Below is an article by Sejuti Banerjee which first appeared here.
A couple of days back, I heard of an interesting conversation about Rajiv Malhotra (RM), author of the phenomenal book “The Battle For Sanskrit” (TBFS) on Kalavai Venkat’s (KV) FB page, so I went on over to check it out.
I had heard that KV was critical of RM’s work mainly because he was a big fan of Shatawadhani Ganesh (SG), so I considered it a golden opportunity to study the back-and-forth between the different parties and perhaps gain some new insights on the situation. It’s been a very old habit of mine to always test any idea I may have formed in my head with new inputs as and when available. I always felt this improved my understanding of things.
So imagine my surprise, when I see that he has written the words “RM and semi-literate followers”. Yes, I follow RM’s work. Yes, I have been inspired by him. Yes, I think he’s managed to do what no one managed all these years. Yes, I think he has sacrificed his life for dharma. But how does this make me semi-literate?
At first, I was taken aback at this display of condescending animosity. Because what have I ever done or said to KV? I had never even heard of his name before in my life! I make a decent living and no one has questioned my literacy before!!! But then I decided to read on. Maybe he was actually a decent guy with a filthy mouth. I had seen a few of those after all.
But the rest was not much better. In fact, to put it in a single sentence, I was disappointed. What was happening there was basically some venomous RM bashing with some protests from those who know him better. I noticed some things KV seemed to be doing persistently:
Passing Value Judgments
Some commentators were concerned about the security breach at Sringeri that informed Pollock about what was transpiring between RM and Sringeri. Without knowing anything about the situation, KV immediately jumped to attack RM. “Always take such anecdotal claims from RM with a pinch of salt”, he said. In fact others had to tell him how wrong he was, because he didn’t know the ground situation, didn’t know the facts, that actually, the situation was far worse than RM let on out of respect.
On the other hand, when it came to SG, KV said with great sureness that “Ganesh declined and gave a very pointed, honest and compassionate answer, in private to the intermediary, for declining”. Elsewhere, he also said that he didn’t know SG personally, hadn’t met him, etc. So he didn’t know SG, he wasn’t there when SG refused the invitation and yet he was all praises for his behavior.
So in this case one can only conclude that passing value judgments is his nature, at times he supports people with it and at other times, he attacks people with it.
Trying To Divide People
In his attempt to alienate people from RM, KV tried every trick:
- He said “Traditionalists have gone out of the way to rally behind RM, perhaps out of ignorance” (one wonders if this is a tremendous show of respect for traditionalists on KV’s part), then “despite canards he spreads about them”. He asks, “Why should that be tolerated? Why should we stand behind someone who is throwing traditionalists under the bus time and again”. This after RM has repeatedly said that he is doing purva paksha and he wouldn’t be able to do uttara paksha without them. After he also said that “I want to provoke the insiders in order to get rid of me and then they will start doing this work because if the insiders start doing this work I can retire finally, but until the insiders do this job I’m going to be around”. To distort such pure intentions seems unethical.
- He says, “It is also important to remember that RM is also positioning himself as an alternative to Sitaram Goel et al and actively discounts them. Those individuals made contributions orders of magnitude higher than RM”. This sounded like sly praise while attacking RM, pretending not to know about RM’s extensive bibliographies and the specialized nature of his work, which requires expediency. KV did the same with Aditi Banerjee and Aravindan Neelakandan, praising them and asking how RM would have coped without them (as if RM had not credited them for their contributions).
- Direct attack: “I would oppose any traditionalist from supporting RM unless he publicly apologizes for his unethical conduct vs. Ganesh. I would also want to see those traditional scholars, who endorsed TBFS, to retract their endorsement for the reasons given toward the end of my critique”. This on the assumption that SG has never slighted or insulted RM in the past. Why does KV get into personalities? There may be so many things that may have transpired between two people, why is it fair to assume that SG has never wronged RM?
Downplaying The Severity Of The Situation
KV says “But why this obsession with Indology...Look at the phenomenal contributions of Ganesh on aesthetics. Who would do those things? How many on this planet can even discuss something like alaṇkāra lakṣaṇa with erudition? Why should the finest battle Indologists? That should rather be the job of tier 2 intellectuals.”
Then again, “Why this obsession with Pollock and a bunch of Indologists? Why is refuting such works more important than reviving precious traditions as Ganesh has been doing?”
In Bangla we have a saying that goes like this “shaat kanda Ramayan pore Sita kar pita” (after reading all 7 parts of the Ramayana you are asking whose father is Sita).
KV doesn’t seem to understand that BOTH these things are equally important. We enjoy our lives within the boundaries of a country because those boundaries are protected. If no one fights the war against Indology, there will BE no aesthetics to discuss with erudition. Only watered-down ghosts of what they once were. Is this desirable? Quite honestly, reading these lines makes me think that KV hasn’t read TBFS. And he’s now produced a review of a review of a review of TBFS. Great.
