Category Archives: About Books

There is actually a “town of books”!

a town of books in the UKThe “town of books” is not actually a town, but a village in the United Kingdom. The village is dedicated to promoting literature. There are many vintage bookshops in the village. I came across the link here.

Just imagine, a community or locality steeped in the love of books. The village is called Hay-on-Wye – I don’t even know how it is pronounced.

And here, a few days ago I was asking on Facebook whether people still have libraries in their neighbourhoods – remember those big buildings full of books that we used to have a couple of decades ago? Every neighbourhood used to have a library back then. Although I love the way new cities are being designed (from many angles they are accessible or it is very easy to improve accessibility in these neighbourhoods), there is scant regard for reading books. Our neighbourhood in Indirapuram does not have many bookshops. Our neighbourhood mall, the legend has it, used to have a bookshop in the beginning but since not many people bought books from there, it closed shop.

Not that people aren’t buying books – the various online retailers are an ample proof that the sale of books has in fact, increased. It’s just that book reading is becoming more and more individualistic. Just buy a book from Amazon or Flipkart and then read it. With the advent of e-book readers like Kindle Reader, even the need to have bookshelves in your house is becoming a thing of the past. Free and purchased books, I must have more than 100 books in my Kindle Reader. Had these been physical books I would have needed a big bookshelf. The old ambience of being surrounded by many, sometimes very old, books, is missing.

The “town of books” must be quite enchanting for, wherever you turn, you can come across a bookshop for a book shack or even plenty of people who would be eager to talk about books. A dream town or dream village indeed. If I ever visit the UK, I would certainly like to visit the town of books.

Review of The Sialkot Saga by Ashwin Sanghi

Review of the Sialkot SagaThe Sialkot Saga is a story spanning multiple generations. It is truly a saga unraveling various historical events happening in the Indian subcontinent and how they affect the two protagonists of the story, Arvind Bagadia and Arbaaz Sheikh.

Although it is a linear story, there are small breaks as one is repeatedly taken to ancient India, India in the Middle Ages and then to modern India to create the context. There is an underlying theme the story tries to tell, which is revealed in the end, but until you have reached a particular point, the reader is confused what genre Ashwin Sanghi is trying to cater to.

Normally in order to write reviews I take notes while reading books these days but in order to write the review of The Sialkot Saga I missed taking notes but this is primarily because I never thought that I would write the review of this book. I didn’t even hope to complete it. I thought I would read it for a few days and then move on to another book, forget about writing a review. Once I started reading it, I literally couldn’t put it down (although as it normally happens with me, it took me a complete week of intermittent readings to complete it).

The Sialkot Saga is a big book. It begins with Emperor Ashoka having a conference with his wise men about the written script of wisdom that has the capacity to shape destinies of not just individuals but nations. That script is like a template and only those with a particular mental and physical capacity can inherit its ingredients.

The novel is divided in various sections and “books”. After knowing about this small incident involving Ashoka you’re taken to 1947 when the Indian subcontinent was partitioned into Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. A train leaves Sialkot, a province in Pakistan, and by the time it reaches Amritsar, all its passengers are massacred but, seemingly, one small kid, who is saved by a lower-ranked policeman, desperately trying to find survivors.

For a while, two stories go parallel: that of Arvind Bagadia whose father is an averagely-successful Mardwadi living in Calcutta, and of Arbaaz Sheikh, whose father is a dock worker in Bombay.

Whereas Arbaaz Sheikh grows in a hostile environment surrounded by bullies and ruffians, Arvind Bagadia, although lives a comfortable existence, is in a constant state of unrest because he sees his father being treated shabbily by the more affluent Marwadi community. Arvind wants to grow extremely rich.

Arbaaz Sheikh, while trying to fight his street battles, is pushed towards circumstances and individuals that introduce him to the underworld of Bombay.

Arvind has an uncanny ability to find opportunities to make money, and not just loose change, but tons of money. Arbaaz is courageous and can see an opportunity when he comes across it. By the time they are in their late teens their fathers are dead and they have made their names in the fields of business and crime.

The ways Arvind and Arbaaz make money are not very different. Arvind cons people by rightly predicting political and economic turn of events in the country and Arbaaz rises financially by directly becoming the left hand man of an underworld don who is like the Godfather, the sorts that helps people in distress and in return, expects to be helped by them when the time comes.

As I have written above, there is an underlying theme. In between you’re taken to the various periods. For example, in the beginning the story begins with Emperor Ashoka talking about this mysterious script and how it is to be passed on to the future generations. Then you have different kings and emperors like Krishnadev Raya, (in between many more) and Maharaja Ranjeet Singh some way or the other using the script to give shape to great acts of worship and human well-being.

