Classical Language Studies

{xtypo_dropcap}S{/xtypo_dropcap}heldon Pollock, Ransford Professor of Sanskrit and Indian studies, Columbia University, New York, writing in The Hindu today (Nov 27, 2008), confesses to have been bemused by the debates that have been featured in the pages of The Hindu since 2006 on the classical nature of some of India’s languages. He thinks that time and thought should first be devoted to developing modern scholarship in India’s wonderful languages by young intelligent Indians, at least some of whom should consider Indian languages as a career and create/develop work of an exceptional kind. He does not enjoy carts before horses and quotes Bhartrhari in context, ‘Na kUpakhananam yuktam pradIpte vahninA grhe’. ( it is not appropriate to dig a well just when the whole house is in flames.)

He thinks that the compulsions of modern India’s competitive surge in economic well being may have removed the priority of genuine studies of old language texts from Indian academia for nearly two generations.

He states that a well known US University which has been looking for an outstanding Telugu scholar to replace a Professor about to retire has had no luck in finding one from India’s Telugu academics.

During his stay in Karnataka learning classical Kannada from Vidwan Venkatachala Sastry of Mysore, Professor Pollock says that he did not encounter a single young scholar who had chosen to steep himself in the study of the classical works of Pampa, Ranna or Ponna Mahakavis.

He says that in the two great Universities in New Delhi, no one is studying classical persona of Hindi literature, such as Keshavdas.

He contrasts the situation with another capital city, Paris, where they would never dream of shelving/giving up studies on Corneille, Racine or Moliere.

He rues the fact that a large mass of Indo-Persian manuscripts, notably of the Mughal era remains untouched in India’s archives.

During a conference at Udaipur, Rajasthan, he seems to have asked several classical language professor delegates, whether they were training their students to read and follow ancient texts in the languages. Three answered in the affirmative. All three were Sanskrit teachers.

He thinks that when the great Apabhramsa scholar H C Bhayani passed away in India, Apabhramsa studies in this country may have ground to a halt.

Professor Pollock wants India to commit itself to developing high caliber Indian institutes in humanities, Indian culture and Indian languages and give consideration to the thought that ancient literature too should be revived and not just ancient performing arts, though the latter could generate greater mass appeal and economic profits.

The loneliness that some Medhavis may feel among the total population of intellectuals of Indian origin, whether Ri or NRI, when raising issues like the misrepresentation of our old epics before impressionable young audiences abroad, is substantially due to lack of awareness among large sections of educated Indians of the enjoyment that study of our old texts can provide. We must inspire them to get back to these texts, before they are totally forgotten and sent into oblivion.

Exactly how right is the Professor in each one of the above findings? Perhaps we should find out.

Prof Pollock quotes Bhartrhari yet again and I will not quote. The sense he wants to convey is that it is easier to destroy an edifice than to build it again. We may have begun destroying our precious legacies through neglect. Time we woke up.

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