Thursday, January 01, 2004

The unlikely pundits

MANJARI MISHRA

LUCKNOW: The proudest moment in his life, says Shahe Zama Ansari, would be when he could explain in detail, intricate passages from Bhagwat Gita to the village elders in Nivada, a small hamlet in Mubarakpur. The lot expressed its gratitude to Ansari by promptly rechristening him Pandit Shahe Zama, proudly recalls this 22-year-old Acharya in Sanskrit. Ansari now plans to set up a 'pathshala' to introduce other Muslims from his native place to Sanskrit language.

Ansari, incidentally, is one of the four Muslims selected for a week-long Central government sponsored special training for Sanskrit teachers. And while he could be one of the youngest among the trainees, forty-something Mohammad Laam is acknowledged as the brightest pupil. In fact, his family in Khajuria, Prayag is already well-known for its command over Sanskrit. Laam introduced his teenaged son and daughter - Tajuddin and Rabbatun - to the language since their infancy. ''And now they can speak as fluently as I can", he declares. He would like them to follow his footsteps by doing their post graduation in Sanskrit as well as Acharya course.

It would be much easier for these two to do so than it was for me, says Laam. Initially, he faced stiff resistance from hardcore Hindus and Muslims as well. "There was rejection, ridicule and shock when I opted for Sanskrit language and it took quite some time for it to ebb away", he confides.

Dilbar Ahmed Siddiqui had been luckier. Well-versed in 'Karm Kand', Siddiqui has taken part in a number of 'hawans' organised in his home district Meerut. Be it marriage 'mantras' or 'upnayan samskar', his expertise is unchallenged. Of late he has earned a new and eager convert - his wife who has filled up a form for Acharya this year.

Over the last few years, Sanskrit has ceased to be a domain of the upper caste Hindus in UP says, Sacchidanad Pathak, director of UP Sanskrit Sansthan. That more than a dozen, among a batch of 100 teachers selected on the basis of merit from all over the state, are from minority community or dalits, he feels, is extremely encouraging, adding "as they know the subject well, they naturally command more attention and applause".

Back home, it could be a different story though. Mahendra Nath, a dalit teacher from Azamgarh complains about the "Sawarn outrage at his supposed encroachment in their exclusive preserve".

Source: The Times of India, January 1, 2004

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