August 20, 2016: Google search 'Rohini Bakshi' and tweets pertaining to Sanskrit Appreciation Hour will fill up your page. You'd also find special requests for a particular script translation, questions regarding sessions and many compliments. By the time you figure out what's making the 'twitterati' go frantic, you'll realize you are in a pool of tweets with eager disciples of the Vedic language. And by the time you comprehend how big SAH really is, well I bet by then you'll already know the meaning of वक्रतुण्डं नमस्कृत्य गुरून् ज्येष्ठान् भवत। If you are skeptic about the reach of Sanskrit in 140 characters, you aren't alone. To satiate the 'eternal curiosity of our spotless mind', reporter Karishma Vanjani of NewsGram called up the founder of #SanskritAppreciationhour, Rohini Bakshi herself.
In a dimly lit room in the UK, she sits in front of her Surface Pro. We casually discuss Brexit and how everything is uncertain there but soon realize that with politics one could talk endlessly. Jumping onto the elephant in the room, we begin talking about the reason she started SAH and some of them were truly thought provoking in the true sense of the term.
Rohini Bakshi: If there's a single prime mover behind Sanskrit Appreciation hour, it is the fact that for almost five or six years, I looked for a teacher to come home and teach me or a course that I could attend without giving up my job, but I couldn't find one. Ironically, it's only when I came to the UK that I had the opportunity to learn. Hence, to make sure that people didn't suffer the way I suffered- I created SAH, an online hub for them to come learn. I call it suffering because if you really want to do something and you are not able to do it, it is suffering indeed.
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Rohini Bakshi. Image source: Twitter
I listened intently to her tale realizing it was the teacher in her that spoke. Unsurprisingly, other than conducting #SAH sessions, she's also a Sanskrit Teacher at Citylit London. She told me about her alternative life as a teacher.
Rohini Bakshi: Sanskrit urges me to call myself a learner more than a teacher because even till today there's so much to learn and I believe in one lifetime it's impossible to cover everything that Sanskrit can teach.
Type in 'Citylit London Sanskrit sessions' in Google and you'll find students calling the 90-minute Sanskrit sessions with Rohini 'a window into India's past'. Moving back to her twitter community, the one founded in 2012 which is now close to a whopping 11.1k. These numbers don't just include Indian inhabitants; they include people from Ukraine to the USA as well.
Rohini Bakshi (shakes her head): Let's not divide the eclectic list on the basis of their nationality. With Indians, it's the 'bhakti' part; the urge to know the meaning of the 'shlokas' they chanted as children. Everybody has the right to choose their own means to connect to their Gods. I chose mine and just like me, there were Sanskrit enthusiasts out there who chose the same. Additionally, I found people who were also motivated to revive the language.
For the first few years, Rohini preferred to conduct the sessions herself as it was nothing but a labor of love for her. But for the community to thrive, the variety was a necessity. Today, experts are invited to conduct these sessions, but only the ones that check the list. She listed some criteria's while talking about the credibility of these guest contributors.
Rohini Bakshi: Obviously, you have to know Sanskrit well, be able to justify your translations and answer any grammar questions thrown at you to be a moderator. Secondly, under no circumstances will politics be brought into the session. In my virtual classroom, if you may call it, I don't want any ideologies to be mentioned or any religion to be insulted.
Spotlighting the apolitical bit, she mentioned an instance of a heated debate that crammed her twitter timeline.
Rohini Bakshi: A Muslim community member modestly questioned me about the mystery behind the two Sri's in the name Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. As it was a Muslim's involvement in Hindu spirituality, he was faced with accusations and criticism. Hence my blog 'All about Sanskrit', clearly mentions- 'Your personal beliefs remain exactly that – personal.'
Lastly, after SAH reaching the apex of what anyone could imagine, there was an inevitable question I threw in regarding their aims. Are we here to reach a level where a teenager opens Twitter to check what's 'dude' in Sanskrit instead of a shirtless Daniel Radcliffe picture?
Rohini Bakshi: It's already happening and I have been getting queries regarding cool tattoos in Sanskrit more often than one could imagine. Like I said, it started fortuitously and took on a life of its own. We have already started various spin-offs. One of them being 'Sandhanam' which literally means 'joining of' and it speaks for itself; it's a non-profit service that we provide which connects people anywhere in the world via Skype to traditionally trained tutors in India. If you speak Tamil then we have a Tamil speaking tutor for you. To correct the imbalance in the remuneration, the entirety of fee by the student goes to the tutor directly for his sheer hard work. Secondly, we've moved into a book. Yes, a book based on Sanskrit Appreciation Hours will be releasing this autumn; it will be an Independent reader. Hence, staying true to the DNA of our program, we are enabling people to learn Sanskrit, one way or the other.
She ends with the line-' Nobody owns Sanskrit, nobody is the boss of it and we are here to serve it in our way'. A statement we completely agree with. We wish her forthcoming campaigning efforts prove to be fruitful and the hashtag beckons all Sanskrit lovers around the world.
– Interviewed by Karishma Vanjani of NewsGram. Twitter: @BladesnBoots