Professor Baburao Baviskar - Sad News of his Passing

Baburao  Baviskar - An Appreciation by John Bryden

I was very sad to learn about Baburao's death during the night of 9-10th April. He had a hard struggle in the battle against cancer at the end, I know. I am at the same time very proud to have been his friend and colleague since about 1980, and happy that my wife Karen and I both managed to contribute to one of his works on local government only published last year[1]. I have many fine memories of Baburao's work with the Arkleton Trust, which I directed for 25 years. He led two expert 'third world' teams to assess UK rural policies under the Trust umbrella in the early 1980s[2]. This was not viewed very favourably by the authorities of the day, who mostly thought that the flow of ‘experts’ should be the other way! Baburao was a fine choice of leader for the task, not only for his intellect, but also because of his deep wisdom and understanding of the world, not to mention his modesty and charm. Baburao was on the International Advisory Committee of the Arkleton Trust for almost as long as I can remember.

It was at the 1982 Arkleton Trust seminar on Institutional Approaches to Rural Development (my were we not far ahead of our time!) that Baburao met the grandson of the liberator of Ireland from England’s colonial grip – the formidable Éamon de Valera. ÉamonÓ Cuiv was at the time managing an agricultural cooperative in the west of Ireland, but much later in the 2000s he became Minister for Culture and the Gaeltacht in the Irish government. All these years later he remembered Baburao from his 1982 presentation at the seminar, and carried Baburao's Arkleton report with him. In 2008 or thereabouts, Ó Cuiv came to Delhi to open a street that the government had decided to name after his grandfather, de Valera, who it was said had been one of the inspirations for the Indian independence movement, and invited Baburao (and me, as I also happened to be in Delhi at the time) to the St Patrick's day party at the Irish Embassy, where we had an interesting conversation with Éamonand his charming wife, Aine.

Arkleton Trust seminars were normally held at the seminar venue belonging to the McRobert Trusts in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, which were in very pleasant rural surroundings, had an excellent cook, and good bar, as well as comfortable rooms. Somewhat ironically, At least some of the finance behind McRobert came from the Cawnpore woolen mill, Kanpur UP, which Alexander MacRobert successfully managed and then directed and certainly partly owned between 1884 and 1922.  At the 1982 seminar, Baburao was left to have lunch with the mainly military background Trustees and their wives, while the rest of us went for a study trip. This was because he had to finish the mission report on UK rural development policies! Part of the mission involved field trips in various rural parts of the UK including the outer Hebrides (the Gaelic speaking crofting areas of Lewis and Harris in particular). During lunch, Baburao was invited to join the McRobert Trustees who happened to be meeting on the same day. The Trustees were largely drawn from the higher echelons of the Military, and they were joined at lunch by some of their wives. One of the latter asked Baburao which of the rural areas he had enjoyed most, to which he replied “Lewis and Harris”. At this the good but entirely silly lady responded “Ah yes, they are a bit primitive out there”! Baburao was of course polite as ever, and took no offence at all, he did enjoy re-telling the story with great delight and wry humour!

Only last week I attended a seminar in Copehagen and spoke to a younger professor from the Indian Institute of Technology, Ambuj Sagar. Ambuj told me that he was brought up four doors away from Babuaro, Kusum and the family and knew them all very well, and we discussed our mutual admiration.

Baburao was also a great support for our International Rural Network, being our first Indian Director, and someone who attended nearly all of our conferences and forums until he and I 'retired' after the Udaipur Forum. In the lead up to that event my wife Karen and bonus daughter Lisbeth also got to know and love Babuaro. Lisbeth, then about 14, interviewed Baburao for a project, and had great fun with that (as I think did Baburao!). Lisbeth was greatly influenced by her discussion with him on the Indian caste system, and we are sure she will take sociology and or anthropology when she goes to University next year, partly as a result of this experience.

He brought me many other friends and colleagues in India, and through them the chance for I and my family to visit Pondicherry and Kerala, which we much enjoyed.

Baburao transcended the barriers of caste, more evident in his youth, to become a Reader and later Professor at the prestigious Delhi School of Economics, where he was a friend, colleague, mentor, teacher of many other Indian scholars (and even a fine novelist or two) past and present. The pre-independence rural Maharashtra of his childhood was recalled in his last article, “Pilhod in the 1930’s: A Profile”, published in the Sociological Bulletin, Vol 61, No. 2, May-August 2012. This is a remarkable article which well displays his fine memory and intellect (despite his typically modest denials in the first paragraph!), and speaks of a world that is far apart from the India of today. After retirement, he joined the well known Institute of Social Science in Delhi, where he worked until about a year ago, producing numerous books and papers on a wide range of topics.

Baburao wrote me an (uncharacteristically) not very optimistic letter around the turn of the year. It is indeed strange that I had a very strong feeling that this was about to happen when I happened to meet with a family friend and neighbour of the Baviskar’s – Professor Ambuj D Sagar  from IITD - at a seminar in Copenhagen last week, and I even told Ambuj that I wanted to come to Delhi soon to see Baburao before he died.  But I am afraid the ‘grim reaper’ got to him first.

As can be seen, I have many fond and long memories of Baburao, who was an inspiration to me. I was very lucky to be his friend and colleague.

Baburao is survived by his wife, Kusum, son Siddhartha, and daughters Amita and Shirish.

[1] B.S. Baviskar and Ash Narain Roy (eds) 2012. ‘Local Governance: A Global Perspective’. Delhi, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India.

[2] The first was ‘Rural Decline in the United Kingdon – a Third World View’ by B.S.Baviskar, Abdul Halim, S. Joseph,  L. Vilakati and M.B. Mgina, published by The Arkleton Trust, Oxford, in 1980. The second was ‘Development Institutions and Approaches in Three Rural Areas of the United Kingdom’ by B.S. Baviskar, A.U. Patel and J.B. Wight, published by The Arkleton Trust, Oxford, in 1983.