Saturday, October 8, 2011

Total Recall with Dr Malati Shendge

Did this story for the Sunday supplement


For Dr Malati Shendge, life has been an ongoing intellectual exploration. For almost five decades now, research has been an integral part of this scholar’s life. The city-based Indologist, who has been associated with various academic institutes in India and abroad, is a Ph.D in Buddist Tantrism and now claims to have deciphered the Harappan script.

Campus calling

“I was sitting in the B J Wadia Library of Fergusson College, poring over my notes, when suddenly the thought came from nowhere. ‘I should do research’!” No wonder the place is special to her. “I did my BA in English Literature in Fergusson College from 1951-55. I had no clue what research meant and how one was supposed to conduct it. I then approached my mentor, Dr Rangdatta Vadekar, Head of Sanskrit Department, for guidance. He suggested that I should conduct research in the Harappan civilisation,” she recalls.
Overwhelmed by the advice, she however chose to follow her insclination. “I told him that I would do research in Buddhist Tantrism instead. Although, I was a student of English Literature, I was curious about this subject and I decided to do my MA in it from Pune University,” says Shendge.
Being a research scholar meant that Shendge was neck deep into books, but she did occasionally glance up to appreciate the world around her. She remembers, “ There was a canal passing through the college. It was considered to be the romantic spot of the campus. Now, the canal has been filled up.”
Shendge also recalls an old Banyan tree, which towered over the library. “We used to walk under that tree. I think it was struck down by lightning,” she adds.
As Shendge got deeper into her research, she lost touch with her peers. “In the ’50s, there were not too many women students. Most of them left the course mid-way. I had a friend, Usha Parasnis, who was with me till Inter-BA. We drifted apart and it took some 50 years for us to meet again! We met in 2001 at the lecture series held in memory of Dr Vadekar,” she says.

Vestiges of varsity

“I remember our bus stop was before, now what is called as the Main Building. I kept on thinking about food, while waiting for the bus. There was no canteen in the campus those days,” she remembers her days at the Pune university, where she did her post-graduation in Buddhist Tantrism.
It was followed by a Ph.D in the same subject from the Department of Buddhist Studies, Delhi University. “Thereafter, I won a scholarship to go to Tokyo to study esoteric Buddhism. There again I was the only lady student. In fact then Congress minister Dr Karan Singh, who had come on a visit to the city, was surprised to meet me.” Shendge says.
After returning to India, Shendge spent three years in International Institute of Advanced Studies in Simla. She then came back to Pune with no job in hand. In Pune, while she was studying Buddhist Tantrism, she realised that mythic figures like Asuras, Yakshas, Pisach, Gandharva and Rakshasas were not mythic figures. They were human beings - a fact mentioned in Rigveda. This in turn led her to study the Indus Valley Civilisation.
“Call it coincidence, but I had to study the Harappan and Mohenjo Daro. Just like Dr Vadekar had said,” says Shendge.

In Vadekar’s memory

Shendge is also closely associated with Dr Rangdatta Vadekar’s Centre for the Study of Indian Tradition, which she runs from home. The centre, founded in 1990 by his former students, was formed to dispel the thought that culture is equivalent to singing and dancing. It has organised various lectures on Buddhism, scientific aspects of Indian tradition, state of the culture under Shivaji’s rule etc. so far. Life, for Shendge, has surely come a full circle.


  1. Hi, I was in the mountains of Ladakh's for cycling, there I heard about Dr. Malati Shendge's work. That was very brief. After coming back to Pune, I was looking more about her work. So this is good information I got. Thank you.

    1. Thanks Mayur!
      Are you a research scholar too? Because I had few queries from other students too.

  2. Hi , I have been looking for a figure like Malati J. Shendge , badly want to get in touch with her, I am working on Indian Myth and would really appreciate if you can help me getting her email id. Possible?