Friday April 19, 2019

Deven S Khatri: Meet the man who is on a quest to revive Sanskrit readership in India

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By Nithin SridharSajal Sandesh Sushma Swaraj

While Sanskrit is considered a ‘dead language’, a group of people in Delhi have taken it upon themselves to revive and restore Sanskrit to its ancient glory. After successfully running Sajal Sandesh– one of the few weeklies published in Sanskrit, they are gearing up to start a multi-page daily newspaper in Sanskrit.

In an exclusive interview with NewsGram, Deven S Khatri, co-editor and one of the founding members of Sajal Sandesh, shared his experiences in running Sajal Sandesh.

Excerpts:

Nithin Sridhar: Sajal Sandesh is one of the few weeklies published in Sanskrit in India. Can you tell us more about it? When was it started? Who are the people behind it?

Deven S Khatri: Sajal Sandesh was started on Vaishaka Sukla Akshaya Tritiya, i.e. on 13th May 2013 by a group of Sanskrit enthusiasts with an intention to spread the language worldwide. Many people from very diverse backgrounds have contributed to this initiative. Apart from myself, we have Pandit Rakesh Kumar Mishra, our editor who has done MA-Sanskrit from Delhi University, and Mr. Manishi Kumar Sinha who is a Senior Advocate in the Delhi High Court. We also have a group of volunteers who are working in various states.

NS: How are the weekly’s finances managed? Any support from the government?

DK: It is largely funded by individual donations. I and other founding members also invest our funds in the weekly. We have received no government assistance till now. Though we have been awarded DAVP (Directorate of Advertising & Visual Publicity) status from the government, we are yet to receive any paid advertisements from them.

NS: What was the inspiration behind this initiative? Any incident or situation that resulted in this initiative being started?

DK: Two years ago, when Kendriya Vidyalaya decided to drop Sanskrit as an optional subject, I and other members of Sanskrit Lovers Group decided to start our own initiative to promote Sanskrit.

During the same period, when we visited the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) campus in Varanasi, we noticed that many foreign students were speaking fluently in Sanskrit. They were even chanting various Vedic Suktas (Vedic Hymns). After witnessing this, we decided to start the weekly so that Sanskrit could be popularized among Indians as a common man’s language.

NS: How was the experience of running a Sanskrit weekly in India? What challenges did you face?

DK: Well, the experience has been amazing, but we did face many challenges in the beginning. Initially, we found it hard to acquire the news and get it translated into Sanskrit. We also faced some issues while printing the news in Sanskrit, as certain letters are absent in Hindi fonts. But the biggest challenge was in tackling the apathy shown towards the idea of  Sanskrit weekly by certain government bodies, organizations, and people who were otherwise advocates of Sanskrit. One by one we have successfully overcome these challenges.

NS: How much circulation do you have on average? Who is the targeted audience?

DK: At present we publish around 25,000 copies every week. We regularly keep getting emails, phone calls, and references for new subscriptions. Though we intend to take the weekly to every home, as of now our main target groups are universities, various government bodies, Sanskrit organizations, temples and gurukulams (traditional Sanskrit schools). We also have a small number of individual subscribers.

NS: What is the response from the readers?

DK: We have had a tremendous response from the people. Common people have welcomed this initiative. I have witnessed many people treating the weekly as a holy book. The response from the students in the universities has been very encouraging as well.

Many people realize the importance of Sanskrit and treat it as a mother to Indian culture and humanity. They have subscribed to our newspaper with this sentiment and respect, though they are not able to read Sanskrit.

Sajal Sandesh Maheish Girri

NS: Can you tell us about the name Sajal Sandesh? Any special reason for choosing that name?

DK: Sajal Sandesh means “pure message”. Along with the news, we want to impart pure values, hence the name Sajal Sandesh.

NS: After launching a successful Sanskrit weekly, now you are about to launch a multi-page daily. So what comes after this? Any long term vision?

