Monday, February 27, 2012


Have you ever noticed that children learn first to say "No" than to say "Yes"? Rebel is the first sign of intelligence, so they say. And intelligence begins with learning to say 'No', rather than 'Yes'.

Why is it that some people take more delight in denying than agreeing? Be it elder sibling vs younger, manager vs employee, mother-in-law vs daughter-in-law or wife vs husband - the emphatic "no" factor of the former seem to be the driving goal of their lives. May be we are all genetically wired to derive pleasure in negations and denials, than agreements and acceptances. May be its just easy to deny first than to accept. May be there is an inherent satisfaction in denying space to somebody else.

One of the early lessons you learn in the consulting industry (rather any) is, never propose your boss a single solution. Managers, who mostly have little to technically contribute towards a problem, needing to fill the gap, take delight in shooting down solutions. A majority of Dilbert strips play on this fundamental psychology of managers. So the right way to get your stuff done is offer multiple solutions, including a few lousy and impossible ones, and let the manager feel satisifed that they indeed contributed towards the solution by shooting some of them down. In the IT world, this is called "Ducking" - ie propose "sitting duck solutions" that would be shot down, so that your critical features remain intact. If they shoot the good ones down ... hey, you are going to blame them anyways, right?

"na". We learn history is created just by this word. We could cite several examples from recent history or contemporary classics, but let us peek into the itihasa-s and purana-s. The story of Mahabharata meanders, as-if, from one "no" to another "no". Dhritarashtra says "no" to his counsels who advice to kill the new born (Duryodhana) since the omens were really bad. Drupada says "no" to Drona to help him as promised, upon which the latter gets his revenge via Arjuna and humiliating Drupada. Arjuna refuses to accept Karna's bravery and mocks him that he is not a king, which aligns Karna with Duryodhana. Duryodhana said "na" to paandavas for even an inch of land, which led to the complete annhilation of his generation. All of these refusals are pivotal points in the story.

This Duryodhana's "na" is very poignantly expressed in the following sloka. When Duryodhana was in death bed and was asked "Why are you behaving like this?" he replies:

jaanaami dharmam na ca me pravRuttiH |
jaanaami adharmam na ca me nivRuttiH ||

जानामि धर्मम् न च मे प्रवृत्तिः ।
जानामि अधर्मम् न च मे निवृत्तिः ॥

"I know Dharma, but cannot practice it. I know adharma, I cannot stop practicing it."

In Ramayana too, Ravana says "na" to return Sita back to Rama, which was followed by his own destruction and most of his kins. King Harischandra tells "na" to Vishwamitra Rshi to tell a lie, and goes through innumerable hardships, including charging for the burial of his son from his own estranged wife, as a guardian of the cemetary.

Once Birbal's adversary Sultan Khan, who was waiting for an opportunity to put his son Rahim Khan as the treasurer, complains to Akbar "O Emperor, Birbal has been very late coming to the palace these days. You should punish him". Akbar asks him "What punishment do you think I should give him?". Sultan Khan says "Today, you should refuse whatever he asks for". Akbar agrees. So Birbal happens to be late again and enters the darbar. Akbar asks Birbal "Why are you late?" to which Birbal replies "My wife was not feeling well, so I had a doctor appointment". Akbar replies rather indignantly "I refuse to believe you". Birbal, a bit perplexed asks "Ok, shall we get on with the financial matters?". Akbar says loudly "No". Meanwhile, Sultan Khan gets up and approaches Akbar to ask for the post of treasurer for his son. Birbal quickly senses Sultan Khan has set him up this time and requests Akbar "O Emperor, can you make Sultan Khan's son Rahim Khan the treasurer". Akbar replies with a resounding "No". And Sultan Khan had been played at his own game by the quick-witted Birbal.

So remember - next time you want to create a powerful impression on the reader of your story - "No" should be an important element. "No" is the real-hero. "No" is the villain. "No" is the Force.

No. Na. Naa. Ne. Non. Nao. Nahi. Nyet. Nes si pas. Nicht.

