Casual passers-by might mistake Ramesh Tukaram Shinde for a pensioner reading a newspaper in the small iron-grilled verandah of his Goregaon tenement. But the perception will change completely if they listen to him speak on his mobile, giving callers precise information on Babasaheb Ambedkar, his works and the social revolution he wrought. Shinde is a one-man helpline for all things Ambedkar, and even serious scholars turn to his prodigious memory and his huge collection of journals, documents and books, many of them out of print, by and on the Dalit leader who steered the writing of the Indian constitution.
His acuity and unwavering eye for detail belie his 83 years: he can pick any book or document from his collection and open it at the page where the relevant information is. It’s the kind of memory that develops from a deep engagement with a subject and with the written and printed word. Eminent writers and scholars from all over India and abroad have come to rely on it and they visit him for guidance or to consult his corpus. However, he’s no academic himself: he’s a retired employee of the Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT).