Trash Sanskrit. Trash Arabic. Kill History. Be Loved.
By Partha Banerjee at Dec 07, 2012
I was watching Public Television’s NOVA.
You know…where PBS does fascinating TV shows on fascinating subjects? I think their stories, their research, and of course, their way to put it together for an enlightened audience in simply breathtaking. Watching NOVA is quite an experience.
Enlightened, liberal-minded people here in America love NOVA. It is serious, investigative TV journalism reported through well-edited, one-hour documentaries. It draws you in, and wouldn’t let you go.
They’ve done shows on history, geography, astronomy, physics, biology, criminology, sports…you name it. If you are someone who loves to be informed about the most cutting-edge aspects of molecular biology, or oceanography, or global warming, or say, historical figures — inventors, authors, political personalities or even notorious killers — with pieces of information you didn’t know before, NOVA is truly a great show. It’s much different from what you see on most other corporate TV channels. NOVA takes pride in its well-researched, professionally told, mind-boggling facts.
I watch it whenever I get a chance. There was a time I used to watch it religiously.
But not any more. I’ll tell you why I’ve become irregular.
Since I quit science as a career and went back to school to get an advanced degree in journalism from a very well-known university here in New York, I started noticing something. I noticed that in spite of the vast amount of knowledge the university puts out via its teachers, students, staff and alumni, they are almost always heavily biased toward the Western civilization. Like, even the Ivy League school I attended, there is hardly ever any mention of the thousands of years of human civilization that existed before the New World flourished particularly since the Industrial Revolution and global colonization. As if the enormous contribution of Indian, Chinese, Arabic, Mayan or African civilizations over thousands of pre-British, pre-American eras never meant anything. As if, human civilization really began with the rise of modern Europe, and much later, America.
Well, let me revise my statement a little bit. Here in the U.S., there is always cursory, classroom mention of Greek, Egyptian and Roman empires: from time to time, educated people and scholars throw out names such as Plato or Aristotle or Socrates or Sophocles or Homer or Virgil or Galileo or Kepler or Darwin (Marx or Mao is of course is a notable absence in this kind of mainstream discourse — and please don’t call me a communist). You can go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Upper Manhattan and visit a beautifully-curated, permanent Ancient Egypt gallery, with preserved mummies and geneology of King Tut. Somehow, other than Greek and Roman civilizations (and the latter is always associated with moral and sexual Caligula-depravity and tyranny — one that reportedly caused the rise of a “noble” and “benevolent” Christianity), Egypt is quite liked by British and American historians and other academic scholars. Egypt’s contribution to human civilization is acclaimed in the West. And it deserves to be.
But especially ancient Indian and Arabic civilizations are largely, grossly overlooked and undermined. Even NOVA is no exception to this rule. I have never seen a single NOVA on non-Euro-American achievers or achievements.
So, just a couple of days ago, I was watching a NOVA show — otherwise another greatly-researched, fascinating documentary — where it was about the great British astronomer Herschel. He is the one who pioneered some aspects of astronomy and developed and much-refined the subject of star-gazing through the telescope. He was notable for his many discoveries of stars in the Milky Way, with help from his sister who was also a famous astronomer of their time.
Nice show. However, somewhere in the middle of the show, the narrator, while talking about the contribution of Herschel in the field of astronomy, remarked something that implied that astronomy and star gazing are subjects that did not exist before the Western scientists such as Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo or Herschel. This is a familiar pattern in Western media and academic discourses: when I first came to the U.S. twenty five years ago, it would shock me to death. But it does not, anymore. This pattern suggests forcefully through such relentless, scholarly reporting that the East never existed; civilization did not happen until Newton, Bismark, Voltaire, Russo and Mazzini and Garibaldi and Napoleon (or Hitler, who is of course considered the ultimate sin of mankind, only to compare with Caligula) in Europe and of course, Columbus in America. This scholarly interpretation of history is really not much different from junk propaganda you can find on junk American media — if you really think hard about it — perhaps the only difference would be the nature of the receiving audience: educated vs. naive minds.
Sadly, this pattern is not just confined to the West anymore. Because of the enormous power Western media — elite-liberal PBS or New York Times or tabloid Fox TV or National Enquirer (and their clone machines in the East) — young people all over the world are consuming such biased interpretation of history, and in the absence of a counter-balance from the excluded side, are accepting such information to be the absolute truth.
Therefore, to the new and upcoming young generation — in the U.S., Australia, Canada, U.K., India, Egypt, Brazil or Russia — ancient civilizations that rose to an unthinkable height would have no value. Indian astronomers such as Aryabhatta, poets and playwrights such as Kalidasa, ayurveda geniuses such as Charaka or Sushruta, physicists such as Kanad who many say was the one who conceptualized the atomic particles thousands of years ago, anonymous engineers and artists who built the mighty stone temples in Ellora or Khajuraho in India or Angkor Wat in Cambodia, or the anonymous architects who created the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, or even the recent Taj Mahal — would really mean of no significant value at all.
There is a new attempt even India now to relegate Sanskrit to the status of an extinct language. This idea is especially popular among a large section of young people who never had a chance or cared to learn ancient Indian history or languages. It is also popular among a section of the West-educated Left who denigrate every discourse such as the present one we’re having now as much-denigrated nationalism. Of course, elite ruling class at the Center loves such self-humiliation and derision.
I am sure there would be efforts down the road to relegate other languages such as Arabic to further undermining, and eventual downgrading to extinction. It truly appears this is premeditated planning by those who do not want to keep the contribution of these ancient civilizations in history books. There are a few ways to destroy these histories: one, either destroy any physical relics that still exist — such as the Taj Mahal or Khajuraho or Angkor Wat (they have destroyed an enormous amount of Babylonian history in the six years of bombing in Iraq: much of their historical museums is now pulverized). Or, the second choice would be, which is quite subtle but brings surefire results, is through destroying the languages and cultures of these ancient civilizations. Trashing ancient knowledge and civilizations is a great first tool in this process. And I say this without even remotely supporting Indian fundamentalists and ultranationalists (I myself trashed them long time ago).
If you can marginalize a language such as Sanskrit (or Pali) once and for all, and cut off all funding and resources to study it, then eventually in a few more generations nobody would be able to read Kalidasa, Mahabharata, the economic theories and praxis of Kautilya the Great, or know indepth about the mathematical and astronomical and ayurveda geniuses of India whose thousands of years of literary and scientific and artistic and engineering works were all scribed in Sanskrit (and of course, many were unwritten, oral history, or became already extinct).
I am not proficient with the Arabic languages, but I know a little bit of history of Farsi in India: I know a lot of such major works were done in that language that came to India with the Muslim rulers and stayed in the country for hundreds of years. I am sure, destroying Arabic would bring about the same results.
It is not beyond comprehension that the Western colonial and neocolonial powers would want to eliminate ancient history and its vehicle languages and lifestyles, even though the double standards of Western scholars and universities, when it comes to preaching and practicing, are appalling. But it is truly beyond comprehension that even Indians now favor a forced extinction of a treasured language such as Sanskrit — in the name of modernization of their education system. (Modernization of the Indian education system? It’s an oxymoron in itself: I can write volumes on the frog-in-well education bosses and their stone-age curricula.)
Even the tyrannical British colonial powers could not destroy Sanskrit in their two hundred years of occupation of India. Now, it’s going to be done — by Indians.
Surprised? Shocked? Why?
You don’t want to be loved?
Brooklyn, New York