Several cultures associate some form of "na" to be a denial. What else can you do with the letter "na"? From the Sanskritam alphabets point of view, by "na" we mean the 'ta' varga (ta, tha, da, dha, na) and na's variations (na, naa, ni, nii etc). Turns out there are entire slokas just using varga "na". Obviously it is great tongue-twister and aint gonna be intelligible at first read and needs commentaries to do a padacCheda correctly. As I was searching around, so there isn't one, but four slokas using only the akshara na. This type of slokas are called "ekAkShara pada sloka". In the same mould there are slokas with only two akShara-s, three akShara-s and so forth with different patterns. Sanskritam poets have indulged in complicated combinatorial akShara gymnastics to a remarkable extent and imagination. Word-play would be an understatement.

1. kiraataarjunIya - bhAravi

The first known instance is from bhAravi's kiraataarjunIya. The explanation of this can be found in wikipedia.

न नोननुन्नो नुन्नोनो नाना नानानना ननु ।
नुन्नोऽनुन्नो ननुन्नेनो नानेना नुन्ननुन्ननुत् ॥

na nonanunno nunnono nānā nānānanā nanu ।
nunno'nunno nanunneno nānenā nunnanunnanut ॥

2. sumadhva vijaya - naaraayaNa paNDitaacaarya

Next instance is from Sumadhva vijaya mahakAvya - a biography of  Sri Madhvacarya, written by Sri Narayana Panditacarya

नानेनानेनेनानेनो नूनेननननुन्नाः ।
नानाना नो नूनं नानेनानूननाऽनुन्नः ।


न अनेनेन अनेन अनेनो नूनेन नननुन्नाः ।
नानानाः नो नूनम् नाने नानूनना अनुन्नः ।

अनेनोनूनेन अनेनेन अनेन नानाना: ननुन्नाः नोननु । नानेनानूनना नूनम् अनुन्नः ।

naanenaanenenaaneno nUnenanananunnaaH |
naanaanaa no nUnaM naanenaanUnanaa&nunnaH || (10.6)

3. rukmiNIsha vijaya - shrI vaadiraja

The third is by Sri Vadiraja, one of the greatest Sanskrit poets, in my humble opinion, whom the world knows for his religious work, but not for his unparallelled versatility in Samskritam. The verse from rukmiNIsha vijaya:

नानाननाननुन्नूनं नैनोऽनन्नेऽन्निनां नु नौ: ।
नानान्ननुन्नेनानेन नोनो नेन न नो ननु ॥


नानाननाननुत् नूनम् न एन: अनन्ने अन्निनाम् नु नौ: ।
नानान्ननुन्नेन अनेन न ऊन: ना इन न न: ननु ॥

naanaananaananunnUnaM naino&nanne&nninaaM nu nau: |
naanaannanunnenaanena nono nena na no nanu || (8.3)

You can see the versatility in the verse. While narayana panditaacaarya's verse was  straight-forward, in Vadiraja's work there are several vowel sandhi-s (a+a, a+e, a+i, a+u, purva rupa sandhi and visarga sandhi).

4. rUpa gosvaami

The last is by Sri Rupa Gosvami, who lived around the same time as of Sri Vadiraja. In the work "stava mAla" (Garland of stotra-s), a section is devoted to citra-kAvya ("pattern based poems").

निनुन्नानेनोननं नूनं नानुनोन्नानननोऽनुनी: ।
नानेनानां निनुन्नेनं नानौन्नानाननो ननु ॥४॥

ninunnaanenonanaM nUnaM naanunonnaananano&nunI: |
naanenaanaaM ninunnenaM naanaunnaanaanano nanu ||4||

Friday, February 24, 2012

Yamunotrii 2012 comes to town

I almost feel like a circus manager when I say something comes to town. Surely you all must have been excited when you were kids and heard 'Barney Circus' or 'Russian Circus' comes to town. The very thought of clowns would derive a big laugh and joy. Well, this time, its not a funny clown who will be in town, but atleast the fun part will be there.