The plot also moves parallel to the various happenings in the country since the independence. So you’re constantly told about when particular politicians become ministers, when particular parties come to power or lose power, when particular constitutional amendments are made, wars with China and Pakistan, the rise and fall of Indira Gandhi, the rise and fall of Atal Bihari Bajpayee, the Kashmir problem, the various floods and earthquakes in the country, criminals like Billa-Ranga, stockbrokers like Harshad Mehta, various terrorist attacks,  and so on. If you have read The Midnight’s Children at least in this regard you will find a great similarity.

The story is not about a particular incident, as is the name of the novel, The Sialkot Saga, it is a saga. So these are two complete stories of two individuals, drawn towards each other in extremely hostile environments. They have a disliking for each other the moment their destinies bring them face-to-face. Till the end of the story, there is a conflict going on between them. From childhood they grow young and from their youth they grow old, but their rivalry never stops.

The Sialkot Saga is a mix of legends, mythological epics, the vast historical heritage of India, the modern history of the country, the underworld and the business world, culminating into the realms of the treatment of untreatable ailments, and eventually, immortality.

Reading The Sialkot Saga was a great experience although I was constantly being drawn to other books (which means I didn’t leave the book midway as a normally do when I come across a better book). I must confess that the book would have been better written. Considering the vast repository of knowledge Ashwin Sanghi has used, a better writing style would have definitely created a gem. Nonetheless, his comprehensive research makes up for the lack of the ability to come up with a fluent language. I’m very happy that I read this book and discovered Ashwin Sanghi. I am definitely going to read more of his books and if you ask me whether you should read The Sialkot Saga, it depends on your taste, but if you want to read a book for the sake of entertainment and a bit of intellectual stimulation, I definitely recommend it.

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Why do you read books?

why do you read booksWhy do you read books? Why do people who read books, read? Why do I read books? You will find literary, and also arcane reasons for reading in this Brain Pickings blog post. For example, Kafka read books because they were axes that helped him cut the ice of the frozen sea within him. Carl Sagan (of the Cosmos fame) saw books as proof that humans can create magic and by reading them we can become a part of that magic or participate in the enactment of that magic. James Baldwin believed that books can change our destiny.

This makes me think, why was I reading the book I was reading (The Sialkot Saga by Ashwin Sanghi) in the afternoon? Or rather, why do I read? I read a lot less than many people I know who read but still, I read more than an average, literate person does. At home we have always had a decent collection of books. When we dispose of books it’s not because we don’t want to keep them, we dispose of them because we don’t have enough space to keep them.

Anyway, that has got nothing to do with why one reads, but the point that I wanted to make was, I have been always surrounded by a good dose of books since childhood and considering the number of books I’ve read so far, I should have a fair idea of why I read.

Unlike those great writers and thinkers quoted in the above link, my reasons for reading books are quite down to earth and straight forward. Or if I’m using reading books as an axe to break the ice of the frozen ocean within me, like Kafka did, perhaps I have never sat down for a few hours to ponder over the topic. I neither see an axe, nor a frozen ocean.

I remember I have always been inclined towards reading. I couldn’t read till the age of 13-14 because I have cerebral palsy and back then we didn’t have special schools. This reminds me, surprisingly, my parents never made a conscious effort to teach me reading, although they were otherwise quite caring and loving. I remember I used to bug my elder sister to read me comics and other books and she herself being quite young at that time, she couldn’t read to me every time I asked. But I remember I used to feel very bad that I couldn’t read.

In my special school our teacher used to force us to read books. Not just read books, but also write a summary after completing every book. Wanting to read books on my own was one thing, but being forced to read them and then write about them was a different thing and most of the time I resisted. But that was the first reason why I started reading books. Ours was an NGO-run school so all the books in our library were donated and most of the people who donated those books had English books, so I mostly read English books. Later on when my mother started buying books for me she would buy English books (mostly recommended by the bookseller because I couldn’t accompany her) because she had always seen me reading English books.

Even when I was being forced by my teacher to read books, I had the tendency to take notes and try to understand words I didn’t understand. This was the second reason why I read books when I was small. I wanted to learn as many new words as possible. I have always wanted to be a writer. While reading books I would keep a diary and a dictionary with me and every time I came across a word I didn’t understand, I would jot it down and then look up its meaning in the dictionary. It’s another matter I never memorised most of the words (as my wife often says, that I’m a ‘process’ person, I like the process of doing things without actually intending to see them through their conclusion). A read to learn new words and I also read to learn how different writers write and weave plots.

What about reading for the sake of reading stories and spending time. Yes, of course. I have read many books just because I’ve found the story very interesting and captivating. I’ve spent entire nights reading books because I couldn’t put them down. Back then we didn’t have the Internet and TV to compete with the time that we could devote to reading books. We didn’t have Facebook and Twitter!

Why do I read books these days? Over the past few years I have been reading lots of non-fiction. Books on religion, books on intellectual conspiracies, books on political intrigues, books on personalities, even autobiographies. I have read these books to expand my knowledge and perspective. I don’t always agree with the writers but still I want to know what they think about particular subjects, so I read them.

But reading non-fiction is not as enriching as reading fiction, especially when you need to write fiction. So I have again started reading fiction, in fact, lots of it. Although many times I feel that I read in order to avoid writing, my experience is that I am most fluid and creative when I’m reading a lot. So I also read books in order to be able to write better. But I’m two-minded about this. My better sense says that these days I mostly read to avoid writing. Why do you read books?

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Review of The Battle for Sanskrit by Rajiv Malhotra

The Battle for Sanskrit review

Today I was ranting on Twitter about a video that they showed on Zee TV. The CCTV footage shows 5 goons barging into a class and beating up a student. The rest of the class quietly moved aside. Nobody intervened. The same thing is happening with our culture and history. Intellectual goons have barged in and they are doing whatever they want to do. They are interpreting our tradition and literature in whichever manner they want to do, and we are just standing there, either cheering for them or just throwing our hands in the air. Yes, there are some individuals like Rajiv Malhotra who have intervened. In the CCTV footage, you can see that although the entire class mutely watches the student being beaten up, the class teacher intervenes. He snatches a stick from one of the goons and then chases the goons out of the class. Maybe Rajiv Malhotra is doing the same thing while the rest of us just stand by the side due to ignorance, fear, or plain indifference.

If you have had prior experience of reading books by scholars like Rajiv Malhotra and Arun Shourie by now you know that the field of Indology has been a free for all battleground where only one army gets to fight. The history departments in various Indian universities have been run over by unapologetic Marxist historians and anybody from the West can appear suddenly like an enlightened avatar and start interpreting Indian mythology and Sanskrit literature.

We have seen how the so-called intellectuals like Wendy Doniger have wrecked havoc with the way the rest of the world (which basically means the Western world and western-influenced Indian world) interprets India’s great literary works.

Sheldon Pollock is one such intellectuals, who has taken upon himself to “detoxify” the Sanskrit grammar and make it more acceptable to the contemporary ethos of pluralism, secularism and whatever isms Marxist scholars like him can conjure up. He wants to be the Oracle of everything Sanskrit. He wants the world to look at Sanskrit through his lens. He thinks that only he knows how to properly study Sanskrit without getting affected by its inherent “toxic” grammar that conditions its indigenous adherents into mistreating people of low castes, women and, surprise, surprise, Muslims.

The book The Battle for Sanskrit by Rajiv Malhotra is an attempt to raise red flags on various claims and interpretations Sheldon Pollock has used to draw not only certain conclusions, but has also attempted to turn those conclusions into gospel truths that are to be used by Sanskrit scholars and intellectuals who follow him. The purpose of this book is not to create counter-literature, the purpose of this book is to highlight the problem areas so that Indian scholars can create counter literature and set the records straight.

In case you don’t know who is Sheldon Pollock, he is a big name in the field of the study of Sanskrit. Whenever a world-class Sanskrit scholar is sought, he is the go-to guy. People swear by his name. It is claimed that he knows Sanskrit like nobody else, not even the traditional Indian Sanskrit scholars, so great is his stature. He has written a famous book called The Language of the Gods in the World of Men and Rajiv Malhotra has extensively quoted the contents from the book in order to prove how patchy his conclusions are.

But if many of his conclusions and interpretations are wrong, how come he is such an authority figure, a person less acquainted with such a murky world of scholarship may ask?

This, is a big problem.

This, is the problem The Battle for Sanskrit tries to deal with. Instead of working as a true Sanskrit scholar trying to study a language, Sheldon Pollock has worn the cloak of a political activist who thinks that recognising the inherent sacredness of Sanskrit means encouraging the Hindutvavadi elements among Hindus. By nature, Pollock thinks, Sanskrit has been used to oppress people. It has been used to augment the power of Brahmins and strengthen the kings.

He believes, and this is not an exaggeration, that nothing good has come out of Sanskrit or Hinduism, and whatever good has manifested in these realms, it has come from external sources and influences. Here’s a glimpse (quoting from The Battle for Sanskrit):

  1. Greek theatre existed in Ghandhara (which is now in Afghanistan) and influenced Indian theatre. Thus, Sanskrit drama, might have been an adaptation of Greek Theatre.
  2. Greek sculpture was copied by Indian artisans in Afghanistan.
  3. The Sanskrit work written in India on horoscopes was translated from some lost Greek text. Thus Indian jyotish was shaped under Greek influence.
  4. A major Indian work on architecture was copied in almost every detail from a Greek text.
  5. A particular South Indian and Sri Lankan goddess was a result of a cultural transmission from Greece.
  6. Even the Ramayana might have been influenced by a translation of a work by Homer.
  7. Ashoka’s royal inscriptions were an idea borrowed from Persia.
  8. In mid-2nd century CE, Indians translated Greek astrology into Sanskrit.
  9. The ‘doctrine’ of omens and portents was borrowed from Mesopotamia.
  10. The Greek work on architecture, Vetruvius, was adapted into the standard work on Hindu architecture, The Manasara, in the 6th century CE.
  11. The Vedas are nothing but senseless hymnology and sometimes just random sounds with no meaning.
  12. Writing came to India with Buddhism – before Buddhism writing didn’t exist.
  13. Since writing came after Buddhism, Valmiki wrote the Ramayana and Vaid Vayasa wrote the Mahabharata after Buddhism and consequently, many of the portions of these epics have been borrowed from the Buddhist Jataka tales.
  14. So on and so forth…

His basic idea is, and I’m not exaggerating, that nothing good ever came off Hinduism, Sanskrit and basically everything that directly or indirectly has to do something with Hinduism and Sanskrit.

All the good things that happened in this part of the world either happened by fluke, or through foreign — mostly Greek, Muslim and Buddhist — influences. And just as an extra precaution, even if the Buddhists (Buddhists were originally, after all, Hindus) did something positive, they had to be Shakas and Kushans who came from distant lands.

The problem is not what Sheldon Pollock thinks of Sanskrit, the Indian civilisation and Hinduism, the problem is that he has enough influence to be taken very seriously (and he IS taken very seriously) by reputed universities, international bodies and boards and scholars. As mentioned above, his work, however faulty, is quoted in other works and these works are quoted in other works and this is how the web of faulty interpretations and conclusions spreads beyond repair.

Sheldon Pollock is so influential that

  1. A Columbia University chair in the name of Adi Shankara is being set up with the help of rich NRIs and he is possibly designated to head it as the most deserving and influential Sanskrit scholar.
  2. He is the editor of the Murty Classical Library — an initiative to translate and publish classics of Indian literature. Rohan Murty, the son of Infosys co-founder Narayana Murthy, has “gifted” $5.2 million to the project.
  3. Pollock had previously edited the Clay Sanskrit Library
  4. From the Government of India he has received the Padma Shri and the Presidential Certificate of Honour for Sanskrit.
  5. Some administrators at Sringeri Peetham, which was established by Adi Shankara himself, want to appoint Sheldon Pollock as a sort of ambassador of the legacy of the peetham.

And this is just a small glimpse of the power he wields. Tragically, the power that he wields doesn’t come from the fountains of knowledge and wisdom and genuine scholarship, the power that he wields comes from political activism, agenda-driven scholarly interpretations and the collective umbrella of Hinduphobia.

This background was essential to understand why Rajiv Malhotra has written the book The Battle for Sanskrit.

If The Battle for Sanskrit were to be the Ramayana, then Sheldon Pollock would be its Ravana, the main villain.

Even if not the main villain, he definitely is the central theme of the book. Rajiv Malhotra has written the book to raise awareness and awaken Indian scholars to the danger the Indian Sanskriti has been put in due to internal hubris and western-Pollock-influenced intellectuals. He doesn’t just criticise Sheldon Pollock and points out factual errors, he also puts a big blame on Indian scholars who have either been underplaying the attack by American Orientalism and western Indologists or are too hubris-ridden to counter-attack in an intellectual and scholarly manner.

The book begins with the account of how Rajiv Malhotra makes an effort to reach out to the stakeholders at the Sringeri Peetham to request them to reconsider their decision to anoint Sheldon Pollock as the representative of the Peetham. Rajiv Malhotra thinks, rightly so, that the person representing the Peetham should be someone who is actually living within the traditional framework of Adi Shankara’s philosophy, rather than someone who is just reading and writing about it as an outsider.

From there on the book segues into the way Sheldon Pollock has totally remodelled the field of Orientalism and has dumped everything that has gone wrong with Indians in general and Hindus in particular , yes, you have guessed it right, on Hindus.

When the Muslims invaded India they absorbed by osmosis the inherent violent nature of the Hindu society and in fact, if you believe Pollock, it weren’t the Muslims who were the aggressors, it were the Hindus. In fact, most of the Sanskrit literature was created by Hindus, according to Pollock’s bizarre logic, to torment Muslims. The Muslims were the rakshasas in the Ramayana and since the Ramayana justifies slaying rakshasas, Hindus found it justifiable to carry out atrocities upon Muslims.

Pause for a while, because you’ll need some time to digest.

In a Tehelka interview Sheldon Pollock said, “The Mahabharata is the most dangerous political story I think, in the world, because it is this deep meditation on the fratricide of civil war.

He dislikes the notion of Sanskrit gaining prominence in the contemporary world so much that in the same Tehelka interview he says, “You know this whole spoken Sanskrit movement fills me with a kind of nausea.”

It’s not just Muslims who learned to be violent from the Hindu society. The English imperialists took cues from the inherent imperialism among the Hindu society.

You might already be aware of the theory that it was the Hindu philosophy that laid conditions for Nazism in Germany and consequently, the Holocaust. Our scholarly Pollock subscribes to this theory wholeheartedly. The connection between Hinduism and Nazism manifested because people like Max Muller interpreted the Sanskrit texts according to their own warped views and religio-political pursuits…it’s an entirely different story and you must read it to get a clear perspective on the issue.

Even the roots of western oppression can be found in Sanskrit, according to the team of Sheldon Pollock, without throwing light on whether it was Sanskrit that was responsible for the oppression of African slaves, the native Americans and the Australian aboriginals.

So there you have it. A prominent scholar who has access to massive funds and biggest universities in the world is spreading canards (I know, it is a loose word but I don’t want to beat around the bush) about India’s ancient texts, and not just spreading them, but converting them into texts that are further used to create school and university books. He needs to be countered wholeheartedly, with full force, and The Battle For Sanskrit aims to ignite a sense of awareness and a sense of urgency among Indian scholars.

Why is it so important to counter this cabal of intellectuals and scholars? What’s the big deal if the scholars like Pollock go on twisting the Indian classics unquestioned? First of all, when our traditional ideas are translated in the West, in most of the cases they are taken out of the context, totally disconnected from the source. There can be many reasons, but one of the reasons is that the scholars who are trying to study the Indian tradition, the Indian sanskriti, they use a totally different model. They use the same scholarly models they have used to study Greek and Latin cultures.

This is a small problem actually. The bigger problem is the way the entire Hindu community is being portrayed as a highly biased, repressive entity that thrives on exclusion and casteism.

Rajiv Malhotra cites a poem taught in American schools:

The rulers who control all knowledge,
Claim the Ramayana to be India’s history
And called us many names – demons, low castes, untouchables.

But we are the  aborigines of the land.
Listen to our story.
Today we are called the dalits — the oppressed.
Once the Aryans on their horses invaded this land.
Then we who are the natives became the displaced.
Oh Rama, Oh Rama, You became the God, and we the demons.
You portrayed our Hanuman as a monkey,
Oh Rama, you representative of the Aryans.

Pay attention that bad-mouthing Hanuman would be counter-productive here because Hanuman lived in the forest, where the tribals live/lived.

The poem goes on…

But poverty grew and to divert the poor
From their real need, a new enemy was found,
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 purveyor of a self-serving religion.
We will be monkeys no more.
We will sing songs of humanity
And we will make you humans as well.

The theory that some alien race called the Aryans invaded the indigenous people have been scientifically debunked but look at these Marxist, agenda-driven historians are not letting go of their baby.

Highly advanced genetic coding analytics techniques have been used to verify that there hasn’t been a major change in the genealogy of the people living in this region for the past 9500 years whereas, according to the very same scientists who use and promote the Aryan Invasion theory claim that there was a big incursion around 3500 years ago.

They also claim that the sudden Indus Valley Civilisation downfall was due to the Aryan Invasion – recent palaeo-climatic studies have revealed that the Indus Valley civilisation might have perished due to a 200-year long drought caused by a monsoon aberration.

Still, it is the Aryan Invasion theory and hence, the victimhood theory that rules the roost – opinions are made, educational books are written, course material is prepared, lectures delivered, conferences are organised and grants are given on this faulty theory.

So yes, it isn’t just about a few misguided scholars propagating falsehoods knowingly or unknowingly, it is about the impact these scholars are making. Great damage has already been done and it might already be too late, but doing something is always better than doing nothing.

Another reason why we need to sit up and take note of this blatant exploitation of our intellectual wealth is that due to our own indifference, we are having to import our own knowledge that has been regurgitated. Just imagine, our scholars have to visit universities like Columbia and Oxford in order to study our own epics. Now while writing this, I remember that the Hindi teacher in my class had gone to the US to do her PhD (don’t remember whether it was on Tulsidas or Kalidas)!

Scholars like Sheldon Pollock are recreating the scholarly realms according to a western point of view, to be sold to a Western audience and the Western-influenced Indian audience in a highly digestible format.

Rajiv Malhotra writes that the centres of Sanskrit studies had shifted out of India into Europe and from Europe they moved to the US. Most of the academic Sanskrit research is going on in the US universities. They are mining our intellectual wealth and if this trend continues, India will remain an importer of knowledge about its own civilisation rather than being at the helm of the discourse concerning itself.

The Battle for Sanskrit is full of reasons why Indian intellectuals who are living within the traditional parameters should be the primary interpreters, interlocutors and disseminators of our heritage rather than the Western intellectual prestidigitators who are running their own religious, cultural, ideological, political and even commercial agendas under the garb of scholarly pursuits.

Take for example how the mid-80s telecast of the Ramayana epic is often held responsible for the early 90s flux among the Hindus, and hence, through guilt-by-association the entire epic is painted with the strokes of religious hatred and divine-vs-demons (Hindus vs Muslims/Christians/Dalits) theory. Progressive Hindus are advised to be cautious of the inherent violent and racist nature of the epic. Even the fringe VHP is brought into the fold and Pollock says that the organisation draws lots of inspiration from the Ramayana.

In this regard Rajiv Malhotra quotes an incident of how these intellectuals write questionable materials and then quote each other to further each other’s careers: in March 1993 US academics Lloyd and Susan Rudolph published an article in the New Republic titled “Modern Hate” in which they discussed how the BJP had hijacked Hinduism and the Ramayana (PDF link to the article).

…In January 1987, an eighteen-month-long serial of the Ramayana based on the manas began airing at 9:30 AM, prime-time, on state-run TV.

…10 months after the Ramayana megaseries, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Coucil) called on Hindus throughout India to make holy bricks, inscribed with Rama’s name, for use at Ayodhya. They are, at the site of Rama’s birth, on the place of the Babri Masjid, they would build a temple to Rama.

In the article the Rudolphs have used Sheldon Pollock’s divinization-dominization theory to prove how the Ramayana can be used/is used, to incite violence (due to its inherent toxicity).

You will find it quite fascinating that Susan Rudolph and Lloyd Rudolf were awarded the Padma Bhushan and Sheldon Pollock the Padma Shri by the Congress-led UPA government.

Pollock had started his own projects on the Ramayana in the early 80s with his own conclusions and inferences and he was never rebutted, neither by his own western fraternity nor by Indian intellectuals. It took just 9 years for his ideas to become mainstream.

In 1996 the prominent French political scientist Christophe Jafferlot quoted the Rudolphs in the book that he wrote on Hindu nationalism:

…Thus, the broadcasting of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, as Lloyd Rudolph has suggested, was ‘playing a leading role in creating a national Hindu, a form of group consciousness that is not hitherto existed’.

Again, this is just one example of how a particular vested interest formulates it totally misplaced theory and then how multiple intellectuals quote this story to validate it and to perpetuate its existence. The lie, after a fierce cycle of repetition, tragically, becomes the truth.

The main argument of Sheldon Pollock, which Rajiv Malhotra disagrees with throughout the book, is that rather than being a language that encouraged social interaction, Sanskrit was used as a principal instrument of domination in active collusion between the Kings and the Brahmins. Sanskrit facilitated the “othering” of non-Aryan and non-Brahmin communities. It was used to produce and disseminate literature that would make the kings divine (Rama) and the people who went against the wishes of the king shudras and malechhas (demons).

The Brahmins were the creators and propagators of this Sanskrit-supported myth. The grammar of Sanskrit, Pollock claims, was constructed in such a manner that people who used the language and internalised its texts would automatically be biased against communities and cultures they deemed inferior.

Pollock says that Sanskrit was never used by common folks. In fact, he says that the language went mainstream only after Buddhists invented writing and people began to write in Sanskrit. He pays no attention to the oral Sanskrit tradition that had existed thousands of years prior to writing becoming mainstream.

By the way writing came to this part of the world a few thousand years before Buddhism. Even the Indus Valley Civilization is known to have a script that still hasn’t been deciphered, and the Indus Valley Civilization existed in around 4500 BC.

Sheldon Pollock believes that Sanskrit as an active, spoken language, has no business existing. Like other classical languages like Latin and Greek, Sanskrit should be confined to scholarly museums, only to be learned and interpreted  by a particular clique of scholars, as a dead language. It should be quarantined. He wants to create an army of western and Indian intellectuals and scholars that will help him detoxify the language and make it more acceptable to modern ethos of secularism and tolerance.

Rajiv Malhotra on the other hand says Sanskrit is very much alive. There are many scholars actively using Sanskrit to create literature. It is being spoken in many spheres. The only problem is, it is not as prevalent as it deserves to be.

Even in ancient times Sanskrit was widely spoken. There are ample proofs of Sanskrit being used by common people. Rajiv Malhotra mentions Chamu Krishna Shastry who has compiled textual evidence showing that Sanskrit was spoken by common people in ancient times.

The celebrated Sanskrit grammarian Panini created separate lists of Sanskrit words that were used in Vedic rituals as well as the words used in day-to-day interactions. Patanjali, another ancient Sanskrit grammarian, has listed many Sanskrit words used by farmers, and even ruffians, gamblers and tricksters!

He contends that if ancient languages like Mandarin, Hebrew, Arabic, Japanese and Persian can remain mainstream, why can’t Sanskrit?

We shouldn’t rescue Sanskrit from the clutches of American Orientalists simply because of its exotic value or because of a hollow sense of pride; it actually contains a wealth of knowledge, and this knowledge is already being mined by Western scholars to make it their own. Concepts of science, abstract philosophy and mathematics yet unknown to the mankind are preserved in our ancient Sanskrit texts. There will come a time when we will be using our own knowledge as Western concepts without even knowing it that they come from India.

Often while reading the book you wonder, “if this, this, this is wrong, then what is right?”

Although in many instances Rajiv Malhotra has quoted counterarguments by other scholars, he hasn’t provided many rights to the wrongs propagated by the likes of Sheldon Pollock and he has specifically mentioned that.

The Battle for Sanskrit is not a pointwise rebuttal, it is an attempt to raise red flags.

He pinpoints problem areas where traditional scholars must focus on and come up with counterarguments.

He also stresses upon the importance of inculcating and nurturing a tradition of purvapaksha —  the practice of studying and understanding the point of view of other fields of thoughts, religions and scholarship.

During a conversation with Rajiv Malhotra, Sheldon Pollock points out that it is not his problem that he is never countered. And he is right. If he is not countered, if his mistakes are not pointed out, if his claims are not debated, why would he try to change the narrative that is reaping so many benefits for him? Unless his point of view becomes a liability for him, he is not going to admit that he is wrong.

Scores of religions came to India but we never studied them, we never understood them. The British came to India and wrote hundreds of books on our culture, social norms and economic disparities. Our writers and scholars didn’t study them, didn’t write treatises on them. Syrian Christians came to India almost 700-900 years before Islam but nobody in India tried to understand them. The same was the case with Islam. We have never had our own historians visiting foreign lands, observing the norms and writing about them. We have always been the subjects. We have never been the observers. This is also one of the wrongs that Rajiv Malhotra thinks we should  right.

In order to create scholarly literature our intellectuals and scholars, while remaining steeped in our own traditions, need to adopt modern models and acquaint themselves with contemporary scholarly vocabulary, terms and definitions. They need to fully understand Christianity, Islam and other religions according to the traditional ways of analysis and deduction which is much holistic and broad minded compared to Western contemporary methods. We need to have our own subject matter experts on other religions and methods of learning.

Again, in The Battle of Sanskrit you may not find many solutions to the questions that trouble you. This is not a solutions book; it’s a red flags book. It points out where the problems are. It gives our Indian traditional scholars a point of reference, from where they can start and what direction they can follow if they want to follow.

Should you read this book? Yes.

The review of Autobiography of a Yogi

Portrait of Steve Jobs holding Autobiography of a Yogi

Autobiography of a Yogi, as the name suggests, is an autobiography of an Indian yogi named Paramhansa Yogananda. Prior to becoming a yogi, his name was Mukunda Lal Ghosh and was the fourth child of a financially comfortable Bengali family.

From his childhood itself he was drawn towards spiritualism, search for God and finding the true meaning of life. Once he scared his little sister by drawing three paper kites (being flown by other kids on other roofs of the adjacent houses) to him successively by simply wishing for them to come to him. His father, Bhagabati Charan Ghosh, was employed on a high post in the Indian Railway in British India.

There are many books in my Kindle collection that have just been randomly added for many years. A few times it has so happened that I have come across a book while reading something else and thought of purchasing it. While purchasing I’ve discovered or realized that I already have that book with me. Autobiography of a Yogi is one such book. I had purchased it many years ago and then forgotten about it. Forgotten in the sense that normally when I was browsing through my index, I often used to come across this face of a yogi with a flowing mane staring at me (the cover of the book), I would look at the title and then move onto another book.

Now I don’t remember why recently I started reading Autobiography of a Yogi but I do remember someone telling in a YouTube video that Steve Jobs used to read this book once every year and he would often gift the book to family, friends and colleagues, as a source of self-realization. Perhaps that was also one of the reason why I started reading the book (you see, we Indians have this tendency of finding things more fascinating when they have been accepted and endorsed by Westerners).

But that was not the only reason (Steve jobs reading and recommending Autobiography of a Yogi) why I kept reading the book once I started reading it (I mention this because these days I don’t waste my time if I don’t find a book worth reading, just because I have purchased it).

In the beginning of 2015 I chanced upon a great book called Law of Attraction (another book in my collection that has been there for years, unread) and once I started reading it, I found myself agreeing to almost the entire content of the book and ever since then, have applied many suggestions given in the book to my own life. Not that my life has miraculously changed or anything, but everything described and documented in the book is so logical that even believing in miracles doesn’t seem illogical.

The events described in Autobiography of a Yogi are just a continuation of the central theme of Laws of Attraction, that you are the one responsible for whatever is happening in your life. If you want to remain healthy, you just need to will to remain healthy, if you want things to happen the way you want them to happen, you just need to will them to happen just the way you want them to happen. It may seem absurd, but if you read Laws of Attraction and then Autobiography of a Yogi, you will find a great similarity. What has been described in Laws of Attraction in theory, has been demonstrated as real-life examples in Autobiography of a Yogi. The fundamental philosophy of life remains unchanged, whether it’s the West or the Orient.

