Biographies provide the source material for understanding and writing of history. Popular Prakashan has played its part in providing this important input. One of the major biographers who have made this possible is Dhananjay Keer.
Born Anant Vitthal in a small district place Ratnagiri in April 1913, Keer took to writing pen-portraits in English under the pseudonym Dhananjay. In his early youth, he had the opportunity of meeting Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and working with him in his fight against untouchability. Keer took on himself the task of writing a full length biography of Savarkar. Thanks to the author’s proximity to his hero, this biography is regarded as the authoritative work on Hindutva.
Keer followed this up with a biography of Lokamanya Tilak, the Father of the Indian Freedom Struggle, whose birth place was, again, Ratnagiri. Savarkar prompted Keer to write on Dr. Ambedkar, even though Dr Amedkar was not well disposed towards Savarkar. With this effort, Keer started on an important phase in his journey as a biographer. His biography of Dr. Ambedkar has become a source of strength to Ambedkarites and a reliable sourcebook for students of Dalit movement. This biography has proved to be a bestseller in English, Marathi and Hindi. While Ambedkar was a senior contemporary, who was accessible to the biographer, Keer had, further, to undertake Ambedkar’s projected work of writing on Mahatma Phooley. A natural corollary was writing on Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur. These three stalwarts of social revolution got projected outside Maharashtra after the publication of Keer’s biographies by Popular Prakashan. It provides a historical and sociological platform for social engineering in this era.
Keer’s view of modern India was not Gandhi-Nehru centric. His works provide hitherto little known details regarding sociological and political events as well as personalities in India. Rewriting of Indian history will have to be based on these details. However, he acknowledged Gandhi’s role as a mass leader and wrote an important work on his life, Mahatma Gandhi: Political Saint and Unarmed Prophet, highlighting events ignored by numerous biographers.
Keer wrote mostly in English. Yet he chose to write in Marathi the biography of C.K. Bole, the author of an important bill in Bombay Presidency. Also his autobiography and short life sketches of social reformers/scholars R.G. Bhandarkar.