Here is a very succinct write-up of my friend Sudhee Subrahmanya about learning Samskritam.

Have you ever wondered what makes an individual special? It is generally the person's character, wealth or it could be the person's unique contributions to the world.  But, what makes a culture special? Or what about a civilization ? – The answer then, is much more complex.  While everyone works towards for the betterment of one's own self-interest and family, there is also the issue of cultural capital that gets associated with a person based on the person's background and tradition.  This is where Indians have a unique civilizational capital – Samskritam (Sanskrit is the anglicized term). 

Samskritam is the ingredient that changes India from being yet another country on the globe to a Civilization and forms the ‘cultural capital' that Indians can be proud of.
Samskritam is unique in that it is the language in which much of the ancient intellectual tradition of Hindus, Buddhists & Jains are preserved. According to the mathematician Seidenberg, India's samskritam tradition has the origins of geometry in a text called Baudhyana Srauta-Sutra, (which contains what is now wrongly named as Pythagoras theorem) for the design of vedic-yajna altars. The great  mathematician from Kerala,  Nilakantha was the author of a mathematical work called Tantrasangraha  in the year 1501 CE. Prof George Gheverghese in his book “Crest of the Peacock” states that the work of Kerala mathematicians like Madhava and Nilakantha was the foundational source which influenced Newton & Leibniz in their development of calculus. 

There are also linguistic works in Samskritam, such as Panini's Ashtadhyayi, a compact text of four thousand rules that defines all of Samskritam.  The technique used in these rules is very similar to what is used in compilers for modern day computer languages. The great epics Mahabharata and Ramayana are in Samskritam. There are also the wonderful poetry and dramas of Kalidasa, Bharavi, Magha, Banabhatta and many others.   The various classical dance traditions of India like Bharatanatyam, Mohiniattam, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Kathak etc all are based on the Samskritam work by Sage Bharata called Naatyashaastra. 

Samskritam has a unique technique of using verb-roots for various actions, noun forms, along with additional sounds called pratyaya. This standardized technique makes it very easy to create new contemporary words.  This has proven very valuable for all Indian languages to leverage and almost all Indian languages now adopt this technique for preserving and enriching India's own languages and also creating a unifying factor among various Indic languages and culture.

Is Samskritam hard to learn?

There is a great misconception that Samskritam is a tough language to learn. This misconception is because in the 19th century under British rule, the method of teaching Samskritam was changed and it was directed mostly towards translation of existing works.  So the focus was shifted to teaching mainly grammar.  If one were to start teaching English, starting with grammar and Shakespearean texts then no one would learn English.  There may be more exceptions in words usage in English than other languages, making it more difficult to learn.  

Fortunately, due to extensive work over the past 30 years by a non-profit organization called Samskrita Bharati, the technique of teaching Samskritam has changed in many places.  Samskritam is now taught in ‘conversational manner', adding a ‘fun' aspect and making it very accessible to people of all backgrounds.

Any speaker of an Indian language, ranging from Tamil to Kashmiri or Gujarati to Assamese, probably knows about 70% of the basic vocabulary and basic sentence formation.  The teaching method of Samskrita Bharati, allows a person to leverage this latent knowledge of vocabulary and sentence structure to learn Samskritam.
Many people who know some basic shlokas already know many terms making it easier to learn. 

Opportunity to learn Samskritam in Austin

Texans have a unique opportunity to learn Samskritam this April.  Samskrita Bharati is conducting a weekend Samskritam camp at Radha Madhav Dham from April 6th-8th. 2012. More than 110 participants attended last year's camp and this year about 130 participants are expected. The classes are conducted using games and conversational techniques that are fun.  The beautiful hill country of Central Texas and comfortable accommodation makes the location a perfect place to immerse oneself in Samskritam.
There are multiple levels ranging from beginner to advanced. At the end of the camp, even a raw beginner will be able to understand speak simple conversational sentences in Samskritam.  There are special classes for kids as well.  This camp will be a great, family oriented fun filled opportunity for families in Texas.

For more information visit Samskrita Bharati USA.