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What Rohan Murtys TOI Comment Really Says

What Rohan Murtys TOI Comment Really Says

I’ve seen a lot of excitement on social media about the “biased” media, “paid” media and so forth, but I’ve never actually seen it firsthand. So when Rajiv Malhotra launched his best-selling book “The Battle For Sanskrit: Is Sanskrit political or sacred? Oppressive or liberating? Dead or alive?” I thought it would be fun to check it out for myself. This led me to write my first blog on the topic called “The Battle For Sanskrit: Media Follies”. 

While I was framing the next blog on the topic, I realized that one article stood out from all the others. There was so much to talk about in that one that I made it into a separate blog. That article is Rohan Murty’s commentary in the TOI titled “The classics belong to the world, and no one has exclusive rights” and it’s the one I will be analyzing today.

So here goes:

First Impression

Rather pedestrian understanding of the situation couched in a tone of utmost authority. One wonders about the origin of this authority.

Detailed Analysis

Article Heading: The classics belong to the world, and no one has exclusive rights

Analysis

Later in the article Rohan refers to Greek and Latin as classical languages and also, rather slyly, slips in Chinese. We all know that Greek and Latin are probably actually not in use, but if someone claims to lump them with Chinese, he’s either misinformed or being dishonest. The Chinese don’t let anyone outside their tradition depict them any way they like. Sanskrit is classical in a way similar to Chinese, i.e., the tradition lives, and this means there are stakeholders who have rights, you cant proclaim that their works belong to the world with any degree of honesty. 
Other than that, it’s fair to say that no one has exclusive rights, but it does make one wonder why Rohan is claiming the exclusive rights. After all, if there are a billion Hindus all over the world today, his stake is one-billionth. How does this authorize him to take a decision for us all? 

Rohan: At the same time, we are actively working to encourage young people to familiarize themselves with classical texts, to learn the original scripts, to seek help from our annotations, and actually begin to read not only the English translations but also the original Indic works on their own

Analysis

I’m not sure if Rohan has said this inadvertently, or if he’s simply being sly again. The correct way to get young people to read the original works is by introducing Sanskrit at the primary school level again (we all know how the colonizers ruined our education system by driving out Sanskrit among other things). Another way would be organizations like Samskrita Bharati who are working to bring back spoken Sanskrit. Of course, Pollock has been known to say “This whole spoken Sanskrit movement fills me with a kind of nausea”, so maybe Rohan Murty won’t like it either. But this would help people judge for themselves what was written. Going the other way, you are taught that certain Sanskrit words mean certain things in English because somebody said so. This is not learning. It is ridiculous.
Moreover, per Rohan’s prescription, it means that in order to know Sanskrit you need to know English, which puts outsiders to the tradition in a position of being able to dictate to the insiders what their texts mean. This is unacceptable because they are already following their traditions.

Also, many Sanskrit words are non-translatable into English.  

Also, it’s not clear who the “young people” he refers to are. If the young people are Indians, he would have tried to translate Sanskrit to the vernaculars, but the project seems to be to translate Sanskrit to the foreign language English.

Rohan: Sheldon Pollock, our general editor, is an extraordinary scholar who, along with the rest of our staff, works tirelessly to create the most exacting scholarship possible…. His dedication and passion for producing high-quality and faithful translations that will outlive us all is evident to anyone who actually reads an MCLI book.

Analysis

I honestly haven’t read any MCLI book yet, so I referred to what a reader Siddhartha, had to say about the MCLI translated version of Manucharitra (Telugu) by Allasani Peddana, translated by Velchuru Narayana Rao and David Dean Shulman (one of the esteemed names Rohan dropped in his commentary) that appears as a review on Goodreads:

“A background first. Unlike classical languages in Europe, Classical Languages in India are very much alive in both conversational and literary sense. The language Telugu, from which this work was translated here, is the native tongue of more than 100 million people, including yours truly.

I learn't the language as my first language in school and a few Padya's (the numbered verse like thing in the book, for there is no native English equivalent for a Telugu Padya. Verse does not even come close.) in school and remember them by heart even now. The lyrical beauty of them is untranslatable sometimes so i would not mention it.

I am unhappy with how so many phrases were left out of translation. But even that is not my biggest disappointment with this book, it is the number of mistranslated phrases, which, considering one of the translators being a native speaker of Telugu is inexcusable. 

