Preface & Disclaimer: No one paid me to write this Review. No one sent me the book: I bought it of my own accord, paying my money, straight from the Infinity Foundation. I have never written a book review before, and no one in their right mind would ask me to – please read on 2 c y. So this is certainly not a crisp, concise Review full of brilliant constructs and deep perspective. It is a rambling monologue. But that is my style of book reviewing, as I have just discovered.
My niece 199y giggled on the phone that a (namesake of urs truly) from Oxford, England, gave a lecture the other day at her Catholic-Church run college on the occasion of the 400th something of Shakespeare. Located in Atlanta, GA, I would not have heard that Sheikh Bill bin Speare was that old. But I knew enough about the history of Robert Clive starting his genocidal scams, and of Her Imperial Majesty ordering the fingers of North Indian silk weavers cut off to subsidize Sheffield and Birmingham products, to realize that 2016 had to be the death not birth centenary of the Sheikh. But let us ponder that for a moment, braving the shudders as I remember reading of P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster giving an Inspiring Lecture at a girls’ school. Obviously the College places much value on learning English literature and celebrating the lives of English writers – in fact an alumna neighbor famously asked decades ago “Why should one even converse in (her native) Tamil once one knows English?”
Is there anything wrong with the College’s emphasis? Compare it to New York colleges that even give out degrees to the semi-literate offspring of political leaders, or to the people who write for The Hindu. Parents scramble to get their daughters into this college for a superlative if somewhat West-gazing education. I can point to a galaxy of alumnae whose lives attest to the quality of that education. Are these alumnae somehow not quite Indian patriots? Were I to suggest that, I would be run off Facebook, besides the Fatwas flying at me next time I venture into my ancestral neighborhood.
I presume that I can point to numerous Indian colleges where there are Furnitured Professors delving into arcane aspects of Shakespearean or Dickensian literature. My own late grandmother, a pioneering post-graduate of the Madras Presidency College, used to reel off quotes, which is where I learned to sing the praises of so-called South Asian Faculty (‘When shall we three meet again, in thunder, lightning or in rain?”) So, would Her Majesty the Namesake of the Sheikh’s Patron, and the guardians of The Queen’s English, harrumph and snort at the atrocity of Indians in post-colonial “Injya” ‘stealing’ their precious language? Would they declare a Battle For English to be in progress? After all, today in the world, the majority of English speakers are of Indian origin, and this ‘normal’ English is what we speak: the others have strange and quaint accents: Bilayati, Scotch, Irish, Welsh, MidWest-American, Southern, New Yorkish, Australian, South African, French, North European, or Carribbean. The King’s English is dead, ta-ta. Hasn’t English been hijacked, what-what, I say?
On the other hand, I doubt that I would go to an American university to study Japanese literature and history. Or Chinese literature. Spanish in Brazil? German, or French literature in Moscow?* Argentina to learn Arabic? Or Beijing to learn Latin literature? I presume that better courses, better archives, better scholars and better authorities on each of these are found in the nations of origin of these languages.*To be fair, the owner of “Nikolai’s Roof”, the most expensive Russian restaurant in Atlanta, famously responded when cornered on the lack of Russian items on his menu: “The Tsar Nikolai preferred French cuisine!” Never mind, I couldn’t afford a glass of Bordeaux there, let alone Truffles a Vladivostok avec les Escargots Writhinges.
Let me stretch that thought. Would I seek to learn Authoritative Islamic literature at Donald Trump University rather than, say, in Riyadh or Mecca? Or Catholicism in Islamabad? Or in the Baptist Deep South of the USA? Protestantism in Rio? Judaism in Jakarta? Vegetarianism in Papua-New Guinea? Why then would one seek to learn Sanskrit, the language of Sanatana Dharma, in New York?
Ah! But the Quality of the Institution, you say. Let us subject that to some objective criteria. The US News &World Report, published from New York, staffed mostly with graduates from the Columbia University School of Journalism, ranks Columbia University #4 among the universities that they know. I doubt that many of them could get into an IIT IIM or NIT, let alone my niece’s College. In the days when I lived in my hometown, I too ranked the 4 Colleges in/around my hometown within a radius similar to the distance from Manhattan to Boston, as the Best 4 In The Whole Known Dunia. Just like “The Masked Monster” was Ranked Number 1 in the (Georgia) World Championship Wrestling conducted every day at the Atlanta Omni Dome. My roommate in graduate school, now an anti-ballistic missile genius in the stratospheric layers of the DRDO or whatever, never missed a showing of that on Channel 17. If they manage to shoot down the next hydrogen bomb coming in over New Delhi, remember to thank me for not aiming a ballistic bowl of Narayanan’s Haute Cuisine Macaroni avec le Fromage through that TV set.
