Monday, May 12, 2008

No Language Barrier for this Muslim Scholar

Pandit Syed Hussain Shastri is a Sanskrit scholar who has been in love with the language all his life. Pandit and Shastri have been prefixed and suffixed respectively by people to his name because of his vast knowledge.

In Mirzaganj village, Malihabad, people know him as Shastriji. Malihabad is 20 kilometers northeast to Lucknow city. Shastriji had decided to learn Sanskrit because his father wanted it. “Once I started learning it in childhood, I just fell in love with it. The romance continues,” he says.

The 79-year-old scholar says: “I find French beautiful, but Sanskrit is the most beautiful.” In the last 56 years people came from far and wide — Varanasi, Allahabad and Europe — to learn Sanskrit from him. One of them, Henry Shock, a scholar in oriental studies from Illionis University visited him about two decades ago. On meeting him Shock said: “It is highly doubtful that Sanskrit is a living language, but it is never doubtful that it is living in your body.”

Shastriji says: “I was barely four when I took admission in Dharm Sangh Sanskrit Vidyalaya, Lucknow, and began my journey in Sanskrit. A Hindu priest initiated me into Laghu Kaumudi (beginner’s Sanskrit grammar) and then I continued with Sanskrit studies at Aminabad High School, Government Jubilee Inter College and then the Lucknow Univeristy. In 1952 I graduated in Sanskrit.” He has a post-graduate degree in the language. All of his teaching lessons begin with chants from the Vedas.

He says: “I am waiting for my death to tip toe...” in the same breath he recites: “...And not a stone to tell where I lie...Just let me live and let me die.” Now most of his time is spent in reading Bhagwad Gita in Sanskrit.

The Muslim scholar is a firm believer in Brahminism. He says, “Take away Brahminism from Sanskrit, and nothing would be left in it.”

“Shock has been the only person who interviewed me in Sanskrit. Many times during the interview I attempted to drift to English as I knew he was from the US. But he continued in Sanskrit. When I asked Shock from where he learnt Sanskrit, he said ‘Germany’.”

For some people languages know no barrier — of caste, creed, religion or nationality.