DK: Well, our intention is to spread Sanskrit and make it a common man’s language in India. So, we do have plans to upgrade and expand our current operations over next few years, and we also plan to explore other initiatives that can be taken up to spread Sanskrit.

NS: When was the idea to start multi-page daily conceived? When will the daily be launched? Have you finalized its name?

DK: Well, the desire to start a Sanskrit daily was present from the beginning itself. But, back then, we were not sure whether we would be able to manage it or not. But, now, with two years of experience in running a weekly, we are confident enough to take up this challenge. We have submitted our application to the RNI (Registrar of Newspapers for India) and hopefully we will be able to start the daily in the month of October, during the Navaraatri festival. We have thought of a few names, but it is for the RNI to finalize the name.

NS: Today, Sanskrit is largely perceived as a dead language. What is the role of Sanskrit in modern life? Do you see Sanskrit reviving and re-emerging in the coming future?

DK: I completely disagree with the tag “dead language” that is attached to Sanskrit. Although Sanskrit has been downgraded in India, in many countries like Germany, China, and USA, it is being taught at various universities. Even in India, it is still alive, though its presence is limited.

Sanskrit denotes the richest culture of India and has solutions to many modern day problems. It is a very ancient language, it is a Deva-Bhasha (language of the Gods), and it is like a mother who can impart knowledge about various aspects of life.

It is rich in its philosophy and spirituality, and can contribute to various areas of modern society like economics, medicine, etc. Today’s society lacks basic human values like love, faith, kindness, respect, and honesty. And Sanskrit can deliver these values and enrich the society.

Therefore, we have accepted the challenge to revive and rejuvenate Sanskrit, so that it becomes a language of the common man, and we can restore India to its place of Vishwa-Guru (world-teacher).

  • Chandra Shaker

    Sajal Sandesh’s Great Work in revitalizing samskritam. Let us together strive to have samskritam conversation in daily lives. Because the understanding of bhaarat’s greatness is by speaking samskritam, and unity in bhaarat is also foreseen by speaking samskritam. Going to foreign countries we know it is all empty even though riches and wealth is abundant. ‘saare jahaan se acchaa bhaarat’, is all because of our samskruti. Let us revitalize our samskruti, let us unite, let us speak samskritam. Let us bring bhaarat’s past glory. If we get attracted to shining something foreign while forgetting revitalizing bhaarat’s greatness, we might fail together, because many foreign countries rely on bhaarat’s direction e.g., yoga & other shaastras, bhaarat has. Bhaarat’s shaastras are still very modern, state of the art. Please keep up good work by all who are uplifting samskritam. Thanks & Regards, Chandra Shaker, Columbus, Ohio, USA

  • arun@houston

    Abhinandan and shubhechha for bold and noble initiative……arun kankani, Houston, TX, USA

  • Andrea Marcialis

    We need more sanskrit!
    Andrea, Venice, Italy

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  • Chandra Shaker

    Sajal Sandesh’s Great Work in revitalizing samskritam. Let us together strive to have samskritam conversation in daily lives. Because the understanding of bhaarat’s greatness is by speaking samskritam, and unity in bhaarat is also foreseen by speaking samskritam. Going to foreign countries we know it is all empty even though riches and wealth is abundant. ‘saare jahaan se acchaa bhaarat’, is all because of our samskruti. Let us revitalize our samskruti, let us unite, let us speak samskritam. Let us bring bhaarat’s past glory. If we get attracted to shining something foreign while forgetting revitalizing bhaarat’s greatness, we might fail together, because many foreign countries rely on bhaarat’s direction e.g., yoga & other shaastras, bhaarat has. Bhaarat’s shaastras are still very modern, state of the art. Please keep up good work by all who are uplifting samskritam. Thanks & Regards, Chandra Shaker, Columbus, Ohio, USA

  • arun@houston

    Abhinandan and shubhechha for bold and noble initiative……arun kankani, Houston, TX, USA

  • Andrea Marcialis

    We need more sanskrit!
    Andrea, Venice, Italy

Next Story

The Errant Son: Mir Murtaza And Al-Zulfiqar

Would the Bhutto charm, have worked on India? And had it been so, would the map of the Indian sub-continent today, have resembled the idea of a free market zone in South Asia, with porous borders?

