Last week I had what I can only call a beautiful encounter when two young lecturers from a great old Bangkok university dropped by for a chat. They had been classmates as undergraduates and stayed friends.
That evening, the sky above the cityscape from the 27th floor library window
flashed with the storm god's special effects. 'Spectacular' didn't begin to describe it. My two young Thai friends said no to coffee, which led to their telling me about a special coffee shop in a building nearby where they had just drunk excellent brews, a place they liked and I didn't know about. One of them taught Logic and the other taught Sanskrit.
The logician was fascinated by Indian classical dance, which he'd never seen, particularly by Bharata Natyam. But he'd watched everything he could find on YouTube and knew individual Indian dancers' names. The Sanskritist was delving deep into Prakrit and spoke of the Satavahana Hala's 'Gatha-Saptasati' or 'Sattasai' as of an old, dear friend and quoted from his ongoing research on 'Maharashtri', the ancient sprache that I knew only by name.
Neither had been to India yet but India was in them. They were the scholars while I was the colonial by-product, a rag-picker. However, since many Indians contain Sanskrit bits, we began to swap favourite lines. He loved those exquisite invocations that precede Sanskrit plays called 'naandi', addressed to the gods, saluting a royal patron and sometimes hinting at the play to follow. A naandi may have eight or twelve lines and the sutradhar recites it with acting (abhinaya).
The Sanskritist, a tall young man with cool glasses and terrifically trendy spiky, gelled hair, described his favourite naandi with evident enchantment and ownership. His friend and I listened spellbound.
The only naandi I could recite from belonged to 'Mricchakatikam' or 'The Little Clay Cart' by Sudraka that many of us saw ages back as the film 'Utsav' and I privately resolved to give them the DVD when I found it. While this naandi began by lauding Shiva seated in the knees-up yogic posture, Sudraka went ballistic at the end describing Shiva's dark neck on which the pale vine-like arm of Gauri flashed like lightning in a stormy sky, just like the show outside. As we got up to leave, they told me who had inspired their great love for India: their beloved old Sanskrit teacher, a Thai Muslim lady.
Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture.