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Sanskrit is the new craze among Mumbaikars

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Fiona Fernandez

Chandrahas Halai is a man of many pursuits. He is a mechanical engineer, a mathematician, a travel writer and history buff. Tying these varied interests together now is a language that history seems to be in no interest to forget.

Last July, Halai signed up for a certificate course in Sanskrit that would eventually enable him to read the Samarangana Sutradhara. Written in Sanskrit by Raja Bhoja, the 11th-century ruler of Malwa region, this text is a discourse on civil engineering detailing the construction of buildings, forts, temples, idols of deities and mechanical devices. “I am interested in temple architecture.

In our country, temples 210 feet tall have been built in the pre-modern era. What was the sort of machinery that was used? How did the workers carry the stones to that height?” The answers to these questions, says Halai, lie in the 80 chapters of the book. And although translations exist, he fears much of the essence will be lost. Plus, he wants to avoid reading history from a Westerners’ perspective.

An interest in mythology borne out of a need to better a television script and a better left brain-right brain balance are some of many reasons driving Mumbaikars to Sanskrit classes. And, as is the case with Halai, it’s not in order to read religious texts.

Madhavi Narsalay, assistant professor and head of the department of Sanskrit at Mumbai University, says this year has seen 100 students enroll for the certificate course that runs over weekends. It’s full capacity. The numbers, she adds, have been at a high since 2000.

In between, the class average would be 50-60.

In 2013, she was asked to consult on the show by the producers of Mahabharat, 267 episodes of which were aired. “They wanted someone to provide them the exact story by reading the original texts and not translations,” says Narsalay, who has been with the department for 20 years. She would also be required to identify shlokas from the original text that would fit in when a certain character was introduced.

“For instance, for the entry of Draupadi who rose from the fire… I had to go back and read a lot of original texts,” she remembers.

Reading Sanskrit, however, isn’t everyone’s passion. Arjun Vyas, who greets you with a Namo Namah (he will make it a point to tell you that the greeting has nothing to do with the country’s Prime Minister), says he stumbled upon the class on a social messaging group and felt obligated to join. A few classes in, however, the 51-year-old industrial project consultant was hooked. “All my life I though Sanskrit was a difficult language, but it’s so easy,” he exclaims. Vyas attended the free of charge, 10-day, spoken Sanskrit camp conducted by Sanskrit Bharati in Bandra East this February. He recommends the class because it’s all about conversational Sanskrit: “Upanetram kutra aasti?” (where are my spectacles?)”. Which brings us to the tough question. Once they do learn Sanskrit, where do Vyas and his batchmates practise?

It’s a bit of an admission. “We would call each other and speak. Else, there are weekly sessions where people can come and practise,” he adds. Plus, he says, he now converses with his wife Snehal in Sanskrit. Snehal, 51, a breast cancer survivor says someone first asked her to start reciting Sanskrit shlokas in 2013 since it would help her tongue stiff from chemotherapy, recover. But, watching her husband speak the language fluently prompted her to join the class. “Part of the motivation was envy. How could he speak better than me,” laughs the manager at NIIT. Now, the two have found a code language to speak in, she says.

The lure of Sanskrit, says Malhar Kulkarni, who teaches the language at IIT-Powai, is that it’s free in order. “For instance, you can’t change the order of the words ‘tiger eats man’ in the English language without changing its meaning. In Sanskrit, this is possible,” says Kulkarni, who holds weekly classes for advanced-level students at Vile Parle, again free of charge.

Sanskrit, he says, also finds takers among software engineering students who want to use the language — considered to be the root of several Indo-European languages — to develop tools to analyse others languages and train machines to translate them.

Kulkarni emphasizes that the curiosity about the language crosses borders of religion and social strata. “It’s part of our psyche, everyone feels connected with it. Once I was walking in Vile Parle and came across two drunk men fighting outside an illicit bar. One, in a fit of anger, said to the other, ‘I will send you to the yama sadan!’ Not hell. But, yama sadan. That’s how much we’ve grown up with Sanskrit.”

This article was first published at midday.com

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Death Knell For The Rape Culture

The death penalty for the child rapist is going to see the light of the day

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Death knell for the rape culture
Death knell for the rape culture. Pixabay

By Salil Gewali

The death penalty for the child rapist is going to see the light of the day. Hearty thanks to the countless candle marchers. The credit also goes to those conscious media and columnists who all fueled the agitation and energized the activists. Here PM Modi’s dynamism can’t be overlooked either, because this ordinance, which was long overdue, has happened now.

Let’s all pray that the ‘fear of death’ will be an effective deterrent.  Hope, this will “frighten away” the real vices. In the meanwhile, it would also be very wise on the part of the government to look for other preventive measures since we have lot many “vices” in lot many avatars and assortments which only encourage the sex related crimes. There are also very dangerous “vices” which, when start to infect one’s thought-process, might give birth to the countless Trojan horses, Malwares, even virulent I-love-You. The virus infecting tragedy usually strikes ones very fast who are with weak inborn “antivirus”. This, in fact, turns “sane men into perverts” if one objectively analyses. But what is too bizarre is that some of such virus generating vices are let to flourish under the cover of silence while some are made to believe through media as “virtues” and while others as “talent” — with a whole lot of modish adornment and poetic adulation. Do you want to acknowledge that ones who cried hard against the despicable rape culture are the premier dealers of these vices? Some are producers too. I cut short here.  Because these days I fear the “thunder of hypocrisy” then the roars of the tiger in a jungle!

Candle March for death penalty of rapists.
Candle March. Pixabay

Yes, remaining complacent by mere hanging the perverts will be thus a downright immaturity. The identifying the causes of those vices that are hurting the society at large are equally important.  Of course, many try to overlook those vices as if they never make a bad impact upon the mindset an individual. Here I’ve an argument — has the heat of the hearth stopped boiling the water or burn your pack of currency notes to ash? As mentioned above, we can draw a perfect “analogy” between the virus infecting a computer leading to its inevitable “malfunction” with the people’s behavioral degeneration and wrong indulgences due to the continuous exposure and acceptance of vices.

Also Read: Rape Survivors in India Still Face Humiliation with Two-Finger tests and Barriers to Justice says Human Rights Watch

However, it would surely be good if the Government and awakened women organizations boldly pinpoint those forces as well which are culpable for presenting women as no less than commodities, and the dealers of the vices. In this, one is skeptical whether we can turn to the media with hope, or with doubt! Because, very absurdly, the definition of “good life” and its values have now been willfully distorted and redefined to suit the situation, plans and programs such that they would help further the agendas of that forces which rule the roost.

Stop the Terror of Rape.
Stop the Terror of Rape.

Anyway, whether one agrees or disagree, disinfecting/detoxing the “mindset” of the society is the only pathway to the sane society which we are now crying for. The healthy thought, healthy attitude, healthy acts can only toll the death knell for any kind of rapes or any kind of depravity.

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’. Twitter: @SGewali