The Sanskrit wars have begun

Below, Rajiv Malhotra offers explanations and rebuttals to the personal attacks mounted by Aatish Taseer in the interview he gave to Open Magazine.

So the big war is on, even before my Pollock book comes out. It is not even in final draft yet, and a lot more work remains to be done. This latest salvo comes from a young novelist who is the son of Tavleen Singh and a Pakistani journalist. 

If you recall, I had taken Tavleen to task on Twitter for her support of Pollock without her doing any due diligence on the positions of Pollock. Now her half-Pakistani son gets his turn to go after me. Open Source Magazine lends itself as a forum for this, without offering me any space to give my side of it.

His latest novel is a typical "South Asian bhai bhai" one finds from many Indian "intellectuals" wanting to transcend modern India and Pakistan. They project back their ideologies on to some imagined history of the subcontinent.

Familiar stuff? Not so easy. You are familiar with those saying this from an anti-Sanskrit position. But thanks to Pollock, he has directly trained and indirectly nurtured an army of such persons who make their case while wanting to appear pro-Sanskrit (in his sense of what Sanskrit is like).

Please read the excerpt below from his recent interview, with my responses in brackets. Please feel free to post this at his interview, on twitter or anywhere else. Let there be open discussion on the merits of various positions.

I find refined classicism throughout the novel, sustained by Skanda’s Sanskritised sensibility. What will you say?

Yes, but Skanda’s interest in Sanskrit, though full of emotion, is at the end of the day a scholarly interest. It is not revivalist; it is not of the Rajiv Malhotra kind. [Rajiv: Aatish does not appear to know that Pollock calls himself arevivalist of Sanskrit. Hence, according to the Left, being a revivalist of Sanskrit is not contrary to being a scholar. The two are compatible. What is contentious between Pollock and me is not scholar versus revivalist, but two different kinds of revival. Aatish needs more "scholarly" reading and less novel writing...]  

Men like him—Malhotra and his cohorts—have poisoned the pool of classical studies. They’re not scholars; few of them have even a passable knowledge of Sanskrit; but they’re determined to shut down serious scholarship, determined to coerce Western academia into telling them the few banalities they want to hear: things that warm their little NRI hearts:the Aryans did not come from elsewhere but sprang up out of the soil of India; Sanskrit is not one of many Indo-European languages, but the mother of all languages… [Rajiv: 1) Aatish fails to cite even a single instance of my work that would support his personal allegation that I am "determined to shut down serious scholarship". Any scholar worth his salt ought to cite concrete evidence, and not engage in such ad hominem attacks. 2) The italics above are in the original interview - Aatish wants to emphasize that he supports the foreign Aryan theory and attacks me for saying that the "aryas" (there is no such thing as Aryans) have been indigenous to the Indian soil. He is also upset that I consider Sanskrit to be more than "one of many Indo-European languages". The "mother of all languages" motif troubles him greatly when applied to Sanskrit.

Now when you start to refashion the past to fit the needs of the present, you must ask yourself why? Why do I want the past to be one way and not another? Because if you set to work blindly remaking the past, you can do it a lot of harm. [Rajiv: When my book comes out, I hope that he and his mom, Tavleen, will take the time to go through it, and see that the evidence proves just the opposite: That it is Pollock distorting the hard data of history to fit his modern analysis of Indian society. These novelists/journalists, lacking scholarly competence, will find themselves sandwiched between their support for Pollock-ism and their claim to be pro-Indian civilization. Let thaat debate start after my book comes out.]

These monkeys, they want the white man to tell them that India—which Malhotra couldn’t bring himself to live in—was once the greatest country of all. Only then will they go away and let serious people get on with their work. [Rajiv: Calling me a "monkey" hardly helps the image his mom wants him to have - that of a young, serious thinker. So he thinks that what I am all about is getting the white man to tell us how great we are. But thats not my position at all. I am critical of Indians who are in awe of white men's approval of them. He has not read my works criticizing that tendency among Indians. Rather, it is he and his mom craving white peolpe legitimizing them. Their swooning over Pollock demonstrates this. So who here is the one being the monkey in awe of "the white man"?]

It’s sad to see this kind of sloganeer get traction in India—I read the other day in the paper that Delhi University had embarked upon a project to prove the Aryans were not foreigners. Such foolishness! It makes me fearful for India. And these are naturally fears that my novel is very alive to. [Rajiv: Dismissing me as sloganeer with no specific data point? And this is the state of journalism in India that editors of mainstream media do not bother calling it out as unsubstantiated and as ad hominem attacks? Why such desperation so suddenly? His reference to Delhi University gives the answer. Because places like DU are now starting projects that will evaluate evidence "to prove the Aryans were not foreigners", people like Aatish are deployed to attack those involved. He is worried that now I "get traction in India".]

[Rajiv: It is important to note that this kind of mischief as Aatish represents is now being clothed as the new voice of the true Indians. The latest trend is to even sound pro-Modi while rejecting Modi's deep notions of who we are, and replacing them with love for the "foreign Aryans who brought us Sanskrit". This is where the kurukshetra is most intense - Indians serving as a new breed of sepoys who are dressed up as great lovers ofIndia.]

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