Friday, December 31, 2004

Unshackling Sanskrit

“A word is intangible. We can't buy it, hold it in our arms, or lock it in a safe,” began a recent mailer from Can a language then be considered someone’s fiefdom? According to Kalanath Shastry, noted Sanskrit writer and this year’s Sahitya Akademi awardee, the hold of orthodox pundits on the language is gradually loosening, giving it a chance to open its centuries-old linguistic heritage to others and enrich it further.

“There was even opposition from the old stock to my novel that deals with a student’s love for her tutor. They felt how could I write about such a subject. This despite the fact that the relationship is very sober,” he said, referring to Aakhyana Vallari, his latest fictional novel that features a lady recollecting her love for her Sanskrit teacher. “Sanskrit has always broken taboos rather than toe the line,” Shastry added. It is for this novel that he won the Akademi prize.

Over the last century, various changes have happened in the vocabulary and volume of work being produced in Sanskrit. From detective novels (spasha katha) to abuses (dasiputra for bastard), the “classical and dead” language has evolved. And it is rail, not lauhpathgamini. “One writer from Gujarat even caused a flutter when he started penning haikus, monologues and sonnets in Sanskrit,” he said. “A language has to give and take. Even pornography has become a subject in Sanskrit literature, though less in print form,” he added.

There is even a move afoot to avoid teaching children the dwivachan to simplify the language. However, Shastry cautioned against a Hinglish-like development. Earlier, during the 17th and 18th century, there was an “unwritten code” propagated by known grammarian Panini to keep the language insular. Sanskrit, he said, has borrowed words “cautiously and sparingly because Sanskrit grammar has the inherent strength to create words”. Like antastantra for Internet.

These words have the sanction of the Central Sanskrit Board, a government advisory body that oversees affairs related to the language. There are monthlies for children (Chandamama), which feature cartoons, and daily newspapers being published in the language. And incidentally, Magha, considered to be one of the three greatest epic writers in Sanskrit together with Kalidasa and Bharavi, was from Jalore. He wrote Sisupalvada.

To flourish, Sanskrit should be disassociated from religion and the taboos that come with it, Shastry felt. “It is not only for and of Hindus. In fact, one of the most chaste speakers of the language today is Ghulam Dastgir, who is a Muslim priest in Mumbai,” he added. Also, to establish itself as a modern and living Indian language, it needs to be more suited to contemporary needs. Like making it more job-oriented or “a language that pays”. “Sanskrit, ultimately, has to prove its utility,” Shastry said.

One of my reports for Hindustan Times


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home