Refactor Relishes

Technology and Product Feature are two parallel lines that keep advancing in different planes. A typical challenge for a CTO is to ensure the features of a product are usable while keeping up with the technology advances – iow keep both engineers and the customers happy. Quite often a project meets one or more of these challenges:

  • technology is so outdated/unsupported (or process complicated) that no engineer wants to touch the code
  • no unit/integration tests that can help in detecting code issues when some thing is modified
  • lack of willingness of engineers to work on old technology
  • lack of willingness of engineers to adopt new technology
  • customer is asking for new features, but cost to maintain is unjustifiable
  • management is uninterested because status quo is good enough

Step-in Refactoring. Made popular by Martin Fowler’s seminal book “Refactoring“, this discipline gave legitimacy to engineers to make a case for change without sacrificing product features. Its almost an art-form to change parts of the code to newer technology yet continue to deliver the features. I consider refactoring as an Advanced Species Engineering Skill. Its easy to write code. Its not so easy to write code under constraints. Its much less easy to change code and also change other people’s minds. But how much refactoring is sufficient to declare victory?

Remake movies are some what like refactoring. Its still a different end-product but customer expectation is somewhat same. The story-line has to be faithful to the original but it should still evoke interest in the audience. The audience are not coming in just for the story, but looking for a modern plot-setting, spell-binding animation, a better emotional quotient or intriguing twists not in the originals. Perfect Murder, Ocean’s 11 are some good examples. Of course many bad remakes have failed at the box office too. Interestingly we see remakes from just 30-40 years after the originals. Is audience memory short? Not quite. The audience interest is more in the differential than in the integral. But how much differential is enough to evoke interest? And how much of a time gap is ideal to create a retelling?

If there is a competition among stories that are retold, Ramayana would beat them all by any parameter you look at – time, language, quantity, quality, depth, authors etc. Tradition has it that Ramayana happens in every 24th kalpa of a manvantara. The master story teller vAlmIki goes into incredible details of some events, does remarkably accurate psycho-analysis of characters, yet leaves ample scope for someone else to fill the gaps. Pretty much every Indian regional language (and oriental too) has a retelling – kamban, vishvanAtha satyanArAyana, mAdhava kandali, tulasidas and many more have given it extensive treatments. Even as recent as Maniratnam’s Ravan. All these retellings have variations – highlighting some characters, a few punch dialogs, skipping some events, juxtaposing with regional trends and so on. So has anyone attempted to refactor Ramayana? Guess what, bhAsa, a dramatist from ~450 BCE does exactly that.

In his pratimA-nATakam (House of Statues), bhAsa picks up some events of vAlmIki’s rAmAyaNa, but charmingly refactors the events yet fitting with the original storyline. Every twist in the plot is fresh and original. Some of the timeless dialogs of modern Bollywood cinema can trace its origins to here. We’ll see that in a minute. But here are some of the differentials

  • All characters are made to look good, including kaikeyI and rAvaNa ! Talk about improving the design!
  • kaikeyI asks only one boon of dasharatha’s, which was his promise to her father to make bharata the king
  • On hearing this, Rama automatically gears up to goto the forest without bring prompted by dasharatha’s, and so is sItA
  • bharata comes back from his grandpa’s place waits in the outskirts of ayodhyA in the House of Statues, where dasharatha’s statue is also kept. He learns that the house honors only his dead ancestors and is sad to know about his father’s demise
  • In the forest, rAvaNa meets rAma as an ascetic who attempts to do shrAddhA of dasharatha, but deceives rAma to take sItA away. lakShmaNa has been sent on an errand to pick up some materials, so he isn’t even in the scene
  • The entire kishkindhA, sundara and yuddha kANda-s are skipped, rather told in a single line and the story ends happily in rAmA’s coronation.

None of this make sense to a rAmAyaNa reader, yet the drama is skillfully weaved and is so convincing. So convincing, that I will leave you with a scene from a Bollywood movie. Translations are in Hindi to give a dramatic effect, but you are welcome to imagine with your mother tongue.

The scene is from sixth act. bharata hears about sItA being taken away by rAvaNa and blames kaikeyI for this situation:

भरतः – य: स्वराज्यं परित्यज्य त्वन्नियोगात् वनं गतः । तस्य भार्या हृता सीता पर्याप्तः ते मनोरथः ।।
jo apne rAjya ko chod-ke van gaya, unkA patnI mA sItA-devI ko apaharan hua hai. ab tum bahut khushI hai na, mA?
कैकेयी – भवतु इदानीं कालः कथयितुम् । त्वं न जानासि महाराजस्य शापम् ।
haan, ab sach bolne ka vakt aagaya. putra, tumko maharaj-kA shaap nahi pataa hai
भरतः – किं शप्तः महाराजः ?
mummy, yeh kya bol rahi ho? pitA ka kya shaap thA ?
कैकेयी – सुमन्त्र । आचक्ष्व विस्तरेन ।
sumantra, zara flashback batao (sumantra is the minister)
सुमन्त्र: – कुमार । श्रूयताम् । पुरामृगयां गतेन महाराजेन कस्मिंश्चित् सरसि कलश पूरयामानः वनगजबृंहितानकारिशब्दसमुत्पन्नवनगजशंकया शब्दविधेन शरेण विपन्नचक्षुषः महर्षेर्चक्षुभूतो गुनितनयो हिंसितः ।
(suno beta, bahut din pehle, jab aap ke pitA hunting gaye the, tab ek blah blah blah… )

This is how a flashback should be – a samasa-packed one line punch! kaikeyI sends rAma to the forest so that he can escape from the curse of the blind sage whose son was killed by dasharatha thinking it was an elephant which made a noise. She then proceeds to say she wanted Rama to go to forest only for 14 days, but by mistake asked for “14 years”. bharata then asks if the elders knew about this and kaikeyI confirms that vasiShTha, vAmadeva and other RShi-s know about this. bharata is relieved and asks for forgiveness.

Its mind boggling to think of the literary freedom of those times. By effectively refactoring the events, bhAsa still maintains the storyline and engages the audience. The biggest question is how did the audience “tolerate” this? I guess we can assume there were no liberals in ancient India. cArAvAka-s yes, but thankfully no liberals. And bhAsa’s refactoring has survived for 2500 years!

So next time when you are stuck on a refactoring problem, pick up a bhAsA’s work. He may give you a clue or two about how to dramatically change the code, yet keep the SLA engagement intact.

Advertisements

The sampradAna dilation

During the late 80s, the college I was studying had a good reputation for its excellent library of old Sanskrit texts. But unfortunately accessing them was next to impossible, for whatever reasons, so I hardly tried. Not just from libraries, but in general, accessing Sanskrit texts in original or even a copy was not easy in 80s and 90s. They were always considered “too sacred”, “too rare” or “don’t ask because you wont understand”.

When we think of Sanskrit vAngmaya (literature), usually devotional literature comes to mind plus some famous works of select few poets like kAlidAsa, bhAsa etc. But there were also a huge number of non-devotional literature which have enriched the language with some very original themes. In the early part of 1900s (upto 1950s), there existed several Sanskrit publication houses in India publishing from Pune (Punyapuri), Mumbai, Lahore (Lavapuri), Varanasi, Chennai and Calcutta (kAlighAT). Publication houses like Chaukamba Series, Gaekwad Oriental Series, Travancore Series, Nirnaya Sagar Press, Anandasrama Granthavali, Government Oriental Series, Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Kashmir Research Institute, Gita Press and many more have published some very interesting works, the editors and authors of which we have no clue about today. Most of these works have some foreward in English and Hindi, but most commentary is in Sanskrit itself.

After 1950s the Indian political scenario shifted substantially, with the education system and deliberate history rewriting going into hands of communists, thanks to self-claimed Pandits, thereby signaling a sharp decline of such publications and a concerted attempt to lock up Sanskrit knowledge. But these books could be lying around in somebody’s attic or lost forever in education institutions, if not for the wonderful effort by concerned people in Google, Microsoft, Digital India, archive.org and similar organizations, who are digitizing them and/or hosting them free for all, by unlocking them from the many American, Indian and European libraries.

Lets digress a bit. A prime reason for the popularity of khanacademy.org was the philosophy that knowledge should be free and shared by all. This idea completely goes against organized institutional knowledge, where you pay huge sums of money to obtain knowledge and spend rest of your life to make that money back. In other words, knowledge becomes a means for money, not a pursuit of itself.

In the gurukula system, the remarkable implementation of sustaining knowledge through generations comes from integrating it as part of life’s challenge itself. We are told that every person is born with three (some say 6) debts (RNa), which has to be paid back in that life – pitRu RNa, RShi RNa and deva RNa. (In US, there is also a 4th RNa – shiShya RNa ie student debt). Ok, the relevant debt for us here is the RShi RNa which is not about payback money to the teacher, but by spreading what’s learnt, to others. This theme of “knowledge should be shared and forwarded” has been reflected in many Sanskrit works and subhAShitams, the one I like specifically:

na cora hAryam na rAja hAryam na bhrAtrubhAjyam na ca bhArakArI |
vyaye krute vardhate eva nityam vidyA dhanam sarva dhanapradAnam ||

न चोरहार्यम् न राजहार्यम् न भ्रातृभाज्यम् न च भारकारी ।
व्यये कृते वर्धते एव नित्यम् विद्या धनं सर्व-धन-प्रदानम् ॥

“It cannot stolen by thieves, not take away by kings, cannot be split amongst siblings and is not heavy (to carry). If spent, it is only ever-increasing, this wealth called Knowledge is the greatest wealth of all”

Back to the publishers. Of these, the Nirnaya Sagar Press published at least about 110 books from the 1890s to 1950s of many hitherto unknown authors. Under the guidance of one Sri Tukaram Javaji and edited by a few Pandits (chiefly Sri Mahamahopadhyaya Durgaprasad, Sri Kasinath Pandurang Parab, Sri VLS Panshikar etc.) they have done an incomparable service to preserving Sanskrit literature. Some of these books fall under the series called kAvya-mAla (Garland of Poetry) and the kAvya-mAla Anthology (collection) series, the topics of which could make a modern film-maker cry with joy. So many stories to adapt from – without any royalty or copyright violation!

The authors are lost in history indeed – dAmodara-gupta (kuTTanI-matam), gumAni-kavi (upadesha-shatakam), vikrama (nemidUtam), shrInivAsAcArya (jAnakI-caraNa-cAmaram), rAmabhadra-dIkShita (rAmAShTa-pRAsa, rAmAyaNa with second-syllable-alliteration per quarter), sUryakavi (rAmakRShNa-viloma-kAvyam, forward-reading gives rAmAyaNa, backward reading gives kRShNa’s story) and so many more. Some of them require a decent study to even understand what the content is about. The topics are varied – poetics, morals, short stories, events from epics or purANa-s, eulogies of kings, stotram-s, satire of current events and many more.

If there such thing as a time-dilated samprAdAna karma phala (an observation of two relative points between the originator and the receiver), you can observe it revealing – somebody writes a delightful kAvya a thousand years ago for teaching his students about an event that happened three thousand years ago in a palm leaf, overtime it gathers dust in some maharAjA’s library, someone picks it up and uses modern technology to print it for the love of literature, overtime it gets lost in libraries, someone finds it and uses modern technology to digitize them for preserving ancient knowledge, someone hosts them in their server for free access and someone reads, delights and shares that in blogs, for there is nothing else better to do.

Are you bored? There are hundreds of Sanskrit books awaiting to delight you!

kaShTopanishad

One of the best collection of lectures delivered as part of his first American and England tour by Swami Vivekananda is the “Jnana Yoga”. Among the several inspiring lectures, there is one about kaTha-upanishad, in which he brilliantly provides an exposition about the nature of life and death. In the late 1980s, it hooked me and I began searching for a original text edition of the upanishad. I finally got hold of a Ramakrishna Mission published book with word-by-word English translations. It was a delight to read the translation of each of those verses. Some quotes in that book are timeless gems: “The teacher must be wonderful, so must be the taught” (आश्चर्यो वक्ता कुशलानुशिष्ट:), “Money does not satisfy men” (न वित्तेन तर्पनीयो मनुष्य:), “This (truth) cannot be understood by arguments” (न एषा तर्केन मतिरापनेया) and of course the one most popularized by Swami Vivekananda to inspire a docile nation that had forgotten her own glory and strength – “Arise Awake and Stop not till the goal is reached” (उत्तिष्ठ जागृत प्राप्य वरान् निबोध).

Several years later, armed with amateur knowledge of spoken Samskritam, understanding slokas, doing anvaya-s on slokas without having to rely on English, I picked up the kaTha upanishad to understand it in Samskritam. To my disappointement, I found that most translations were so inadequate, and were beginning to feel dry, many seeking just to find a word-to-word exactness bereft of context. I came to the conclusion that the very essence of each sloka and the conversation was just amiss.

A key difference between “academic” and “spoken” Samskritam knowledge is there are certain words you have to use while speaking, to convey the vivakShA. Modulation of voice is a natural piece of spoken language – listen to yourself when you question, show surprise, anger, or other emotions – where you put the stress (udAtta, anudAtta and svarita). All these have to be internalized while speaking in Samskritam too. In conversational Samskritam, it is very important to learn words like किल, खलु, ननु, वा, एवं वा etc. early on, that act as a conduit of these conversational emotions. Then, instead of plain assertive sentences you create an opportunity for a conversation.

These किल, खलु, ननु can be easily understood if you think in your bhAratIya mAtru-bhAShA rather than English. I will cite one example in Tamil, but this applies to other Indian languages too. Words like appadiya, illaya (is that so, is it not so) occur so frequently in speech conveying various emotional levels with a variety of intonations. Beginner Samskritam students could very well practice with sentences like भवान् राम: किल? (You are Rama, right?), भवान् मम गृहम् आगच्छति खलु? (You are coming to my home, surely?) स: ननु टेस्ला क्रीतवान् ? (Isn’t he the one who bought a Tesla?)

As I read through each verse of kaTha-upanishad, suddenly I realized how natural the naciketa-yama samvAda is. Take an example: When naciketas asks for the third wish, Yama says देवै: अत्र अपि विचिकित्सितं पुरा, न हि सुविज्ञेयम् अणु: एष: धर्म: । (Even the devAs have doubts on this. This dharma is subtle and cannot be well-analyzed easily), to which naciketas replies देवैः अत्र अपि विचिकित्सितं किल? (Even the devAs have doubts on this, isn’t that so?). Naciketas uses the same sentence as Yama said and simply turns it back into a question with किल at the end and uses it as an argument to further emphasize that his question can be answered by Yama alone! The English translation in the book simply missed this context and emotion. And there are quite a few verses like this, where the samvAda is beautifully captured in verse form.

When I and my friends recently had an opportunity to stage a Samskritam skit at a local cultural program, the above experience turned into an idea of a plot for emphasizing why people should not rely on English translations to read Samskritam slokas. Thus was born kaShTopanishad.

Act 1 – गुरुकुलम् |

(नान्द्यन्ते गुरु: प्रविशति)
छात्रा: नमस्कार: |
गुरु: नमस्कार: । उपविशन्तु । … अद्य श्लोकं एकं पाठयामि ।
गजाननम् भूतगणादि सेवितम् कपित्थजम्बूफलसारभक्षितम् ।
उमासुतम् शोकविनशकारणम् नमामि विघ्नेश्वर पाद पङ्कजम् ।
छात्र: १: अस्य श्लोकस्य अर्थ: क:?
गुरु:
गजाननम्भू (one with an elephant face on this earth)
दहनातिसेवितम् (which burns like red color of apple)
कपित्थ-जम्पू-फलसारभक्षितम् (who jumps like a monkey to eat all the fruits)
उमासु तम्शो (who makes his mom very angry)
कविनाशकारणम् । (who destroys all the kavi)
नमामि विघ्नेश्वर पाद पङ्कजम् (i bow to vighneshvara’s lotus feet)
नचिकेत: (उत्थाय) हे गुरो । अस्य श्लोकस्य सः न अर्थ: ।
गुरु: (कोपेन) भवान् शिक्षक: वा? अहम् शिक्षक: वा? … उपविशतु ।
गुरु: अग्रे सराम: । सत्यम् वद । धर्मम् चर ।
छात्र: १: मम एक: प्रश्न: । धर्म इत्युक्ते किम्?
गुरु: धर्म इत्युक्ते religion
छात्र: १: तर्हि मतं इत्युक्ते ?
गुरु: तदपि religion… उपविशतु ।
छात्र: १: जाति वर्ण शब्दयोः क: भेद: ?
गुरु: both means caste.… उपविशतु ।
नचिकेत: धर्म जाति वर्ण सत्यम् इति शब्दानाम् अर्थ: भारतीय भाषायाम् एव अवगम्यते | तर्हि आङ्ग्ल-भाषायाम् किमर्थम् दोष-युक्तम् अनुवादम् करोति ?
गुरु: (कोपेन): यदि मम शिक्षणम् भवते न रोचते, भवान् साक्षात् यम-लोकम् गच्छतु | तत्र संस्कृतं पठतु |
नचिकेत: (तूष्णीम् स्थित्वा) – तथा अस्तु ।

Act 2: यमालयम् ।

नचिकेत: दिनत्रयं यमालये प्रतीक्षते ।
(यम: प्रविशति)
यम: हा हन्त । अहो मया दोष: कृतः । (नचिकेतसं प्रति गत्वा) नमस्कार: । भवतः नाम किम् ?
नचिकेत: नमस्कार: | मम नाम नचिकेतः |
यम: आगच्छतु । क्षम्यताम् । भवान् दिनत्रयम् विना भोजनम् तिष्ठति । तत् दोष निवारणार्थम् त्रीणि वराणि पृच्छतु ।
नचिकेत: मम पिता संस्कृते सर्वदा दोषम् करोति । यमलोकम् गच्छतु, तत्र संस्कृतम् पठतु, इति कोपेन उक्तवान् । स: कुपित: मा भवतु इति मम प्रथमम् वरम् |
यम: तथास्तु । भवत: पिता इत:परम् सम्यक् संस्कृतम् पाठयतु । कुपितः मा भवतु । …… … । द्वितीयम् वरम् पृच्छतु ।
नचिकेत: संस्कृत अध्ययनार्थम् बहु मार्गा: सन्ति । व्याकरणम्, काव्यम्, नाटकम्, ग्रन्थ:, अनुवाद: च । क: मार्ग: उचित: ?
यम: संस्कृत-अध्ययनार्थम् सम्भाषणमार्ग: एव उचित: । भाष्यते इति भाषा | न केवलम् संस्कृतम्, या काSपि भाषा-ज्ञानम् संभाषणेन एव सिद्ध्यते । अस्तु तर्हि तृतीयम् वरम् पृच्छतु ।
नचिकेत: मम एक: संशय: । आधुनिके, संस्कृत-पठनात् लाभ: इति एके वदन्ति । न कोपि लाभ: इति एके वदन्ति । अस्य सत्यम् किम् इति ज्ञातुम् इच्छामि ।
यम: अहो ! बुद्धिजीविभि: अत्र अपि विचिकित्सित: प्रश्न: अयम् । अस्मिन् विषये सर्वेषाम् भ्रमः अस्ति । संस्कृतेन क: लाभ: । अहम् भवते English, German, Spanish या का अपि भाषा-ज्ञानम् दास्यामि । किमर्थम् संस्कृतम् ? त्यजतु संस्कृतम् । एतत् वरम् मास्तु । अन्यत् वरम् पृच्छतु ।
नचिकेत: एता: भाषा: उत्तमा: एव । परन्तु एता: ज्ञात्वा भगवद्-गीता, शास्त्रम्, पुराणम्, धर्म:, योग:, आयुर्वेदः ननु अवगम्यन्ते ?
यम: नैव | एताभि: भाषाभि: अनूदित्वा प्राय: भवत: पिता सदृशम् दोष सहितम् एव अवगच्छति ।
नचिकेत: तर्हि मम स: एव प्रश्न: । भवान् एव एतस्य उत्तरम् दातुम् शक्नोति। वराणाम् एष: वरस्तृतीय: ।
यम: संस्कृत अध्ययनेन लाभ: अस्ति एव | वेद-शास्त्रादि-ज्ञानम् तु अतिदूरे भवतु । परन्तु केवलम् संस्कृत-माध्यमेन एव श्लोकानाम् अर्थ: ज्ञायते । गीतातात्पर्यम् भ्रमं विना अनुवादम् विना स्वयम् अवगम्यते । काव्य-रस: स्वानुभूयते । संस्कृते अनेकेषु विषयेषु ग्रन्था: सन्ति। व्याकरण अध्ययनेन स्मरण शक्तिः अभिवर्धते । भाषा-शुद्धि: भवति ।
नचिकेत: परन्तु संस्कृतम् कष्टम् इति सर्वे वदन्ति खलु?
यम: आम् । सर्वे वदन्ति । परन्तु का भाषा न कठिना ? सर्वासाम् भारतीय-भाषाणाम् संस्कृतम् जननी वा सम्बन्धिनी वा अस्ति । अत: संस्कृतम् श्रुणोतु । संस्कृतम् पठतु । संस्कृतेन वदतु । आनन्दम् अनुभवतु ।
भवन्त: अपि । (नमस्कारम् करोति)

