Jambudveep's Blog

June 17, 2016

Review of The Battle for Sanskrit

Filed under: Book Reviews — Yogeshwar Shastri @ 10:27 am
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Review of The Battle for Sanskrit

 

Battle for sanskrit

Author : Rajiv Malhotra

Rating : 10/10

Overview of Content:  The book is well structured and runs into 11 chapters. Also adding to the voluminous nature of the book are the detailed appendixes and superb footnotes.

The book starts off by giving a background to the creation of the book i.e. the deal of the North American wing of Shringeri Matha with Sheldon Pollock and its implications for Hindus worldwide. To those who have not heard Rajiv Malhotra’s online talks, the deal would have made Sheldon Pollock the custodian and official voice of this great Hindu matha ( setup by Adi Shankaracharya no less).This puts into perspective the nature of the new (and old) Western Indological attack on Hinduism. Chapter 2 gives a brief but good overview of the previous major assaults by Western thinkers and scholars, mostly late 18th and 19th century and contrasts this with the new assault coming from the US of A. The nayak or hero of the book, Sheldon Pollock makes his appearance towards the end of the second chapter.

Chapter 3 onwards every chapter deals with one aspect of Sheldon Pollock’s work.eg. Chapter 5 shows how Pollock views Ramayana as an oppressive text and also explains the theory he uses to portray it as oppressive (Aestheticization of power). Chapter 7 deals with Pollock’s attempts to show that Bharatiya regional languages are locked in a perpetual state of conflict with Sanskrit. Hence Sanskrit is a villain who needs to be reformed. And how is this reformation going to happen? By getting rid of all that is scared i.e. anything which springs from the Vedas etc. Chapter 8 presents Malhotra’s view on how things can be viewed from our perspective. In this chapter the views of traditional Hindu scholars such as Prof. Satyanath,are presented to refute Pollock’s arguments.

Chapter 9 is very interesting as Pollock’s motivation behind declaring Sanskrit as a dead language are explained in detail. Chapter 10 dissects the hero of the book i.e. Sheldon Pollock. It makes a sad but unsurprising read that the clueless Indian elite gave Pollock the Padma Sri and he is a feted speaker at the secular gatherings such as the Jaipur literature festival. Chapter 11 is the concluding chapter where Rajiv Malhotra offers ideas on the way to rejuvenate Sanskrit and thus decolonize our minds. Some of the recommendations have been made previously by Dharampal etc.

 

My comment:

I have read nearly all of Rajiv Malhotra’s (RM) books, bar one (Indra’s Net). He is what I would call an “Iterative Kshatriya”, someone who fights, learns and fights again. And gets better and better with each battle. I am a lay reader and not knowledgeable enough to comment on his conceptualisation of Uttarapaksha, Purvapaksha etc. Many would be aware that there is quite a lot of heated debate going on between RM and traditional scholars. A quick Google search will educate you on the various aspects of the debate. One point that has been raised is that RM is not right in his conception about our side of things. But the book is primarily an exposition of a key enemy generals tactics. Whatever discussion occurs representing our side is really to give a contrast between our position and theirs.

The book has to be seen in the overall perspective of the other books RM has published. RM is a reconnaissance scout who is tracing the contours of the intellectual kurukshetra. The key value of the book is that it identifies one of the key shadow enemy generals of this intellectual “Kurukshetra” i.e. Sheldon Pollock. And dissects in minute details the main weapons, strategies and firepower possessed by Sheldon Pollock. Of course with the publication of this book, Sheldon Pollock is probably the most well-known “Sanskritist” and not in a good way either.

Translating Sanskrit or regional language texts into English is a risky affair as Malhotra has demonstrated with the example of the critical edition of the Ramayana. What happens next is that Western Indological vultures descend on the text and pick and choose the bits they want. The crucial aspect is that the ownership of the texts automatically passes from Hindus to the Westerners once a text is translated in English. Consider this situation:  India manufactures a path breaking missile, however very generously we decide to give the blueprints (or the Intellectual property) to Pakistan and of course the USA. Without exaggeration this is what happens when our manuscripts are translated into English. The damage that the western distortions of our culture has done and continues to do is immense both in human, cultural and financial terms. We have been undergoing a cultural genocide especially in the last 200 years, which has intensified post-independence.

If we imagine the intellectual world to be a kurukshetra where weapons are words and books, we are now fighting on the enemy’s turf and on his terms. Western Indologists will draw their Hindu opponents deeper into the chakravyuh by escalating the verbosity and absurdity of their theories and analysis. These are semites- they have over 2000 years’ experience of fighting on words. This situation is another reason why the Indology practised in the West and that practised in India has radically differing aims and outputs.

Is it then surprising that Sheldon Pollock is advocating a scenario similar to the East India Company’s strategy- hire an army of native sepoys, who are brave and resourceful and let them do the dirty work. These sepoys who are fluent in Sanskrit and English will then wreak havoc on the traditional way of life. Knowledge of English will then become the arbiter of expertise in Hindu studies.

Those working at various Indological institutions in India (MS, LD, BORI etc.) are genuine scholars and researchers. However purely based on the verbosity and control of English, Western Indologists become the superior arbiters of our heritage.

To nullify this situation we need to practise an “Area Denial Strategy”. The best option is to choke the supply of English translations and kick start the process of publishing commentaries/translations in Sanskrit and regional languages. Extracts of these are then published in local newspapers and plays performed on them. Thus both oral and written aspects are respected. This process was interrupted by the Christian occupation of India since 1800’s. This will have multiple advantages:

  1. It will breathe new life into the regional languages which are now being choked by the weed that is English (a Congress weed).
  2. The re-Sanskritisation of regional languages will also reciprocally enrich Sanskrit.
  3. Gradually the popular vocabulary of the masses will also be rid of the English infestation.

But most importantly in terms of the intellectual kurukshetra, we will have formed our own chakravyuh, where we can intellectually cut them to pieces. Their expertise in our languages is a “gained” one which can easily by disputed by a competent Hindu scholar. Essentially the situation now consists of fighting a defensive holding action (what Malhotra and others are doing) and creating a new battle in this ongoing Mahabharata. This is the stage where we take the offensive.

As a vast corpus of Sanskrit texts is outside India, we don’t have much control over what happens outside. But we can control who comes over here and then accesses the manuscripts. And most importantly we can intellectually tear apart their faulty and agenda driven interpretations.

Another concurrent step (one repeatedly suggested by RM in his talks) is to setup an indigenous ecosystem of journals. And make them the final word on the subject. The papers, in my opinion, should be written in regional languages and Sanskrit and should include a critical evaluation of work done by Westerners. To gain acceptability and credibility, scholars would need to publish in our desi journals. And as a rule quoting Westerners should no longer be a badge of honour.

Sidenote : I told a budding western Indologist some years back, that the study of Bharata should be done by Bharatiyas not foreigners. He was little bit outraged at that.

The book’s typesetting, binding, paper are all industry standard and the font chosen is quite pleasing to the eyes. Overall a high quality product in content and aesthetics. Sometimes RM does get a little repetitive in his writings (found this in previous books as well), but this might be to reinforce the message.

Typo: One aitihasik typo in the book: on pg. 192, Vikramaditya VI is identified as ruler of empire of Karnatas (Vijayanagara) empire. There was no such king. Probably it refers to the Chalukya kings. RM is citing Pollock here, so it might be a gaffe in Pollock’s book.

 

My recommendation is to buy the book.

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May 26, 2016

Book review : What Happened to Netaji?

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Book title : What Happened to Netaji?

Author- Anuj Dhar

Rating: 8/10

The book gets an 8 rating pretty much because of the explosive content and the thoroughness of the underlying research.
This is the third book by journalist cum researcher Anuj Dhar. I have read his second book i.e. “India’s Biggest Cover up”. To pass the good word around, I gave it to an acquaintance and of course never got the book back.

Dhar and his friends at Mission Netaji have been working tirelessly for almost a decade to generate public awareness and put pressure on the Bharatiya government to declassify the Netaji files. It is primarily due to their dogged approach that a large volume of files on Netaji has been made available to the public. Their extensive use of the RTI instrument to force the bureaucratic crocodile to open its mouth is quite unique, especially where contentious historical issues are concerned.

I will briefly summarize the book contents before giving my comments on the book.

Book summary:

The book is essentially an updated version of Dhars 2012 book, “India’s Biggest Cover up”. The book picks up from the India Today story of 2015 which used the declassified documents to show that Netaji’s family has been extensively spied upon by the West Bengal (WB) government and the Government of India (GOI). It then updates the reader on the present status of the demand with pressure increasing on the Modi government to declassify the files (At the time of writing the major bulk of documents has been put online by GOI thanks to Narendra Modi). Mamata Banerjee stole a march on the vacillating BJP government by declassifying the files lying in WB closets. Also chronicled are Mission Netajis efforts to coax the files out of the government.

 

From the 2nd chapter onwards the reader is taken back into the late 1940s with the dramatic declaration of Netajis death in 1945 and the doubts which were expressed about the air crash theory by Allied intelligence agencies. The underhanded manoeuvring by “Chacha” Nehru, who setup the first sham commission in 1956 led by ex-INA Shah Nawaz Khan, is well described and backed up by solid evidence. Dhar skilfully describes the shoddy and biased investigation conducted by the congressified Shah Nawaz. The shenanigans of the second sham commission setup under Indira Gandhi in 1975, the Khosla commission, is also described in great detail.

 

The integrity and frustration of the head of the third commission, Justice Mukherjee, is also documented in detail. The Mukherjee commission was setup in 1999 towards the fag end of the NDA government and presented its report in 2006. The conclusion of the report was: the air crash story of Netaji’s death was fake. The Congress government rejected the report outright.
The undercurrent running throughout the book and something that literally hits you in the face is that of “Bhagwanji” alias “Gumnami Baba”, a sadhu who lived in Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh. By the skilful use of first-hand accounts and credible evidence, Dhar shows that Gumnami Baba was Netaji. For those who do not know this, Gumnami Baba passed away in 1985 and in Uttar Pradesh there was a strong outcry in the local media for the government to take action. A case was lodged in 1986 and in 2013 the court gave a decision to preserve and inventory Bhagwanji’s belongings. As I follow Dhar on Twitter, the items that are coming out from Bhagwanjis belongings are truly incredible: personal photos of Netajis family, intimate records, rimmed spectacles, Omega watch…the list is endless.

 

Some of the most interesting and startling bits about the book are the chapters on Bhagwanji and extracts from a Bengali book called “Oi Mahamanab Ase” . I won’t spoil the suspense and would encourage people to read the book. Needless to say, the thrust is that Netaji was alive post 1945 and was involved in epoch making events in India and across Asia.
Another interesting aspect brought out is that Netaji in his incarnation as “Bhagwanji” was strongly pro Hindu. This contrasts with Netaji’s blinkered view of Islam, which has been analysed by Sarvesh Tiwari in his blog (https://bharatendu.com/2011/02/10/subhas-chandra-bose/). The confused attitude of great Hindu leaders towards Islam is hardly new and the catastrophic consequences are well recorded.

 
My comments: The write-up is solidly backed by historical and documentary evidence. The book is well written. For outsiders it is quite enlightening to learn of the different factions in the Bose family (pro air crash theory and anti-air crash). For me personally, the air crash theory never held water. There was never a doubt in my mind that Netaji did not die in the air crash.

There are no quibbles about the content except that Dhar professes himself to be an anglophile. For anyone who has read or knows about the magnitude of British atrocities in India, this is quite annoying. However this attitude is held by a considerable number of well-meaning Bharatiyas, an artefact of our malfunctioning education system.

The major quibble is about the quality of book production. The paper and cover are good, but the typesetting is patchy and quite haphazard. The editing also is not upto the mark. Quite a few typos in the text. The book was clearly brought out in a hurry, possibly to pre-empt the release of the Netaji files by GOI. The previous book was well laid out and the planning showed through. I hope the next edition will correct these issues.

My recommendation is to buy the book . As I said previously, the content is excellent.

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