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The Right Word
By Uday Mahurkar

A scholar aims to bring the language of gods closer to humanity.

If Fulaji Turi, A 16-year-old Dalit student from north Gujarat, should meet Bijay Karan, a Kayastha from Shivala near Varanasi, it would be a meeting of minds, so to say. "Namaskaram, kim samacharam (Hello, what's the news)?" they would probably greet each other. And then, like old friends, the Dalit and the non-Brahmin would probably launch into a delighted prattle in a language that was once the pride of the priestly classes.

After centuries, Sanskrit is witnessing a slow and steady revival, specially in Gujarat. The man responsible for this is Chamu Krishna Shastry, 42, a Kannadiga Sanskrit scholar who lives for the day when Sanskrit becomes India's link language.

With a proselytiser's zeal, Shastry argues: "Hebrew was a dead language till 1880 but today it is the official language of Israel. If the Jews could revive Hebrew why can't we resuscitate Sanskrit?" Then the clinching contention: "Popularising Sanskrit is far easier. It is the mother of all Indian languages and up to 60 per cent of the words in the other languages come from Sanskrit." Shastry, organising secretary of Sanskrit Bharati, a voluntary body committed to the cause of Sanskrit, has evolved a simple method that in 14 years since 1985 has enabled nearly 29 lakh people to learn the language, one lakh of whom have decided to use Sanskrit at home in true Vedic style.

The "Ten-day Sanskrit Speaking Course", which Shastry has been implementing through a network of 130 full-time workers and 3,000 Sanskrit Bharati volunteers, has a conversation-based syllabus. Learning Sanskrit can be a forbidding exercise because of its elaborate grammar. To make it easier for the students Shastry's method is to skip grammar and teach Sanskrit as it is spoken. The students thus do not have to wrestle with the nuances of an arcane syntactics. It's then easier to master the language, so much so that even semi-literate people can opt for the course. It also helps that the course is for free.

The Sanskrit of 20th century is, unlike that of yore, more egalitarian. "Our accent is on removing the impression that Sanskrit is the language of the vidhwans (intellectuals)," says Shastry. Traditionalists would be horrified to hear Satish Gajjar, 26, a mere carpenter from Surendranagar district of Gujarat, hold forth in the language. Loosening the tongue also loosens heartstrings.On the last day of a Sanskrit Bharati class recently, an old Dalit participant was in tears; he said he could not believe that a day had come when the untouchables would be speaking in the language of the gods.

One would think that Shastry, being a Brahmin, was well-versed in the language. But there was no Sanskrit spoken in his family. It was in jail that he found his metier as a language reviver. As a teenaged Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh worker Shastry was imprisoned during the Emergency. Alone in his cell, he took to reading biographies. In the writings of Veer Savarkar and Swami Vivekananda he learnt how Sanskrit could unlock scientific, mathematical and medical knowledge buried in ancient Sanskrit texts. He attended the Tirupati Sanskrit Pathshala, after which he plunged into his chosen mission, one of his main goals being to take Sanskrit to the non-Brahmin class, particularly the downtrodden classes. And his logic is impeccable. "Sanskrit is the best tool to remove the five types of social differences," he explains, "linguistic, class, caste, sect and the north vs south division."

   His mission can prove crucial. Three crore Sanskrit manuscripts on important subjects are lying unread in musty archives all over the country. Happily, Shastry has begun to inspire people to learn the language. Like Jahanviben Shukla, a schoolteacher in Deesa town, who learnt to speak Sanskrit six years ago. Today, not only has she made Sanskrit the mode of communication in her four-member family, she has also ensured that many of the 400-odd students in her school speak the language without faltering.



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