A good translation does not merely use a bilingual dictionary and put together the meaning in the native language. We do not need human translators to do that today. A good translation puts the reader in the shoes of the original reader and imparts him the social, cultural and historical background to relate to what they are reading. This translation sadly fails to do that. It simply makes things easy for its target readers, and in the effort, makes it clear that it is intended for non-Indian native English readers. 

A few jarring examples, i recall immediately are:

God Brahma is translated as 'the Supreme Lord' or 'the God creator', which at best is an approximation and simply does not convey what the author had in mind. In another phrase, 'Konda Chiluva' is translated as 'Boa Constrictor'. For the uninitiated, There were never any Boa's in India, so please read it as Python.

A verse 'Ghora Vana Pradesa' is translated as 'God Forsaken Place'. Sorry, this is junk. There is no such concept as 'God Forsaken' in Indian culture. The phrase literally translates to 'A dark and deep forest'. 

This translation might serve as a good introduction if you are new to Telugu, but if you have some background, it will be a letdown somewhat.”

Of course, here again, Pollock may not agree, because according to him, “There can be no such thing as an incorrect interpretation”. So I guess Rohan will say the same thing and maintain that the MCLI books are great. 

Rohan: Recently, there have been suggestions that political alignment should inform participation in MCLI. On the contrary, politics has absolutely no place in the work we do at MCLI and thus is not a factor in determining who collaborates with us. This is an enterprise of pure scholarship and genuine love, period.

Analysis

To illustrate Pollock’s “lack of political alignment”, “pure scholarship and genuine love” I reproduce a few lines here: 

Pollock says, “you cannot simply go around a tradition to overcome it, you must go through it. You only transform a dominant culture by outsmarting it.” Then, he very foolishly goes on to say, “That, I believe, is precisely what India’s most foremost thinkers, such as Dr. Ambedkar, sought to do, though they were not as successful as they might have been had they had access to all the tools of critical philology necessary to the task.” Ambedkar of course didn’t convert to Christianity or Islam, nor did he become a Marxist. He chose another dharmic faith called Buddhism that is not really considered separate from Hinduism (the Shrmiad Bhagwatam enlists the Buddha as a Vishnu avatar). So he was obviously not trying to “transform” or “outsmart” the tradition and culture.

Another gem from Pollock: “One task of post-orientalist Indology has to be to exhume, isolate, analyze, theorize, and at the very least talk about the different modalities of domination in traditional India.

The first statement of Pollock’s shows his political bend of mind and his determination to change the tradition and culture of India while the second one says that he intends to use the field of Indology to do it. And this is supposed to be the man to whom we must turn over the keys to our puja room, the room where Lord Rama resides.

Rohan: On this note, I am inspired by what the Mahatma said: "I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any."

Analysis

I think all the petitioners would be in agreement with this statement of the Mahatma’s. Ever since the earliest days, India has welcomed followers of every religion and embraced people of every kind. And we did this without sacrificing who we are. But Pollock’s intention of “transforming our dominant culture by outsmarting it” sounds ominous to say the least.

Therefore, his stated intention of politically engineering our sacred texts is something every Hindu, every nationalist and every lover of India would strongly protest.

I also have a little Gandhi quotation for Rohan- 

"The English ... have a habit of writing history; they pretend to study the manners and customs of all peoples. God has given us a limited mental capacity, but they usurp the function of the Godhead... They write about their own researches in most laudatory terms and hypnotise us into believing them. We, in our ignorance, then fall at their feet." 

Funny how Rohan just picked up a part of Gandhi’s sayings to suit his purposes while stripping it from the entire concept that was Gandhi. I think perhaps it is this tendency to selectively represent passages and misinterpret true intention (either deliberately or because of misinformation) that the petitioners are most afraid of.  

Rohan: Notwithstanding its early momentum, however, MCLI alone cannot be the panacea for the challenges ahead. At best, MCLI will produce some 2,500 volumes over the next 500 years, yet there are possibly millions awaiting translation

Analysis

Rohan seems unaware that Max Mueller’s attempt to translate a single Indian work led to the Aryan Invasion Theory. While this theory has since been proved false archeologically, these self-proclaimed “experts” (Pollock and company) continue to build theories around it. This is what some traditional thinkers have to say on the subject:

David Frawley in The Myth of the Aryan Invasion of India, Voice of India, New Delhi, 2002, p. 43.: "Dravidian history does not contradict Vedic history either. It credits the invention of the Tamil language, the oldest Dravidian tongue, to the rishi Agastya, one of the most prominent sages in the Rig Veda. Dravidian kings historically have called themselves Aryans and trace their descent through Manu (who in the Matsya Purana is regarded as originally a south Indian king). Apart from language, moreover, both north and south India share a common religion and culture."

