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Bindi Bottoms
Shailaja Sinha Professor, Patna

“You don’t look like a Sanskrit teacher.’ This is a remark I’ve often heard over the past many years. It is true that I studied in a missionary school and, as a result, I am fluent in English. However, I’m still not sure what a Sanskrit teacher is supposed to look like. Perhaps we are supposed to be orthodox and fumble our way through mangled English or perhaps people picture us as fanatical Hindus. I’m not sure. What I tell everyone is that Ianguage doesn’t belong to a particular creed or class. As a linguaphile, I would never disrespect any language. Having said that, Sanskrit is my first love.

My father was the one who introduced me to this most ancient of languages. He would hold me on his lap when I was a little girl and tell me that “Back to the Vedas” is a very modern notion propagated by social reformer Dayanand Saraswati. This knowledge enchanted me and thanks to my father, I was introduced to the world of the Vedas, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Panchatantra and many others in the original language - Sanskrit. Since he gave me his love for the language, when I came across a reference to Sanskrit as a dead language, I was shocked. When I asked my father why, he said, “Because people like you and I fail to appreciate and disseminate traditional values; we feel proud to emulate Western culture in the garb of modernity.” That for me was the pivotal moment; that is when I decided to take up a career in Sanskrit.

The funny thing was that many people felt I was too brilliant to “waste” my life on a dead language. However, I wanted to use my brilliance to revive this language. Today I hold a Phd in Sanskrit and head the department. I even wrote a research article recently on “Sanskrit’s new incarnation as a computer language”. I believe that Sanskrit is still very much relevant and scientific. At the moment, only 35 students have enrolled for the intermediate course and the bachelor’s degree in the institute where I teach, but they are all eager to take this language forward.

Sanskrit is not only a language that I love, it is also something that has empowered me. Scriptures in Sanskrit with the tales of women such as Gargi and Maitri encouraged me to be a scholar and characters such as Sita and Sanyukta taught me to choose my own groom which I did. I also decided to have only one child. Reading these scriptures taught me to be self-confident enough to make decisions about my life and my body. My feminism isn’t about being radical or liberal. It flows smoothly from Sanskrit.”


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