With this week’s news that government is paring down its budget for primary education and the issue of minority schools’ admission agendas, you wonder what will happen to the children. Meanwhile, for what they’re worth, here are a few examples of knowledge sharing and how they transcend ‘minority’ brackets into a common realm of composite culture. Mind, the sorry sequel to this first little story was foretold six years ago, when I yearned to find the full Sanskrit text of Vaak Devi’s hymn in the Rig Veda. She’s our proto-Saraswati, deity of speech, so this was a big deal for a modern writer on religion. I went to the big government-run Sanskrit sansthan in my neighbourhood. Indifferent peons, dusty classrooms, nobody responsible available (“Seat pe nahin hain”). I wanted to see the librarian. They wouldn’t let me, so I went away.
But at the Vidyajyoti Theological Seminary, Father Gispert pulled out the Rig Veda in two seconds flat, flipped it open to Vaak Devi’s hymn, xeroxed and handed me that page of gold. This June, however, behold me back at that very Sanskrit sansthan in search of a scripture specialist to beef up my studies with. A bureaucrat friend had kindly set me up to meet the head of the sansthan, a jolly soul who promised me “an intuitionist, not a tuitionist, given your needs.” I have called him a few times since then. But nearly six months down the line, nothing. When I need to check stuff, I continue to rely on a few learned men whom Vaak Devi sent my way as resource people. And of course, I would be dead without Monier-Williams’ big, fat Sanskrit-English dictionary, that old wrist-sprainer. Credit where it’s due.
I’m also very grateful for the several bulavas to Amritsar and even, most magically, to Sultanpur Lodhi, where Guru Nanak Dev was granted the Moolmantra, Ik Onkar Satnam. Besides darshan, the real reason for these calls I feel was to enable me to buy the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (with transliteration and translation) at the sacred dehleez of the Golden Temple itself, as though God willed, “Tu yahin se le ja.”
Then, some years ago while in Bangalore, I called on the Chief Qazi of Karnataka. He was also the principal of the Arabic College. Over tea and biscuits, the Qazi and I had a big
argument in Hindi over women’s freedoms. It was totally polite, like a game between two people who enjoyed the sparring. We were from different planets so it cost us nothing to be nice, to uphold our Eastern manners and courtesies.
But then, it got real. I was telling the Qazi about my travels in Islamic countries and visiting the grave of Imam Bukhari at Kasri Arifan in Central Asia. He was one of the main compilers of the Hadees or Traditions of the Prophet and Sunnis venerate his work as the very next authority after the Quran Sharief. A visit to his grave is called the ‘little Haj’, as many know.
To my absolute horror I suddenly saw the Qazi’s face crumple, his eyes overflowing with tears. “Oh, what have I said? Please don’t cry, Qazi Sahib, I’m so sorry if I’ve upset you in any way!” I fluttered in distress. “Forty years!” he said, like a hurt child. “For forty years, I have taught Imam Bukhari’s Hadees, with all my heart and head. But the One Above never sent me there.” “I’m sure you’ll get the call soon,” I murmured, upset that he was.
He moved with dignity to another topic and soon it was time to take leave. “Wait!” he said suddenly and hurried out. He bustled back with a fat, heavy book bound in dark blue, stamped beautifully in gold. When I opened it, I jumped: it was the Quran Sharief with English translation, printed in Medina by the Saudi king. Medina. I would probably never get to see Mecca-Medina as a Hindu nor I do ever see myself going to a country that jails a rape victim for speaking out against her assailants.
But by God’s will, the holy cities had come to me. Qazi Sahib looked at me shrewdly: “When you need to quote from the Quran Sharief, always use this, beti. Nobody can say anything to you then.”I follow his advice. And I have not despaired entirely of finding a good pandit and true, to work me through the Vedas, line by golden line. Like to bet it will be a Jesuit, eventually?