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Why it is OK to question Rohan Murty

 Why it is OK to question Rohan Murty

Rohan Murty has taken exception to sections of Indians opposing the appointment of Sheldon Pollock to the Murty Classical Library. I want to ask pertinent questions important for every member belonging to the Indian cultural heritage.

Firstly, what makes Rohan Murty an authority on Indian Classical texts to be able to choose a chief editor in the first place? What is his training in this field? Did he follow any formal hiring process? Did he entrust the responsibility to some scholars who eventually selected Sheldon Pollock from a bunch of prospects?

Is Rohan choosing somebody to translate and edit his autobiography? These are Indian classics. When they do not solely belong to him, don’t others have a legitimate right to question him for meddling with it? Moreover, these “others” are from the native culture and practice what is embodied in these Indian classics.

I know many people among the 132 signatories of the petition against Sheldon Pollock selection and each day they struggle to strengthen the rich cultural heritage not sit in the “peanut gallery” as Rohan suggests. Is Rohan insinuating that he can stand in judgement of their legitimacy in questioning his purpose and action. Most of them have spent more years with these classics than Rohan’s age! Is money the sole reason one should be accorded press and attention?

One of my professors aptly said something to the effect of, “We never claim any expertise on open heart surgery if we are not cardiologists. Doctors might refer patients to another specialist even if that organ is situated just next to the one they treat. But about Indian culture, classics and tradition, everybody seems to have an opinion in spite of the fact that we seldom practice let alone study what it encompasses”. Now that is what you can call “rich”. In a culture that valued knowledge above all else, I have no doubts as to which way the balance will swing. I guess we all have a right to choose the culture we wish to represent. But the refusal to even hear, let alone accept the native viewpoint is simply amusing particularly when it was Rohan’s father who wasted no time in voicing a certain opinion on the state of “tolerance” in the country.

One chooses whom one wishes to work with based on a concurrence of viewpoints. Obviously, being a person trained in research by America, it is natural for Rohan to choose someone who is from the same research community and therefore Sheldon Pollock. One cannot dismiss the possibility of Rohan having extensively read Sheldon Pollock’s works might significantly influence his position. But the idea that this is the reason why he is the best person for the job must be summarily rejected.

Cultures deserve the right to be studied in certain ways that are native to the culture itself. To use a contemporary lens, however alien, to examine anything just to suit one’s convenience is stupidity. Reminds me of a very skilled carpenter who has never learnt to use a wrench trying to fit a tap (or faucet as they call it in the US) using his trusted saw!! Try finding out what happened to such attempts on Chinese,  Japanese or other ancient cultures.

Cultures have a way of sifting the good from the bad depending upon what is in its interest. This phenomenon has occurred throughout history. It will test Rohan’s endeavor over time. It will choose for itself. It will endure and triumph. And when it does we had all better submit ourselves to it with grace.

Author: Archit Bhardwaj

Published: March 21, 2016

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