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.