जयतु संस्कृतम् । जयतु भारतीय संस्कृति: ।

A skit of this can be watched here:

For whom the feeling tolls

From a simple series of drawings to sophisticated and precise motion of objects following physics laws, animation has come a long way in just a few decades. Companies like Pixar have raised the bar with every movie release. Eventually all animations look sophisticated, beautiful and stunning, yet they fail to hold us unless there is a compelling story. Illustration is for the mind. Story is for generations. This is a key point for creating good slides/presentations – it is good to have appropriate visuals, but you need to have a compelling story.

In the Inside Out movie, the story of a girl depicted through personifaction of emotions is a brilliant way to capture the psychology of a child. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that ‘depression emotion’ is going to have some kind of impact, but the script manages it very well until the end. The fact that depression is an important emotion for human beings (perhaps animals too) is a neat little knot. But after watching the movie, I felt something was eluding me and I wasn’t able to quite capture it. I have heard a similar story-line before? But where?

Many people read the bhagavad-gita in original, translated or original with translations and are awed by its philosophy. Lectures after lectures have eloquently captured its essence expounded through a variety of experiences. Its so easy to quote ‘karmaNi eva adhikAraH te’, ‘yogaH karmasu kausalam’, yet it is near impossible to put them in practice. Or get a thrill reminiscing Robert Oppenheimer quoting the destruction verse (divisUrya sahasrasya) during the nuclear bomb.

Whenever I get hold of a book, I tend to read the Introduction/Foreward section fully. Understanding why the author write the book, provides a context for the content. In that sense, one of the most brilliant and under-rated chapters is the first chapter of the gIta. In fact both rAmAyaNa and mahAbhArata are fantastic human psychology guides. Many characters of these two epics are diluted in our day-to-day versions and are put in black-white, so the real shades don’t come out as vyAsa had put it. I feel sorry for psychology students who quote Jung and Freud at the drop of a hat, yet cannot explain the confusions of yudhiShThira or the anxiety of dasharatha.

