institutions for future generations, about learning to live with difference, about seeking to accomplish one’s goals in spite of the criticism and lack of support, about finding the generosity of spirit, the search for truth and the quest for accomplishment from within yourself as much as within others. The galaxy of stars includes different kinds of stars, each of its own shape and making, with its own polish and shine, each to cherish and preserve as the legacy of this very rich and treasured department.

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"A gentleman who walked on a razor’s edge"

Tulsi Patel
(April 2013)

Department of Sociology, University of Delhi

Prof. B. S. Baviskar is known for his collaborative leadership in studying the co-operative movement, especially the politics of sugar co-operatives in Mahrashtra. His perceptive eye for political dynamics goes back to his school days in the village Pilkhod, Maharashtra to Delhi via Pune. He dwelt deftly on the large sugarcane farmers’ political influence in sugar industry but also in regional and national politics while being friendly with different factions as he walked on the razor’s edge during his fieldwork for Ph.D in the Department of Sociology at Delhi University under M. N. Srinivas. His publications speak about his scholarship and collaborative work not only with Western anthropologists, but also with Indian scholars within and outside side the university system.

My association with him increased in frequency of our meetings and telephonic discussions  regarding the Indian Sociological Society (ISS). His way of giving ample space to his colleagues became apparent when as the President of the ISS he asked me if I would agree to be the treasurer. My  hesitation to readily accept the prestigious offer because I was also the Head of the Department and was aware of the administrative and teaching demands of the job was overcome gently when he offered to  help me as and when I wouldn’t be  able to  give time to the Indian sociological Society . He kept his promise for the next two years as he did not wish I compromised with responsibility towards either the University or the ISS. Any treasurers’ tasks in future I would owe to his training in financial responsibility and integrity.  He walked on a razor’s edge in keeping the balance between ISS and his close academic links with the Institute of Social Sciences without hurting the interests of either. Another occasion which touched me deeply was when as Secretary of ISS I was to request him if he would accept to be honoured by ISS with its recently launched ‘Life-Time Achievement Award’ during its annual conference in 2010 and 2011. He recounted how he disagreed with the idea of the award which in his view was insufficiently academic in rigour. This was introduced while he was not on the executive of ISS in the interim. He thus found it unacceptable to receive the award with which he basically disagreed. He thought little about foregoing contacts or favours for his convictions.

As an exemplary senior he touched me deeply when we co-edited the A.M. Shah volume (2010) that was lingering since mid-1990s. Despite a second attack of illness in the midst of the work he handled the illness and the editing with rare determination and sheer hard work which truly humbled me as he was always ahead of me in doing his part of the work without making me feel small for lagging behind. He was a generous in ways more than one while he walked on a razor’s edge all along.  In my tribute to his memory I wish it surpasses my selfish interest of missing the wise counselor and well-wisher of the Department and the ISS.

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"A student remembers"

Radhika Chopra
(April 2013)

Department of Sociology, University of Delhi

 

Prof. B.S. Baviskar was my supervisor from 1982 when I registered for my Phd to the time I submitted my thesis, many years later. I’m sure I was his slowest and most pig-headed student but he dealt with my tardiness and obstinacy with great patience. Though we approached the issue of work and agrarian transformation from quite diverse points of view, we arrived at an excellent arrangement. Prof Baviskar promised to read Pierre Bourdieu’s Outline of a Theory of Practice of which I was enormously enamoured; and I joined his (and Don Attwood’s) project on co-operatives to understand his scholarship on the political economy of co-operation, and ask myself what a land co-operative might achieve when the principle of possessive individualism was suspended. I can’t think of a more civil way to arrive at mutual understandings or a better way to be supervised. 

During the many years of supervision, there were frequent occasions for laughter. He told me once that in his village levels of education were measured by the number of books a student had ‘done’. A really well-educated student was one who had ‘done’ bara pustak or twelve books.  When he came back with a Ph.d his mother was asked – so how many books has your son ‘done’?  His mother thought for a minute and then offered a splendid interpretation of a Ph.d degree. “All books” she said. Looking back at the interest with which he read Bourdieu, it seems to me Prof. Baviskar kept faith with his mother.

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[Remembering Professor Baviskar - A Picture Gallery]


 

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Address: Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, 
University of Delhi (North Campus)
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