But from the point of view of rich and successful desis in the US, fixated as most desis are on external Rankings and Accolades, it would be a coup de les coups to have Columbia University establish Adi Sankara Furniture in Sanskrit Studies. With no less than the most famous Sanskrit Professor in America, after Witzel and Doniger, hand-picking the chair-warmer from a well-lobotomized cohort of South Asia graduates from the above 3 entities. Ultimate recognition of authority and excellence, no, yaar? Naxal Ram would gush in The Hindu about how Hinduism had finally Arrived, best coup since Vivekananda spread his pearls of wisdom before a bunch of illiterate bigots wallowing at the Chicago World Parliament of Religions (run by predecessors of those who run Georgia World Championship Wresting, but that’s another matter). Gushing interview with Sheila Bhatt of India Abroad. Another slam at the unwashed Hindu Right on OutLook. Another exclusive to Tehelka slamming the Modi Government’s Genocide against JNU terrorist-admirers. Even a footnote on Page 23 of The Noo Yoik Crimes!
What is wrong with that? You won’t find the answer in the New York Times. You will find it in Rajiv Malhotra’s book. I was sufficiently intrigued to go and spend my own money, a well-spent $20 + shipping at the Infinity Foundation website for a 480-page hard-bound tome, surprisingly light and safe to read in bed with no danger of having one’s nose smashed. I have started reading it, but I read real slow. Stay tuned!
Apparently some desis decided that it would be a great idea to give a ton of money to Columbia U. to set up an Adi Sankara line of Furniture. Teach Sanskrit and make American students Sanskrit, meaning cultured. Might work wonders for the Protectors of the Proletariat at the People’s Republic of Columbia (PRC), as the University is lovingly described in America. And to head the Committee to pick the occupant to warm said Furniture, with the Donors being completely shut out of the process, the PRC appointed a certain professor who can read Sanskrit, himself warming some other Furniture. The name seems familiar – it may be because a former student of his – (which means a PRC alum?) was involved in some slimy deal where some fundamentalist cleric tried to accuse Rajiv Malhotra of ‘plagiarism’, trying to posture as a Princeton Professor, and after due investigation, was laughed off the Internet. Hmmm!!! Not a great endorsement for the PRC, that.
Mr. Malhotra appears to have reacted like my pet cat Snowy used to do when the neighbor’s mutt came by – and rightfully so. He seems to have got the Sringeri establishment to maybe half open an eye from their deep meditation, and pay a bit of attention before it was too late.
Having stated these things up front, Mr. Mahotra advises the reader to read the Conclusions before venturing deeper into the book. Suits me fine, this is exactly how I “read” technical papers. So far I have not been able to find any pictures in the book.
Now let us ponder for a moment whether there were/are good alternatives to this business of Setting Up a Chair and donating millions of dollars and lending an honored Name to a specific person at a specific university. Indians and Indian-Americans have discovered this great idea – the Stamp of High Society adopted by various super-rich Americans in the past.
What exactly is a University Chair?
Most universities provide a reasonably comfortable chair for each of their faculty offices. In some places, the Chair has to be purchased through the State Purchasing entity, where the boss may or may not have struck a deal with some local fly-by-nite outfit to provide lo-lo-quality at hi-hi-prices. The best deals, in my limited experience, are the hand-me-downs through State Surplus where the State Government Administrators dump REAL high-quality chairs after a year or 2. In my office, I have the Komerath Chair. Back in 1991 or so, my old Navy Surplus chair developed a habit of leaving its castors behind when I tried to move. I conveyed this sad fact to the School Director (now they call that entity a Chair too), and he generously donated the nice, high-back leather chair that he had just discarded, with only a few tears where the hi-quality cotton stuffing can be visually and posteriorously experienced. I still have it. I put my 20-lb bookbag and rain jacket on it.
But I digress.
A few years ago I read in the Chennai newspaper about the Chancellor of a new Self-Financed Engineering College in Chennai. “My mother would be so proud of me!” His Excellency gushed. “For the first time in my life I am running a business that is legitimate!”
Besides being a legal way of making money, a private university is also a great way to, say, launder a name. Leland Stanford made his money, and his name, as a Railroad (some add “Robber” but I wouldn’t) Baron. Perhaps he had the ghosts of a few hundred Chinese and Indian workers haunting his home on the rare occasions when he spared a thought for that human cost of hammering a railroad through the Sierra Nevada or Rockies, building those dizzy viaducts and trellises, and carving ledges around terrifying cliffs. To be fair, the historical accounts now found at Stanford university claim that Chinese railroad workers were paid the same as Caucasian ones – as long as they survived. They just had to work about twice as long and hard, to pay the various baksheesh demands of the (Caucasian) supervisors etc. and maybe do some of the most dangerous work. There were Indian (I mean East Indian) workers there too, but I can’t find any writeup on them by the South Asia Furniture. Mr. Stanford then paid to build a university – and who can deny that this has done an immense amount of good? The key was, eventually, to hand over the key to trustworthy, super-able people to hire people who would turn into fabulous Star scholars – and not mess with the day-to-day administration and petty pompous griping of said Stars. “Spare me that!” He prayed. Leave that to the Deans whom I pay far more generously than I paid those workers, he wisely decided.
