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Sad Story of Study in Sanskrit

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Recently I was in Honavar, my late husband’s birth place, where I have built a community hall and free reading room and library.

While going through local newspapers, I read about Arvind Shanbhag, who was awarded PhD. degree for a detailed study of poet Billhana’s historical epic Vikramankadeva Charita, an 11th century classic in Sanskrit. Having written about Bilhana earlier, I was curious to know about the latest work on the epic. I wrote a letter to the young man (29) congratulating him on his efforts and adding a line that I would be happy to go through his dissertation for some time. If he could spare it for some. Arvind hails from Kodkani, a village one-and-a-half hour’s drive from Honavar.

Dr. Arvind responded immediately and came with the neatly bound volume of his Doctoral Thesis along with some of the articles he wrote in Kannada. Arvind narrated not only the hardships a university student has to undergo for research but laid bare the bleak future, that awaited serious students of language and literature in India.

Born to Chandrakant and Kusuma Shanbhag of Kodkani village of Mirjan taluk, in North Kanara district in 1982, Arvind completed school and college studies by winning scholarships. With three gold medals and 1st rank in M.A. in Sanskrit, he wanted to take up research further. Sanskrit is the mother language of twenty odd Indian languages. Many Indian Universities offer fellowships and Master’s degree in Sanskrit. Several Pontiffs of late, have started and encouraged simple and conversational courses in Sanskrit along with vocational courses in priesthood so that commoners could have easy access to this ancient language which was considered divine language (Deva bhasha) and a monopoly of Brahmin priests and the ecclesiastical class. I thought Sanskrit had good future after a lull of decades after India’s Independence. But I was wrong. Sad plight of Arvind depicted the real story of Sanskrit.

Arvind had no financial sources when he thought of pursuing research. His father Chandrakant is a cook in a small restaurant in nearby town and his mother Kusuma does some embroidery and stitching in her spare time to help their meager income. The fellowship Arvind was waiting for, came after a long time. He worked as part-time correspondent to local small newspapers and wrote articles. He could not get the classic he was working on, in all the parts. He had to go to Ujjain(in Madhya Pradesh) to get the III and final part of Vikramankadeva Charita and get is xeroxed.

I was shocked to learn that photo-copying charges are ten times more in Ujjain than in Bangalore, per page. Finally Arvind rented a room in Dharwad, started self-cooking and wrote down the thesis. He learnt typing and DTP (This is unusual in India where job-typing is easily available) as he could not afford typing fee. The 300 paged-thesis was finally ready with the financial help of some voluntary bodies and good Samaritans, whose names are gratefully acknowledged by Arvind in the introduction of the thesis.

Meanwhile Arvind was trying for a teaching job in school or college throughout the state. Corruption is rampant every where in India. A huge amount is expected as donation by the institutions, which advertise the post. The government is the only employer and pressure for employment is such that entrance examination for teachers’ jobs has become compulsory. Qualifying age is increased and job aspirants’ numbers are mind boggling. Arvind is ready to take any job, clerical, teaching or management.

Such is the fate of sincere-students of a “divine” and ancient language, which still has innumerable un-explored and un-researched works on prosody, grammar, botany, religion native medicine besides Kavyas (epics).

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this writing are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of League of India, its Editorial Board or the business and socio-political interests that they might represent.

This article was first published at the author's blog here


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