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Mir Murtaza Bhutto with Shahnawaz Bhutto
Mir Murtaza Bhutto with Shahnawaz Bhutto
Tania Bhattacharya
Tania Bhattacharya

By: Tania Bhattacharya

India-Pakistan relations have hit a record low following the dastardly Pulwama Attack on a CRPF convoy in Indian administered Kashmir, on the 14th of February this year. Curiously, the Pakistan PM Imran Khan, made a statement a few days ago, endorsing the Indian PM Modi, and suggesting, that in case there was a re-election of the latter, the Kashmir issue may be finally resolved. This scenario is significant, given that both Imran and Modi, are perceived hardliners in their respective nations. As some South Asian policy watchers have noted, it is hawks like the two aforementioned heads of state, and not peaceniks, who are more likely to take large risks over bilateral issues involving the two neighbours, since if any of them is required to acquiesce, they cannot be labelled as anti-nationals. Peaceniks, their good intentions aside, are looked upon with suspicion in their countries, which accuse them of selling out.

 

These are the heady days of jingoist patriotism in South Asia, where Right Wing organizations seem to be faring much better than the other political alternatives; but there was a time not very long ago, when Southern Asia was in a sweet spot between Dictatorship and Democracy, where conducive factors facilitated the spectre of Left-Wing radicalism, in both India and Pakistan. Between the imprisonment of Pakistan’s democratically elected PM Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and the mysterious plane crash that killed President Zia ul Haq in 1988, a shadowy entity by the name of Al-Zulfiqar had emerged out of the pale, and rocked the Zia dictatorship, with its nuisance value. What were the origins of Al Zulfiqar, and who, was its chief executive officer?

The PIA Hijack drama
The PIA Hijack drama

We must retrace our steps to the early 1970s, when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was the Pakistan president. His eldest son, and second-born, Mir Murtaza, would build a lavish tent on the sprawling lawns of 70 Clifton, the Bhutto residence at Karachi. Inside the private sanctuary he had made for himself, the young lad would read the influential works of prominent Marxist revolutionaries like Lenin, Mao, and Che Guevara. The walls of his tent would be adorned with posters of world-famous figures, who had adopted Marxist techniques and applied them to their personal agendas. Murtaza had become deeply involved with the guerrilla warfare ethos of Socialist insurgents and quickly became a role model for his younger male sibling, Shahnawaz, junior to him by four years.

 

Sensing that the wayward, and obstinate nature of the older Bhutto was getting him into trouble with his high school officials and law enforcement, Zulfiqar had insisted, that Murtaza abandon his tent, and his Leftist reactionary literature, to concentrate on his school syllabus, so that the straight and the narrow could produce results for the latter. As soon as it became possible, and after consulting his wife Nusrat Bhutto, the President had packed off his enfant terrible to study in the United States, and then to England, where he hoped, that a new environment would change him. It was here, that Murtaza shone. A thorough academic, he researched upon and produced a dissertation, concerning the consequences of India’s nuclear program, on Pakistan. He developed the reputation of being a cad, and somewhat of a lady’s man as well, during his student years in London, where he was a regular sighting at nightclubs, with one or the other pretty girl, on his arm.

