AGAINST AMBEDKAR, AGAINST THE WORLD
I woke up. I did not know when.
My vision was slightly blurred and I had a mild headache. My throat was extremely dry. I could not help but stare at the ceiling. I tried to get up but my body plainly refused. How long had I been sleeping? I could not tell if it was day or night outside. The room felt exactly the same, still lit up by the dim tube-light.
“Here, have some water,” said … a man’s voice! The shock gave me strength enough to sit up, but not entirely and I bumped my head on the headboard. Waves of pain shot up my skull.
It was Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar.
There was no mistaking it. He stood right in front of my bed, in those unmistakable round glasses, red tie and a navy-blue suit. He was a bit plumper than he looked in the history books. The hair on his slightly balding head, which made his forehead look rather large, was meticulously oiled and combed. He looked after-shower kind of fresh. It was as if the heat of the room did not affect him at all, while I lay in the filthy pool of my own sweat.
“Hel…Hello Baba Ji. How… can it be?”
“Oh come on, don’t call me that. I hate that name. Dr Ambedkar will do.” He picked up two joints from the bed and lit them up simultaneously from a lighter he pulled out from his pocket.
“Here, this will help with the headache.” He handed me one of the joints as he sat down on the edge of the bed. He puffed his joint casually, like he was smoking a normal cigarette.
I took a few drags and felt my nerves calm down a little. If I was hallucinating, it surely did not feel like it. The room felt exactly the same, I felt exactly the same. There was no dream-like quality to the entire setting. The only change was that the forty-year-old hooker had either disappeared or magically transformed into Baba Ambedkar.
“You don’t have many options before you now, Mayank. We both know where this road leads, don’t we?”
He knew my name! And apparently he knew a lot more.
“Baba…I mean Dr Ambedkar, I have been so confused. This whole Brahmin–SC thing is too much for me.”
“Let’s not stand on ceremony here, Mayank. We both know that you are not SC. Nor will you ever be. And you know, deep down, that this is not what you really want.”
“But I thought I could be SC.”
“Why? Because we are so goddamn cool? You need to understand that we did not inherit anything. We made ourselves what we are today.”
“But what about the Brahmins? I read Manusmriti and I realised we have no chance. We never did!”
“I know. It is not what Manusmriti says that scares me though. It is the two hundred pages you wrote that worry me, Mayank.”
How did he know about that? I had not mentioned anything about that. But crazy as it sounded, somehow I knew that this was my only chance to get some answers. I was not going to blow it up by digging into the reality of the situation. Who is to say that this was probably the only reality of my life and my whole life so far had been a coked-up dream?
We both smoked for a bit in silence.
“I still have to work a lot on that. It is the first draft. I don’t even know if it will be ready to publish in a few years.”
“I know, Mayank. And as I’ve said, you have little choice. There are times when I regret the fact that I wrote. Not because I disagree with it now, but one can never tell how one's actions can create a ripple effect that might change the course of history. And given the current state of India, I wish I had never come back from the States. I wish I had never written a word.”
I was stunned.
“But isn’t this what you wanted, sir? An India that is dominated by the SCs? I would probably be thrown in jail within a week if my text is published, thanks to the SC/ST Act.”
Ambedkar let out a sigh. He held his spectacles in his hand, wiped the lenses on his tie and put them back on.
“Mayank, you have to understand what I did and the circumstances in which I did it. It was simply to help out the losing side. To help the oppressed. To be the champion of the needy. And it was not wrong, but I went overboard. I did not anticipate the consequences of my actions. That is the only reason I am here to see you.”
“You mean you agree that Brahmins are the oppressed now?”
“Maybe they are. But certainly not all of them. But nor were the SC. A revolution is nothing but a mob that thinks in black and white. I know where you stand today, Mayank, and I probably know it a bit better than you.”
He pulled out a tiny black notebook from his waistcoat pocket and started reading to me.
“Let me give you some statistics, Mayank. Forty-four percent of Brahmin kids have to quit their education at primary school level, and thirty-six at percent high-school level. More than four hundred thousand Kashmiri Brahmins now live in their own country as refugees. Your regular Brahmin priest earns an average of three hundred rupees per month. Fifty-four percent of the upper-caste population is below the poverty line. And in your beloved city of Delhi, seventy percent of the people employed to clean the shit in public toilets belong to the upper castes. I can go on all night, but I think I have made my point.”
“So…so you mean you support the Brahmins now?” I said, stuttering with surprise.
“No. I just want you to know, Mayank, that I understand where you are coming from.”
“OK,” I said, unsure where all this was leading to.
“You must understand that the position you find yourself in today is not very different from where I stood at one point. And the things I did have led to the India you were born in. And today you stand in the same place, and I want you to think very carefully if you want to go down a similar path. To act, or not to act, is solely up to you, Mayank.”
He stood up and crushed the half-burnt joint with his shiny, polished shoe. As he was about to open the door to leave, he turned.
“Mayank,” he said, in a rather sombre voice.
“For God’s sake put some pants on.”