This is the well-honed American tradition of Endowing University Resources. Get the university/stadium/building/auditorium/classroom/faculty Chair named after you – or someone who will tell everyone that it is actually you who donated. And then sign that agreement saying that you cannot be sued when whoever was hired, was denied tenure or otherwise sued the university. The best deal would be an Anonymous Donor status – perhaps helps a lot with not unduly alerting the IRS, SEC and FINCEN as well.
What does the Chair do? The business plan is that you donate – starting price for a Full Professor Chair at a well-known university, rather than an Associate Professor Bench or an Assistant Processor Stool is $3M, up from $2M about a decade ago, but I have heard of Chairs as high as $7M. You take your tax writeoff. The university invests through its Foundation, buying stock in, say, BlackWater Security or Halliburton Reconstructions, or ENRON or American Airlines or Marlboro Cigarettes or Johny Walker Whisky, and, perhaps, your own company. The Chair is guaranteed, say, 2 percent on the investment ( in old days, it was 6 percent but now interest rates are dismal). The rest goes into the Foundation to fund worthy causes such as business-class travel and office renovations for the new Associate VP for Fundraising.
The above income from the Chair to the individual School makes its way at least in part to the control, not the wallet, of the person warming the Chair, to use as s(he) pleases, within the laws of the State. In public universities, that would pay for trips to conferences that externally-sponsored research grants would not fund (political conferences, for starters unless one’s grant is in politics). Host visitors from India for a short trip to discuss further funding. Etc etc. In private universities (I believe Columbia is one such), much of the faculty salary also comes from this income. That is the Self-Financed University model in the US. $69,048 per year in fees per undergraduate student doesn’t even begin to cover the expenses of a University in Manhattan, you know…
In public universities, the deal is simple: they use the carrot of a Chair to get someone to move there, and the Expectation is also very simple: the same as Endowing a Chair on the Lower Propulsion Deck of a Roman Galleon. Row, row, row, row! Bring in 10 to 100 times the money in external grants that the Chair gives you. Build up programs, visibility, or we will kick you out. The Endowers of the Chair are a distant memory in the daily grind.
What does this buy, as far as, say, the name of Adi Sankara? I don’t think Adi Sankara cares much any more, but some of us might, because He is such an important part of our tradition. Let’s muse on that. Papers on The Achievements of Adi Sankara? A conference on The True Meaning of Advaita? Maybe, though highly unlikely – they don’t sound Scholarly. BUT.. perhaps as RM hints, not to put words into his word processor, also “innovative” papers such as The Role of Hindu Propaganda in Suppressing the Rights of Dalits. Petitions to Ban the Chief Minister of Gujarat from Visiting the USA. Petitions to Deny Funding to the Kushta Nivaran Sangh (Leprosy Relief Organization) or the Vatsalya Trust Orphanage. Petitions to Condemn the Indian Government for Denying the Fundamental Right of JNU students to celebrate the Birth Anniversary of executed terrorists who murdered 6 Delhi Police personnel defending India’s Parliament. A book like “Ganesa, Lord of Obstacles” the obscene hate creation of Phaullus * Courtright, the (Endowed Chair) professor from Emory University. The hate-filled Nazi-like Indo-Eurasian Research Forum hosted by/for Michael Witzel, the Wales (endowed chair) Professor of Sanskrit at Harvard University, the hate literature of (Endowed Chair) Professor Wendy Doniger of U. Chicago.
- Note: As I found out from my Palestinian and Iranian classmates long ago, “Palestine” is an anglicized corruption of what real Middle Easterners call it: “Philistine”. Likewise, the name “Paul” is, from my deep psycho-linguistic analysis, an Anglicized corruption of the Roman Paulus, from the Greek-corrupted Paulose, from the original Middle Easter corrupted Ango-Roman corruption of the original Middle Eastern “Phaullus”. Thus psycho-analysis for once, convincingly gives a rationale behind the obsessive focus of research of some people.
And there is not a blessed thing that the Sringeri people can do about that, once they have signed over the name of Adi Sankara. Which is RM’s point.
Now are there other ways that generous Indian-Americans could support scholarship on our traditions? Absolutely, and they are smart enough to figure that out with no help from me. For instance, they could give out an ANNUAL award for excellence in scholarship, carefully selecting the recipient using a Panel that they establish, hand-pick (and monitor). This would bring His name to the front every year, and encourage real scholarship. Scholarships named after him, to a set of talented youngsters to pursue knowledge in the spirit and tradition of Adi Sankara, at various universities. The difference is that in all of these, the fundamental tenet is conveyed:
“Thou shalt not bite the hand that fed thee”
RM maintains that given the overwhelming dominance of entities inimical to Sanatana Dharma in the US academic establishment, funding a Chair at Columbia U. is as bad as airdropping anti-tank rocket launchers in Syria – in a region where the ISIS is bound to grab them. It matters little that the airdrop shipment says in big letters:
“To Be Used to Fight Against the ISIS Onlee Yaaar!”
I agree 100% with that concern.
Note: My serious views, and the very limited scope of my understanding on Religion are explained in my role as co-author of “Sanatana Dharma: Introduction to Hinduism”. Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Sanatana-Dharma-Introduction-Narayanan-Komerath-ebook/dp/B00XDN83V4