Saturday, January 2, 2010

Vedic village’s tryst with IT

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    • Govind Krishnan V
    • Briggs, who compared its grammar with that of the computer, came to a startling conclusion: Sanskrit, which ceased to be a living tongue millennia ago, had such a logical meaning-structure that it could be a rich mining field for AI.
    • Had their trip happened today, those experts would have taken Bangalore as nothing more than a stopover. From the Garden City, they would’ve taken a bus and travelled seven hours north to meet the residents of Mattur. In this village, Sanskrit isn’t dead. The language leads an existence — perhaps beleaguered, but tenacious — among its 2,000-odd people. Critically, Briggs and company would have also have witnessed the beginnings of this near-Vedic village’s strange tryst with Hindustan’s nascent IT revolution: the village has produced around 150 software engineers!
    • The journey back to its Vedic roots started for the village in 1981 when Sanskrita Bharati, an organisation that promotes the classical language, conducted a Sanskrit workshop in Mattur. It was attended, among others, by the pontiff of the Pejawar Mutt in nearby Udupi.
    • Sanskrit is reputedly a tough nut to crack, but is it that different from picking up any other language? In some rather important ways, it seems it is. When Shantarama leaves for school and says “Aham vidyalayam gachhami” (I am going to school), he will know that gachhami is very much like gamanam — which means movement. Both words come from the root class gam, from which a fluent Sanskrit speaker can dig up words for all kinds of movements and for things that move. Like gau for cows and khagah for birds. But khagah is not merely something that moves. It is that which it moves in khagam (sky). From a few basic classes (root words), Sanskrit creates an endless chain of words — all linked to each other.
    • How to keep a language alive


      If one man can be said to be responsible for Mattur’s Sanskrit revolution, it would be Srinidhi, a stocky, bullet-headed man with an enthusiasm that belies his forties. Srinidhi heads Sanskritha Bhavan, a Sanskrit-teaching institute that has taken upon itself a job that to many would seem quixotic, the task of taking the language out of textbooks and literature and bringing it back to life on the streets of Mattur. Among the many things the institute does, the primary one is the language support it gives to the local school. Sanskrit is the first language in the Sharada Vidyapeeth, a private school managed by the villagers that educates the village’s children at little more than Rs 80 a month. Sanskrita Bharati organises spoken Sanskrit courses every few months to make sure that nothing is learnt by rote and forgotten. These Sanskrita Shibirams (Sanskrit camps), where learners brush up on their speaking skills see all kinds — men, women, Brahmins, Harijans, college students, middle-aged farmers. And the discussions, Srinidhi says, are very lively. The enthusiast, however, admits that the occasional old-timer who grumbles “Sanskrit? At my age?” is not uncommon.

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