He says, “Hindu battles have just commenced and they will last another 60 years against the academy. So, I wouldn't like to protect a writer on day 1 of the battle and weaken the forces in the long term”. One commentator openly said that it was this bickering that was the problem, that he was losing all hope. But KV continued with his tirade possibly because he had a mission to accomplish. He had to demoralize all the people and cause a rift between traditionalists and RM (because so many of them are in fact grateful for his work and supportive of him). This would help Pollock and party. So on the pretext of weakening the forces in the long term, he is destroying their morale today, which doesn’t make any sense at all!
Fooling Gullible Hindus
At one point, one of the speakers mentioned that SG had been seen sharing stage with Sudha Murthy of MCLI fame. KV tried to brush this aside as insignificant, forgetting that every society agrees that a man’s association is indicative of his nature. In English we say, birds of the same feather flock together. In Bangla we say, sat sanga swarga vas asat sanga narak vas (with the right association you land in heaven and with the wrong association you land in hell). The point is, association has always been an indicator of who or what a person represents. Besides, kshatriya dharma may require a person to go everywhere out of expediency. But when a person has dedicated his entire life to selfless study, he is considered by all as practicing Brahmin dharma in which case his hobnobbing with deshdrohis and sanskriti drohis becomes suspect. Does this mean that SG is automatically vindicated of colluding with the enemy? Of course not. Does it mean we should keep an eye on such future activities? Absolutely. This was not the stand taken by KV so one can only assume that he was being far from objective while also creating the impression that there was no danger.
“with due respects let me say that it is a travesty to even equate Ganesh and RM by stating that they represent two sides of SME. That is like saying a Nobel Prize winning physicist and a Powerpoint slide maker from a PR firm represent two sides of SME”
It’s well appreciated that there will be differences of opinion in any situation and actually, it’s the differences in approach that bring richness to a debate and help all of us understand the situation better. But when there is such open unbridled animosity, you don’t help anyone.
It’s impossible to deny the impact RM has had on the general public, coaching them on our civilizational threats, encouraging people to talk back, as well as in increasing their interest in our sanskriti and in Sanskrit studies. At the end of the day, that’s what a movement is about. It is these “illiterate people” who will be left to carry the torch of Hinduism and it is we who must be prepared. We must recognize that each contribution is precious.
In RM’s case, we should think about this: why would a man give up all the pleasures of life, in complete disregard of his own health and life situation, plunge into this trauma of being the lone person facing day in and day out rooms full of adversaries? More people are realizing the danger and joining in now, but he has been and still continues to defend dharma alone in many hostile situations. People can’t and shouldn’t be painted black or white. If there are issues with his approach, we should be able to discuss like mature adults without resorting to a public brawl that disrupts the entire movement thus defeating our purpose.
Covering Up SG’s Mistakes
KV says, “Ganesh is very familiar with the works of Pollock and understands the global context very well.” Can we honestly say that if SG knew how dangerous Pollock is, he would have been sitting quietly? Can anybody sit quietly when he sees another systematically and very strategically destroying the very roots of the thing he studies with such passion? So no, in all probability, SG didn’t know about it. He’s probably not to blame for it because he doesn’t live there and is not exposed to the situation directly. But if he knew, it would amount to gross negligence on his part. Then why is KV claiming that SG knew?
Elsewhere, KV says, “I only see honest critique not condescension in Ganesh's critique”. Then how would he account for SG’s assertion that RM suggested appropriating works into Sanskrit? He picks up a section on spoken Sanskrit and makes this allegation. Any spoken language imbibes words from outside and also creates words of its own. It’s a characteristic of spoken language. SG should point out the exact page and sentence where RM mentioned that we should “appropriate works”. Otherwise we can’t call it honesty. As for the condescension, it was apparent throughout, even illiterate and semi-literate people could figure it out.
Still, we can and should be charitable about it. SG was working with a group of others and one of them may have slipped in that word and it escaped his attention. He doesn’t need to publicly apologize or anything. That is just an ego-booster and makes us a laughing stock in front of Pollock and company. But what is really hard to understand is why we can’t provide a united front to the people attacking us despite our internal differences.
I also looked at KV’s article called “The Straw Man Fallacy and the Battle for Sanskrit” where he concludes that abandoning RM is the most effective strategy for dealing with Pollock. For all the erudition he claims he has, he implied that traditionalists’ time is better spent critiquing people on their side rather than confronting the people who are trying to destroy them.
The awareness RM has created is growing into quite a movement now and continues to awaken more people every day. It is reasonable to assume that this will generate more students for traditionalists thus taking them out of their “lives of penury” as KV calls it.
So, the field is open. No one is preventing anyone from doing anything. But if someone suggests that we are more effective when we are divided and less organized, if he says there’s something insulting about building a home team, if he condones infighting as the correct strategy to win mega wars when we are anyway so small in numbers, if he deliberately misreads intentions, one can only conclude one thing: Not everyone is action-oriented. Some people theorize, others do the things that get the job done. I will choose the one that gets the job done. Any day. And hopefully, so will many others.
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