It’s been 50 years since the young anthropologist, Owen Lynch, first came to dinner in our small, dark Columbia University apartment and played with our young children. He‘d returned many times since – often fresh from a trip to India – and the children loved him; most adult visitors, particularly “serious” scholars paid scant attention to them. Children were interruptions. Not to Owen. No person was an interruption to him.
In time he became a prominent and distinguished South Asian scholar, professor, and activist. He was the authority on the Dalits of India, formerly known as “The Untouchables”- the poorest and most downtrodden of India’s vast population. This, for Owen, meant doing his fieldwork living and working with them – and writing about them. And eventually becoming their advocate. He did this with power and eloquence. He published THE POLITICS OF UNTOUCHABILITY in 1974 and for the rest of his life he championed their cause. In him, they had a dauntless defender.
In recent years, Owen had been seriously ill and his family had cared for him. He died in April of this year. The intervening months since his death have allowed healing time for family and friends thus enabling this happy celebration of his life!
And it was, indeed, happy! Beginning with charming sibling reminiscences and family anecdotes, old friends’ memories, interspersed with poetry and music that he loved, all followed by a wonderful luncheon of Indian delicacies! And camaraderie!
Owen was a presence there among us at Faculty House as he had been all along, a quiet, forceful presence in our lives. How lucky we were to have known him!
What a lovely tribute, Sheila. I particularly like the notion that no person was an interruption – what a high bar for all of us to follow!