Stephen Knapp from a chapter in "Advancements of Ancient India's Vedic Culture”: “Let us remember that the idea that the Vedic Aryans came from outside of ancient India and entered the region to start what became the Vedic civilization is a foreign idea. There was never any record, either historical, textual or archeological, that supports this premise for an Aryan invasion. There also is no record of who would have been the invaders. The fact is that it is a theory that came from mere linguistic speculation which happened during the nineteenth century when very little archeological excavation had yet been done around India."

No one is disputing that academics have to work with what information is available at the time. But the refusal to incorporate fresh information as it becomes available through empirical evidence is a highly regressive attitude towards academics. 

Second, The Aryan Invasion and resultant Dravidian separatism has given rise to the Dalit freedom movement, which is one of the factors tearing India apart today. Although, as we have seen, there is no historical basis for this Dalit freedom movement!

The project to translate 2,500 works by the same self-proclaimed group of “experts” seems astronomical in comparison to Max Mueller’s works, so one can only imagine the resultant catastrophic impact on Indian society (maybe exactly what Pollock has in mind).

Rohan: Given all that's to be done, I hope we can spend less time pitting Indian against Indian and instead think earnestly about how to best preserve our cultural heritage for generations to come.

Analysis

I quote here a representation of our sacred Ramayana and avatar Lord Rama that innocent American children are taught to sing in school:

The rulers who control all knowledge,
Claim the Ramayana to be India’s history
And call us many names – demons, low castes, untouchables.
But we are the aborigines of this land,
Listen to our story.
Today we are called dalits – the oppressed.
Once the Aryans on their horses invaded this land.
Then we who are the natives got displaced.
Oh Rama, Oh Rama, You became the God and we the demons.
You portrayed our Hanuman as a monkey.
Then again,
Muslims were targeted and ‘taught a lesson’ 
To destroy Lanka, Oh Rama, you
Formed us into a monkey army.
And today you want us,
The working majority,
To form a new monkey army
And attack Muslims.
Oh Rama, you representative of the Aryans,
Be warned, you purveyors of a self-serving religion.
We will be monkeys no more.
We will sing songs of humanity
And we will make you human as well.

When I first read this grotesque representation of Lord Rama I couldn’t believe that someone could say such a thing. How can any human being utter such profanities? And then it occurred to me, is this the kind of “preservation” Rohan Murty is looking for and forcing us as stakeholders to sign on to?
These innocent children are being taught hate at such a young age, totally unsuspecting about how their lives are being played with.  This is the kind of madness that leads to insensible wars and social genocide. But who will be held responsible for such destruction? Rohan will be dead and gone but what of our heritage? Will it have to shoulder the blame for one irresponsible Rohan Murty?
Also, when there is such a glaring difference between our living tradition and that being taught in American schools, it warrants a large-scale examination of the Indology and other “academic” groups that are driving it. There simply can’t be any excuse to set examination aide. It should take priority over any number of translations, however well-intentioned they may be. 

Another thing that one simply can’t fathom is Rohan’s problem with replacing Pollock with Rajiv Malhotra. After all, if we have a cashier in our employ and discover that he was involved in past embezzlements, we surely wouldn’t wait for him to do more damage before we get rid of him. If this can’t be done, at least ask Malhotra to take final authority.

Malhotra after all is a traditional scholar of the highest caliber. One just needs to actually read his books (Invading the Sacred, Breaking India, Being Different, Indra’s Net and of course The Battle For Sanskrit) to be able to recognize his expertise. Moreover, he is a prime example of the Life of Sanskrit.

Final Impression

If Rohan Murty had said that he was considering a change, or that he was open to discussion while putting all translations on hold, we would have thought his intentions weren’t bad. But there seems to be no room for dissent at all. 

Also, here he’s assumed a position of authority, telling us, “Listen, I have the power (this Western Indology cabal) and I’m the one with the ammunition (money). So anyone who stands in my way will be shot down.” 

Welcome to the world of the “intellectual” mafia.

Author: Sejuti Banerjea

Published: March 09, 2016

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. Jagrit Bharat is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article. All information is provided on an as-is basis. The information, facts or opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Jagrit Bharat and Jagrit Bharat does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.  

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