 

His father, had made the issue of the ‘Muslim Bomb’ an international one, arguing, that since the Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Marxist political spheres had their own, ultimate weapon of mass destruction, it was only fair that the Islamic world follow suit. Israel though not openly belligerent with the bomb, was suspected of being in possession of the technology to construct one, in 1966 itself. Moreover, it had refused to sign the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty). Pakistan, under his leadership, he had sworn, would ‘gift’ the Muslim world with its first nuclear weapon. The president’s (and later, Prime Minister’s) son, would broach the topic on an academic level, and make its knowledge, widespread.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto with his third wife Husna Sheikh
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto with his third wife Husna Sheikh.

Murtaza was yet abroad, when his father, by the time, the democratically elected Prime Minister of his country, was toppled in mid-1977, in a military coup, headed by General Zia ul Haq, who until the event, had been Zulfiqar’s handpicked Chief of the Pakistan Armed Forces; and a man, that the confident, and arrogant premier, termed his ‘monkey general’. In a letter, handwritten to her brother, Benazir had advised him to travel to the United States, to meet with American leadership, that were friendly with the Pakistan Peoples Party, to plead for assistance in toppling the dictatorship of Zia. Interestingly, she had told him to steer clear of a top Bhutto aide, Ghulam Mustafa Khar. This is testified by Lt. General Khalid Mahmud Arif in his book Working With Zia. Khar, an uncle of PPP ex-Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar (2008 – 2013), had been a confidante of Prime Minister Bhutto, who he faithfully plied to the home of Bhutto’s first, secret mistress, and then, legally married third wife, Husna Sheikh, on a daily basis.

 

From the United States, Mir Murtaza had decided that it was not judicious to return to a strife-ridden homeland, which was experiencing its umpteenth military rule. Instead, he had flown to Syria and then Libya, to garner support from Bashar al-Assad and Muammar Gaddafi respectively. The Assads and Gaddafi were supportive of the Bhuttos. Zia to them, was an American puppet that had been installed as a means to an end, that too, through an undemocratic and unpopular regime change. It was in Syria occupied Lebanon, that Murtaza had begun building up a guerrilla outfit, which he named, the PLA (Pakistan Liberation Army). Members from the PPP back in Pakistan, were herded off to the Middle East, for rigorous guerrilla training, that was imparted by the Leftist PFLP (Popular Front For The Liberation Of Palestine). When Mir Murtaza deemed that the time was ripe for ambushing Zia’s men in positions of power; the trained militia of PLA flew to Afghanistan, where they continued further arms training, awaiting an opportune moment, to cross into their homeland, using the mountainous, and lawless tribal routes of northern Pakistan, which flanked the Durand Line.

 

While in Kabul, Murtaza Bhutto decided to rename his outfit Al-Zulfiqar Organization, or AZO. Shahnawaz, the younger son of the jailed premier, joined his older brother and was imparted training in guerrilla warfare, and violent Marxist insurrection. When not wielding guns in army fatigues, the young volunteers and the Bhutto brothers, would watch Bollywood flicks to kill time.

 

Initially, all Shahnawaz wished to do, was to open a tourist agency in Pakistan, and live quietly with the Afghan object of his affections. But the restless circumstances that engulfed the young man, forced him to join Al-Zulfiqar, all the more so, as it had his older brother at its helm; a man he had much admired from the days of his youth.

 

One of the first acts of the AZO, was to try to blow up Zia-ul-Haq’s plane with a missile, from an Islamabad rooftop. It did not produce the desired result. Next, was the hijack of a PIA (Pakistan International Airlines) flight. It was flown to Kabul, where the hijackers stated that the plane and its passengers would only be released if ninety-one political prisoners from the PPP, were set free from incarceration in Pakistan. Zia’s response initially, was a “No”. But once it became eminent, that there were no international mediators to take on the case on behalf of Pakistan; especially once Assad and Gaddafi explained the dilemma to General Zia, the latter was forced to rethink his stand. By then, AZO had reduced the demand from ninety-one prisoners, to some fifty-four of them. The Pakistan general was forced to comply with Murtaza’s bargain, as it released the PPP detainees from various gaols in the country, who were then swapped for the PIA plane and its passengers.