For the 67th anniversary of our Independence here’s a cheer for Thomas Babington Macaulay. His ‘Minute on Education’ in 1835 arguing for the promotion of the English language over Sanskrit and Arabic, now seems startlingly forward-looking and objective, citing England’s own case.
He said, “Had our ancestors...printed nothing and taught nothing at the universities but chronicles in Anglo-Saxon and romances in Norman French, would England ever have been what she now is? What the Greek and Latin were to (England), our tongue is to the people of India.”
He also said, “Within the last hundred and twenty years, a nation which had previously been in a state as barbarous as that in which our ancestors were before the Crusades has gradually emerged from the ignorance in which it was sunk, and has taken its place among civilized communities. I speak of Russia. There is now in that country a large educated class abounding with persons fit to serve the State in the highest functions... And how was this change effected? Not by flattering national prejudices; not by feeding the mind of the young Muscovite with the old women's stories which his rude fathers had believed; not by filling his head with lying legends about St. Nicholas…but by teaching him those foreign languages in which the greatest mass of information had been laid up, and thus putting all that information within his reach. The languages of western Europe civilised Russia. I cannot doubt that they will do for the Hindoo what they have done for the Tartar.”
Long before Macaulay in January 1697, twenty-year-old Thomas Aikenhead, the son of an Edinburgh surgeon, orphaned at ten and a student of Edinburgh University, became the last person to be hanged in Britain for ‘blasphemy’, due to prevailing church politics. His dying testament said, “It is a principle innate and co-natural to every man to have an insatiable inclination to the truth, and to seek for it as for hid treasure... So I proceeded until the more I thought thereon, the further I was from finding the verity I desired.”
Macaulay apparently said of Aikenhead, “The preachers who were the poor boy's murderers crowded round him at the gallows, and. . . insulted heaven with prayers more blasphemous than anything he had uttered.”
Meanwhile, this Hindoo would like to share the observation that each time you say ‘Namo’, you’re saying ‘Surrender to the Lord’ in Sanskrit.
Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture