Saturday, November 26, 2016

HH Dalai Lama on what Indians should do

Paraphrasing what He said at the end of a short talk on meditation:
 To my Indian brother and sisters: it is extremely important to keep the values of your traditions even as you are acquiring Western science and technology. These wonderful special centuries old traditions must be combined with modern material progress. This is so that they not only benefit Indians but also be a great contribution to the entire humanity.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Learning the Amarakosa - I. Amarakosa by the numbers.

Amarakosa is the most renowned Sanskrit lexicon, memorized by a traditional Indian student when introduced to Sanskrit. The beauty is in the way the words are organized - in verse and as a thesarus where words for the same concept are grouped together and related concepts follow each other. To add to this, the work also tells us about the gender of the nouns. All this makes it easy for the traditional pandit who has studied the amarakosa to easily read Sanskrit texts without needing to keep referring to a dictionary. This facilitates the better recognition of subtle word meanings and reading flow, compared to the modern student who needs to breaking her reading to refer to a dictionary and is often confused as to which meaning to adopt.

For some adult learners, understanding the structure and scope of the amarakosa can aid in planning their study better. So here is a summary of amarakosa by the numbers:

1) As explained in [1], amarakosa has 11,580 words.

2) However, some words are repeated since they stand for different concepts. e.g. rauhiNeya is the word for both balarAma and budha (mercury).  We therefore have a total of 9031 unique words.

3) These words belong to 1407 synonym sets (synsets). For e.g. siva (the bhagavAn) is one synset comprising 52 words in 5.5 sloka-s, the first of which (comprising 11 words) is:
शम्भुरीश: पशुपति: शिव: शूली महेश्वर: ।
ईश्वर: शर्व ईशान: शङ्कराश्चन्द्रशेखर: ॥ I.30 ||

Another synset example is that of  "cloud" which has 15 names arranged in 1.5 sloka-s as follows:
अभ्रं मेघो वारिवाह: स्तनयित्नुर्बलाहक: ।
धाराधरो जलधरस्तडित्वान् वारिदोऽम्बुभृत् ॥
घनजीमूतमुदिरजलमुग्धूम्योनय: ।

3) The 11,580 words are organized in 1550 sloka-s; as per the Sardesai-Padhye book [2] that I follow.
Incidentally, [1] mentions 1608 sloka-s. Even with [2], i get a few discrepancy in counts (say, 2 sloka-S in a kAnDa) but since these are marginal so i do not describe the differences.

4) The sloka-s are distributed in 25 varga-s (chapters)
(i'm counting the vyoma and dik varga-s in the 1st kanDa as two separate. Not sure if they're sub-parts of one vyoma-dik varga)

5) These 25 varga-s are classified into 3 parts (kAnDA-s).

6) Here is a frequency distribution of the slokA-s by varga. This is useful as one learns and wants to track progress. The traditional approach, AFAIK, is not to keep quantitative track at all but just keep a set time and duration every single day without fail - eventually you are bound to reach the destination.

[2] classifies sloka-s as mUla and kSepaka. Am not sure how this is arrived at (possibly due to development of a 'critical edition') but my understanding is that the kSepaka sloka-s are thought to be later additions not belonging to the original. In [2], kSepaka slokas account for a small 3.7% of all the sloka-s. In one Hindi translation of the amarakosa, these sloka-s are called prakSipta sloka-s.


How long does it take to memorize the amarakosa? This obviously would vary by circumstance (full-time pathasala student vs part-time sanskrit learner) but [1] gives a range of 6 months to a year.  Taking the outer limit, this would mean memorizing 4.4 slokas, on average. This isn't too difficult - especially if you are starting young. But then one also needs to take into account time to review previous lessons, holidays etc. [2] in their introduction, talk of students (in the 'modern' education mode) studying the amarakosa in grades IV to VII. This means studying it across four years from the ages of 9 to 12; just one sloka a day on average!

Our tradition is primarily one of intense oral knowledge transmission. Such being the case, traditionalists are extremely comfortable with memorizing, and later cross-referencing and intellectually playing with that information in their head. They never get intimidated with works even more than a 1000 verses long such as the amarakosa; they have several such works memorized.  The advent of western methods of teaching have its benefits but a huge drawback has been that students get intimidated with memorizing even, say, 100 sloka-s. So sri mahAdeva sivarama goLe brought out an amarasAra (an abridgement of the amarakosa) and, in the introduction, says something to the effect that it is impossible for a student to memorize the full work with all the activities that students are involved in 'nowadays' (100 years ago!). Practical experience goes against this statement. It is very much possible - even essential - to memorize and study the whole amarakosa, if one is a serious Sanskrit student. AFAIK, in the ideal traditional setting, a young student first learns the viSNu sahasranAma (beginning, say, at the age of three if the pronunciation is good) and then move onto the amarakosa so that this is memorized by the time the child is about six/seven.

I met a Sanskrit professor some years ago and she was saying she still studies the amarakosa (she was about 55 when i met her). So no despair if one is 'old'. Start!

[1] The Knowledge Structure in Amarakośa.  Nair, Sivaja S., Kulkarni, Amba.
Sanskrit Computational Linguistics, Volume 6465 of the series Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 2010, pp 173-189

[2] amarA's nAmaliMgAnusAsanam, Dr. N.G.Sardesai and D.G.Padhye, Oriental Book Agency, Poona, 1940

Monday, August 15, 2016

Certified passport copy from the Chicago Indian consultate

(No tax or legal advise ahead; just our recent experiences on this)

Some of us Indian citizens who have had to file a U.S. tax return may have had to get a 'Tax Identification Number' for our spouses in the course of filing our own returns. In my case, U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) required me to either mail them our spouse's Indian passport or alternatively, mail them a 'certified copy' of the passport. This certification cannot be just a notarized one; the certification needs to be done by the authority that issued the passport; practically, this means the Indian consulate for us.

Unfortunately, the Indian consulate (Chicago) website does not mention anything about "certified copy" in their list of miscellaneous services. Speaking of which, the website is quite a mess; the url does not inspire confidence ("is this really the official website?", one wonders). Clicking on "Consular services -> Miscellaneous services" gives an "Oops...404 error", the search button is useless, and good luck finding something as basic as the phone number. A google search got me the numbers, but tried calling them up three days continuously but no even lifts the phone!

So we were forced to take our chances and drive 400 km to Chicago to get certified copies. We took along the following documents :
a) Completed "miscellaneous services form"
b) Copy of (spouse's) passport - front, back
c) Copy of (spouse's) U.S. drivers license
d) Cash, $13 (we guessed this amount based on the other misc. services on the website, and we were right).

AFAIK, you need notarized copies of the above documents only if you are applying by mail. We took simple copies. If you need two certified copies of the passport,take two copies of everything and $26 cash.

The office is located in prime Chicago; parking is crazy. There is no parking for the Indian embassy specifically but public parking lots are close by. Parking is expensive; we ended up paying $26 for two hours in one particular parking structure. A better thing would be to use something like 'Parkwhiz'. Also saves you the hassle of hunting for parking; you'll have a specific place when you reach Chicago.

We reached at about 11:30 am on a Tuesday and were very apprehensive on any help based on the website and telephone experience, as also our experiences with babudom in India.

When we reached there was a long line. Of one person. And our experience in the consulate was very good! Was refreshing to get to speak in Hindi. This with a  helpful Gujju uncle behind the counter. Turned out that one of the drivers' license copied was missing (we wanted two certified copies; one to keep just in case). A notice board at the reception said something to the effect that you need to go outside and get copies done if you need them (another 30 mins all in all probably). But Gujju uncle very helpfully again said that he'll get one done himself and we should not worry. And thankfully he was very aware of the certified passport copy required by the IRS.

As i understand it, the standard procedure is that all walk-ins at the consulate are entertained until 12:30 pm (they break for lunch between 12:30 - 1:30 pm i think). If you were served within that time, they return the original passport and give you the certified copies at 3:30 pm. Here again we were pleasantly surprised that Gujju uncle said "I think you've driven a lot to come here. So why don't you come in an hour to collect your originals and the certified copies instead of waiting until 3:30 pm".

When we got back after an hour, the officers had already started lunch so we were concerned about a long wait. Again, one of the officials who was passing by to wash his hands after a hearty lunch of possibly puri-bhaji (judging by the oily hands) asked if we were waiting for something. When we explained he said 'Oh, don't wait for that. We'll give it you earlier". After 15 minutes, a lady came out and told the small group waiting for all sorts of certifications that if all we were waiting for was documents, they'll be happy to give these right then. And we got our documents back 5 minutes after this lady spoke. Super stuff!

So overall, i think i went with a very prejudiced mind to the Chicago Indian consulate but happy to say that they were very responsive and efficient. I think the place they really need to get right is the communication aspect (website/telephone). I would also add that the place looked quite shabby; there was a pile of furniture pieces/wood lying in a corner (!), and  in typical sarkari fashion, the sofas were cordoned off - supposedly only for VIPs with the lay public having to contend with plastic chairs. But again, it would be ungrateful of me not to thank the consulate for the work done!

And oh, in case you're wondering, the certified copies (which is just like a notarization, but with the Ashoka Chakra stamp on the copy and the vice-consul signing) were accepted by the IRS.

edit: This is a very useful link for those wanting to do this by post; please see the first post by one lakshmiram.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Sri Madhav Deshpande on modern Puneri mothers

Institutions in India such as urban schools and the English media routinely discriminate against non-English languages (two previous posts here and here). These biases percolate down to the public. Sri Madhav Deshpande, Professor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor who was born and brought up in Pune, has lived in the U.S. for more than fifty years (i think), and visited it recently, had this to say in a recent verse on mothers in Pune:

बालो यद्यपि मे सुहास्यवदनश्चिन्ता तु मां बाधते ।
आइ आईति स वक्ति मां, न तु पुनर्जानाति ए-बी-सि-डीम् ।।
आङ्ग्ली यस्य न गर्भत: सुविदिता, किं तस्य भाग्यं भुवि
न स्यात् सङ्गणक:, कुत: सुधनता, भार्यां कुतो लप्स्यते ।।

"Though this boy of mine has a smiling face, I am still worried. He calls me A-I A-I (mother in Marathi), but he does not yet know A-B-C-D. What is the fortune of someone in this world who does not know English from his state of embryo. There will be no computer, no good money, and how will he get a wife."


Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Wren of W&M

I was going through a book by Pandita Vidhushekhara Shastri called "A Sanskrit reader, specially written for young boys" (which in today's age would have meant that Pt. Shastri would have been fried in the coals for sexism). So Pt. Shastri was keen to make this book a textbook and he writes this letter:

In terms of bureaucracy, it seems that things were much better since Pt. Shastri actually got a reply - a positive one at that!

I have no idea what the"I have etc., " before the signature means. I searched for the usage on the Internet but drew a blank. What intrigued me was the signature by a "P.Wren". And then wait, is it the Wren of the infamous "Wren and Martin"?
This is the dreaded book first written in 1935 which haunted me through high school. Copies were hard to get - but then everything was hard to get in socialist India at that time. Of course, our great educationists revised this edition and included the usual Gandhi family stuff (see here and see page 501 of the pdf):
Could this be the same Wren who also authorized the above Sanskrit book? Turns out, yes! Percival Christopher Wren was posted in India in the education service and resigned in 1917, focusing on his writing career that saw him produce 33 novels and short-story collections. Apparently, "High School English Grammar and Composition" (what W&M was called officially) was written mainly for children of British civil servants posted in India. I was in high school forty years after Indian independence (in 1947). Apparently, in all those decades we were busy promoting socialism, isolation from the rest of the world and garibi hatao, and could not find a single person to write a book teaching Indian kids modern English

Attitude towards Sanskrit

This does sum up the attitude, doesn't it?

And the plight of the unsuspecting Indian who picks up a book at an airport translated/interpreted by one of these indologists/Sanskritists.

He has been 'educated' by our own textbook writers that our texts are just relics of the past, to be discarded or 'critically analyzed' for their sociological value. All else is just superstition. His parents did not bother teaching him any of our traditions because again, "we need to be scientific". He has forgotten his cultural inheritance. He then picks up a book by one of these "trained indologists" and says "oh, what dedication to our culture", brags about reading this book at a party. And if he becomes rich, donates his money to exactly one of these people. And thinks he's done a great job. The pity.

The solution:
1) Learn Sanskrit and read our texts on your own. Yes, it will take time. Be ready to invest in about two years, half an hour a day for fairly good working knowledge. You'll be thrilled when you can read the Ramayana on your own. You will recognize metaphors which these indologists/Sanskritists will fail to parse.

2) Pass on traditions, however small, to your kids. Encourage learning at least one Indian language as well so as to read the literature in that language. Get them to learn at least basic Sanskrit. 

3) If you have to read translations, choose those written by traditionally-trained scholars in Indian languages. This is not a jingoistic statement; there are excellent Western Sanskrit scholars too but if you don't know how to select, avoid them all because you will end up coming away with very wrong concepts and disturbed with what you read.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Smart only if you know English

Some years ago, i did a post called "Friendly only if you know English".  As an example of how our media perpetuates biases against rural India and non-English educated persons here's another piece. The very first line of this article says: 
An Orissa villager, who is not even fluent in English, learnt the skill of hacking using an old smart phone.
(emphasis mine)

So apparently, if you've not been educated in English in India you're not supposed to do anything smart. I can imagine the profile of the reporter. Convent-educated, never stepped out of Hyderabad (the story is filed from there), and thinks his rural cousins are inferior.

If anyone wonders why Narendra Modi gets so much hate, this is one of the contributory factors. These 'elites' cannot digest anyone with such a background coming up. 

We need to strongly encourage learning and publishing high quality education material in regional languages. I am also in favor of English entering learning only later in high school.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Humorous video relating to śikṣā

Even if you do not understand Telugu (like me), you will be able to get the gist of  this video from the 1957 movie Mayabazar. It reflects the kind of importance given to Sanskrit pronunciation. Also reflects a pretty common (in my view) mode of thinking among dvija-s that pronunciation does not come easily to the pancamā-s, hence their exclusion from Veda. (Phonetics (śikṣā) is part of the six vedangas)

Saturday, January 30, 2016

ठ ठं ठ ठं ठं ठ ठ ठं ठ ठं ठः

Someone was asked to complete a verse, having been given the final quarter (the title of this post).

This was the super outcome:
रामाभिषेके मदविह्वलायाः हस्ताच्युतो हेमघटस्तरुण्याः ।
सोपानमासाद्य करोति शब्दं ठ ठं ठ ठं ठं ठ ठ ठं ठ ठं ठः ।।

Loose translation: At the coronation of Lord Rama, an excited lass dropped a golden pitcher. It bounced off the steps like  ठ ठं ठ ठं ठं ठ ठ ठं ठ ठं ठः

Obviously, the translation comes off poorly but in Sanskrit, it comes off so very well.

Please see 7:35 to 12:03 in this nice video for more.

On the same lines, an old but relevant post :

and another one, but one whose meaning i don't know:
मेघा नाद घटा घटा घट घटा घाटा घटा दुर्घटा, 
मण्डूकस्य बको बको बक बको बाको बको बूबको ।
विद्युज्ज्योति चकी मकी चक मकी चाकी मकी दृश्यते, 
इत्थं नन्दकिशोरगोपवनितावाचस्पति: पातु माम् ।।