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Language of our heritage

Sanskrit is in an exclusive club of heritage languages. The Sangh agenda can neither hijack its status nor tarnish its heritage, writes Renuka Narayanan.
None | By Renuka Narayanan
UPDATED ON JUL 24, 2007 11:40 PM IST

So the Governor of Madhya Pradesh won’t sign the proposed Maharishi Panini Sanskrit University Bill because his powers of appointing its Vice-Chancellor may lapse to the state’s Chief Minister. Meanwhile, what about the dreadful perception lurking in the public mind that anything to do with Sanskrit must be an RSS or VHP agenda? Singing Vande Mataram. Offering Sanskrit as an educational option. Opting for Sanskrit as an educational option. By the louse in Marx’s beard, isn’t this the priestly sprache of the Brahmins? Crush it, kill it, the evil, abominable thing. So go ahead. Do some ethnic cleansing of Sanskrit, like the DMK once tried, in its effort to make Tamil and Tamil Nadu ‘pure’.

This is what you must do and we, the counter-guardians of Indian liberalism, will stand over all lefty-liberals and minority-identity protectors until they weed out every last word of this wicked language. Anybody caught using even one Sanskrit or Sanskrit-derived word or sporting a Sanskritic name will be fined, jailed or subject to seven years RI. Or made to choose between a public whipping, a rest cure at some nice gulag or an Australian jail.

Except, what are you going to tell Shajeena S, out in Navaikulam, Kerala? Last October, she topped the Kerala University MA (Sanskrit) exam. Shajeena S got 79 per cent and is the first Muslim topper in the university’s history. The 25-year-old is the second of three daughters of Shahul Hamid, a labourer. She opted for Sanskrit four years ago with her parents’ blessing. When she topped, the local leader of her community wanted sweets. Some people did ask her why she didn’t choose Arabic. Shajeena told them, “Sanskrit is the most apt language for Indians since most Indian languages are offshoots of Sanskrit.” When Shajeena recites shlokas at home, her family finds it melodious. She herself says there’s poetry in every syllable. She wants to launch a Sanskrit magazine to help Sanskrit lovers in India express their creativity. She wants some day to teach her children Sanskrit, too, and mourns, “It’s a shame this beautiful language is reduced to a Cinderella in her own land.”

Now that you know a poor Muslim girl is into Sanskrit, is the politically correct tokenist in you appeased? May others get back to phalam-phale-phalaani in peace without whispering fearfully in corners in case someone from JNU is spying on them and writes a denunciatory article?

Or — wow, what a possibility — can we look instead at Shajeena with respect simply as a fellow-Indian who has a right to everything in Indian heritage, naturally and comfortably?

But looking at Shajeena with respect entails honouring her choice of subject, too. Kanimozhi Karunanidhi, for one, has named her son Adityan, a Sanskrit name with a Tamil ending. Whatever happened to Tamil when it came to something as important as choosing a child’s name? “Passion for language does not stop at one,” she said as a poet and writer. Besides, doesn’t ‘Karunanidhi’ itself mean ‘treasury of mercy’? In Sanskrit?

Or you could merely recollect the history of teaching Sanskrit in modern India. The Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, now funded and run by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, was set up in 1970, long before the BJP and its tacky agendas got activated. This is why it says it exists: “For the development and promotion of Sanskrit all over the country… Sanskrit has played a vital role in the development of all Indian languages and in the preservation of the cultural heritage of India. No Indian language can flourish without the help of Sanskrit. Sanskrit also provides the theoretical foundation of ancient sciences. Hence, it becomes essential to preserve and propagate Sanskrit for the all-round development of India.”

Today, you could study Sanskrit at primary school, secondary school, under-grad, post-grad and Ph.D levels (a doctorate from a Sanskrit university is a ‘Vidyavaridhi’); as part of general education or at 10 Sanskrit Universities across India. Or at regional Sanskrit schools and colleges: Kerala has five, Himachal Pradesh has 70, UP has 250 and Punjab, 15, as a random state count. A language that everyone who speaks ‘Indian’ owns was thrown open as the common heritage of interested citizens decades ago. What’s so casteist or communal about that? It’s one more thing in the mosaic of Indian identity, no more. But certainly, no less. The international club of classical languages is very small and exclusive. Latin, Greek, Chinese, Hebrew. Tamil. And Sanskrit. That’s two from India. If some of us can’t be bothered with such amazing heritage, please let’s not view those who do want it with suspicion. Or worse, let grubby knickerwalas hijack it and tarnish it.

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