The only difference between both the books is that Autobiography of a Yogi doesn’t mince the words when describing miracles. For example, when Paramhansa Yogananda (Mukunda) was a teenager he fell so sick that he would have died any minute. His mother fervently prayed to the family’s spiritual guru Shri Lahiri Mahasaya and even urged Mukunda to pray to the great Yogi, which the child did with great concentration. There was a flash of light in the room and Mukunda was instantly cured, reaffirming his faith in the supreme power of sadhana.

Throughout the book he gives ample examples of yogis appearing and disappearing from and into thin air, of them travelling through length and breadth of the country while sitting in meditation, and controlling the matter and the laws of physics and drawing solid things out of nothingness.

Everything is explained scientifically so there is no miracle. There are many things that are very difficult for us to understand simply because we don’t have that sort of insight and intelligence. You need to read the book with an open mind if you really want to complete it and even if you don’t believe in the miracles described in the book, the philosophy explained in the book will give you an insight into how one should live his or her life.

The lives of many saints have been chronicled in the book, especially of the yogis and gurus that directly influenced Paramhansa Yogananda. There are a couple of chapters on Lahiri Mahasaya who was one of the greatest yogis despite remaining married and having kids.

Then there is the mention of Babaji who is described as an avatar, or rather, Mahavatar. It is believed that Babaji never dies. He lives like a true yogi, mostly in Himalayan caves, and he is also believed to have given yoga initiation to Adi Shankara and then later on, after many centuries, to Kabir. Babaji tutored Lahiri Mahasaya and initiated him, then Lahiri Mahasaya tutored and initiated Sri Yukteswar and then Sri Yukteswar tutored and initiated Yogananda Paramhansa. Once Babaji decided to leave this world but his divine sister urged him not to and then he declared that he would never leave this world, so he is still supposed to be alive.

There are many instances of yogis achieving higher realms of living and being a yogi doesn’t mean that you have to be from India. Paramhansa Yogananda, after having moved to the United States on the instruction of his master (the entire line of masters including Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya and Sri Yukteswara it seems have been preparing Paramhansa Yogananda to spread the knowledge of yoga in the Western world), was returning to India once and on his way he visited a Bavarian stigmatist Therese Neumann who would manifest the wounds of Christ (called stigmata) every Friday. She never ate food. Every morning at 6 AM she would just eat one consecrated wafer. There are a few other yogis who don’t need to eat food because they can survive on the cosmic energy.

The most fantastic aspect of the book is the chapter where Paramhansa Yogananda writes about the coming back of his own guru, Sri Yukteswar, after death. Sri Yukteswar tells Yogananda that after leaving Earth, he went to another planet called Hiranyaloka as saviour of more advanced beings (compared to the beings on Earth). At the time of the writing of the book, Sri Yukteswar was aiding the superior beings of Hiranyaloka to liberate them from astral karma. The inhabitants of that planet have already gone through the cycle of life and death on Earth and have attained a higher form of consciousness before they can rise further. On that planet or in that realm of consciousness, they are still trapped in some form of karmic cycles which they need to get rid of before getting nearer to the God being and Sri Yukteswar, being an enlightened being himself, was helping the inhabitants of the planet.

The world as we know, according to the revelations made by Sri Yukteswar after his resurrection, exists as different layers of consciousness. In the consciousness where he was living at that time, there was no sadness and pain and everything was beautiful. He describes in detail in how much bliss the inhabitants of Hiranyaloka live and through what spiritual and physical processes and births the people of Earth have to go through before landing on such a planet. Sri Yukteswar verifies the infinite universes and parallel existences described in the Hindu Upanishads, written thousands of years ago.

Personally the only nagging point in the book is that although the book has been written in and around 1945 and it describes a period between somewhere around 1915-1940, not even once he talks about India’s freedom struggle. He goes meets great scientists Bose, he also interacts in detail with Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi, but he never talks about the various events unfolding at that time in British India.

Understandably the book has been written more for Western readers rather than Indian readers and you can make this out from ample examples from Bible and other Christian saints. He constantly calls various Indian saints and yogis “Christlike”.

Would I recommend the book? Yes. Would you trust or believe the events, phenomenon and personalities described in the book? It depends on your personal belief. In order to believe what’s written in the book you don’t need to believe in the supernatural or the miraculous. I’m not a superstitious person but I do believe beyond an iota of doubt that there are many aspects of this world that we don’t understand. Modern-day science was once considered witchcraft. Scientists were put to death for saying that the earth goes around the sun instead of the sun going around the earth. So maybe the miracles that seem miracles may no longer remain miracles once someone can properly explain them and prove the science behind them.