Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The News Cook

One main hindrance for students of Samskritam is the "gender" of the word. Is it "aascharyam" or "aascharyaH"? Is it "pAtram" or "pAtraH"? The main problem is only with akaArAnta puMlinga and napumsakalinga. The strIlinga and non-akAranta can usually guessed with our background knowledge of our mother tongues. The problem happens since our Samskritam learning is based on knowledge apriori. It used to be the practice to learn the nAmalinga-anushAsana, ie the amarakosha - the thesaurus of Samskritam words committed to memory before learning much of grammar. The amarakosha pretty much provides a guidance on gender of words, which becomes easier to grasp later on. We do not learn amarakosha now, instead we straight-way try to reason out why a word is in what gender. Add to this our knowlege of other Indian languages, where the words may have morphed. For example, kriShNaH, yogaH - all have become almost feminine-like AkArAnta in Tamil (kriShnA, yogA) or in Hindi, where the akArAnta has disappeared. The improper learning technique yields to misunderstanding the language for its difficulty.

No matter how much comfort you get buying books online and reading reviews, there is nothing like visiting the local brick and mortar bookshop, drinking coffee and reading some books, which you might never want to buy. The world history or reference books come under this category for me. Reading through the history books, we repeatedly come across the term "dark ages". But it was only Europe, unlike Southeast Asia, who was in dark ages for about 12 centuries. She started tasting intellectualness around 15th century and the period after that produced several European philosophers - Francis Bacon, Spinoza, Hegel, Voltaire, Nietzche, Kant, Schopenhauer - each describing their world view with their own new found logic. A few agreed with each other, but many mostly disagreed. Many philosophic context words were invented or redefined, almost a new vocabulary was required by the end of it all. But nobody was as direct as Schopenhauer put it. Kant, despite his brilliant work, beat around the bush a lot, what could have been said in a few words. Unlike Kant, Arthur Schopenhauer in his "World as will and representation" starts off with a sutram-like definition - "The world is my view". He goes on to declare in his introduction that if the reader is not acquainted with Vedanta, he/she would hardly understand his own work. After many definitions and redefinitions of logic, it is interesting to observe that logic is, in fact, illogical.

That's how yudhiShTra responds to a question by yakSha, in the world's first Jeopardy! The yakSha prashna episode is a collection of questions where the gender of a word can be quickly glanced upon. While the questions are simple, the answers are quite extra-ordinary. Just like the modern Jeopardy, yakSha hurls questions from an extremely wide range of categories - physics, cosmology, material sciences, spirituality, dharma, psychology, behaviour, sobriquets, abstracts, concepts, geography and what not! yudhiShTra's responses are equally varying and astonishing: material things are compared against concepts, hypothetical questions are answered with technical acumen, abstract questions are put into context with solid references. It is impossible for a non-advanced civilization to come up with answers like "Mother is heavier than Earth" or "Dharma protects the one who protects it". Many answers seem anti-modern-science in a casual reading, but a thorough understanding of words, etymology and context are necessary to correctly interpret them.

Towards the end yakSha asks two very simple questions. yudhiShTra's responses to these stretches the mind beyond imagination, takes it to exosphere and suddenly drops off like a hot potato in astonishment and disbelief, only not to parachute-land but crash back into senses. You kind of get the feeling of a jolt at halting suddenly after a wild thrill ride.

कः पन्थाः ? asks yakSha. "What is the road?" I would have just asked back "To where?".

तर्क: अप्रतिष्ट: श्रुतयो विभिन्ना: न एको ऋषि: यस्य मतम् प्रमाणम् ।
धर्मस्य तत्त्वं निहितम् गुहायाम् महाजनो येन गतः स पन्थाः ॥

Yudhishtra's first utterance is "tarkaH apratiShTaH". A quote on which vyAkhyAna can be done for hours I guess. "Logic is baseless". Logic has been the considered the greatest employment of human intellect since Aristotle, Plato down to the European philosophers, who have spent their lifetime only in logic. But Yudhishtra dismisses it curtly - Logic is limited, baseless and cannot be relied upon.

"srutayo vibhinnAH" - vedA-s say different things! "na eko rShiH yasya matam pramANam" - There is not a single rishi whose word is an authority! Its just a poetic way of expressing that vedA-s are interpreted differently and every rishi worth his beard has an opinion. "dharmasya tattvam nihitam guhAyAm". The truth about dharma is hidden in a deep cave! What the Huh? Where did dharma come from? What does it have to do with logic or vedas or roads? Each rishi is attempting to explain what is "dharma", but nobody has a single opinion about it and nobody really knows what dharma is. And then he finally ties them all beautifully - "mahAjano yena gataH saH panThaH" - the road travelled by great people is the one to follow (for mokSha)! The great ones have already figured it out, you just follow the road paved by them. yakSha was not even asking about a physical road! That is the fault of translation or misunderstanding of contexts. Even in English we use the term "Road to the future" or "Path to the future", but that is not what striked us first!

Then comes a final punch, a seemingly innocuous question, the one that we ask everyday and get mind numbing answers from TV, media, google, facebook and so many leaking outlets of information bombarding us from all around. Ironically, thats the last question yakSha asks -  का वार्ता ? - "What is the news?"

And next time when you turn on the Weather channel, remember yudhiShTra's answer, it will make you cringe like an invisible spec of dust in a massive tornado:

अस्मिन् महामोहमये कटाहे सूर्याग्निना रात्रिदिव इन्धनेन ।
मास ऋतु दर्वी परिघट्टनेन भूतानि काल: पचति इति वार्ता ॥

asmin mahaa-moha-maye kaTaahe - In the frying pan of ignorance of this world, using the Sun as fire (sUrya agninA), day and night as fuels (ratri diva indhanena - the word "Indane" - the Indian lpg/oil/gas company comes from the word indhana "fuel"), with seasons as the ladle (mAsa-rtu-darvI-parighattanena), kAlaH (the time), pacati (cooks) bhuTAni - the living beings.

Yes. Time puts us all in ignorance-coated non-stick tawa and keeps cooking us like papad - when done, takes us and tosses aside, puts the new papad in.

This is the news.

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