From author’s view, follow how the context is being brilliantly set. If the content was important, he could have directly skipped to the preaching section. Yet vyAsa devotes an entire chapter to set the mood. In the first chapter “arjuna vishAda yoga”, there is a brilliant contrast of two feelings: duryodhana’s and arjuna’s. Both are driven by ego and are ready to annhiliate the other side. Duryodhana cautions droNa of his nemesis, followed by provoking that he is not a kShatriya (implying not fit for a battle) and then implying a soft corner for his favorite student. He has more strength in numbers than the pANdava-s, yet is doubtful of victory. And arjuna begins with ordering krishNa to take ‘his’ chariot in front of the army and proclaims that he is ready to take them on.

At no point duryodhana exibhits a feeling of remorse that what he is doing is wrong. Though enveloped in doubt, there is no sadness in him on what happens to anyone as he clearly declares that others are willing to die for him. In complete contrast, arjuna after being cleverly put between bhIShma and droNa, breaks down because of ‘depression’. (A trivia: Many think that the first words spoken by kRShNa are in the 2nd chapter. But here kRShNa says, “Arjuna, see the assembled Kurus”). This vishAda is the reason arjuna is ready to lay down his life in the battle-field and hoping he would get mokSha without any incurred pApa or effort.

Just as in Riley’s triggering of her fondest memories, ‘depression’ played a key role for arjuna to bring out the best in him. Without ‘depression’ we would all be like duryodhana, not even feeling what is wrong.

For the Samskritam lovers, the verbs used in arjuna’s lamentation are like leaving a kid in candy shop. The dhAtu of many words are deep in meaning that translating them does not do justice. (kRupayA parayA AviShTaH, sIdanti gAtrANi, mukham pariSuShyati, gANDIvam sravate, tvak paridahyate, sreyaH na anupaSyAmi).

I’ve heard people give various reasons to learn (or not to learn) Samskritam. From a cliched ‘I read in 5th grade’ to a proud ‘My grandfather knows it’ to ‘I simply don’t have time’ to ‘Its complicated’. A few among them stay on to continue to learn the language, in addition to just admiring. For them, the depression has already set in.

When is yours ?

(Some ideas inspired by Sri Dr. Padmakumar’s bhagavad-gIta series on youtube).

Wisdom by numbers

In the late 1980’s there was a superhit Hindi song with simple lyrics and catchy tunes. It become very popular even in the anti-Hindi belts of India and catapulted Madhuri Dixit to instant fame. Yeah, for those from that era, I dont have to give a clue anymore. So it goes ek, do, teen … barah, terah – counting from 1 to 13, the lyric pauses to make a pun-ny link between terah (13) and tera (you) – tera karoon intazaar (im waiting for you, come out, the Spring has arrived). Language of lyrics and tunes are made for each other, I guess. Setting that tune to translated lyrics just doesn’t feel quite right. It goes on to describe other numbers and events, but frankly who remembers the rest of the lyrics?

But long before Madhuri danced to the tunes of counting 1,2,3 to wait for her boyfriend, this technique was used to put a distressed King to bed. Not by counting sheeps, but by shedding an enormous amount of wisdom on observations of human behavior. Set in a form of dialog, the context of it is as fascinating as the content. Sanjaya has just returned from a mission to pANdava-s to “accept terms” of duryodhana, but dhRtarAShtra does not know about the result yet. The King asks Sanjaya to spell out, but Sanjaya says, its late in the night and he would disclose the details only in the court in front of everyone, the next day morning. This makes the king uncomfortable and cannot sleep at night. And so when the king is in distress, he promptly calls for his brother for advice. And thus the chapter is named “Unable to sleep at night chapter (prajAgara parva – part of udyoga parva)” – more popularly known by its content – vidura nIti (Laws/Sayings of vidura). Yes, we are talking about Vidura, yet another fascinating character of the epic. Etymologically viduraH could be vigrahavAkya-ed in two ways – vidyAyAm rate iti viduraH – (one who revels in knowledge is vidura) or vidyA rate yasmin saH viduraH (one, in whom knowledge shines, is vidura). The whole vidura nIti is a dialog between completely distressed dhRtarAShTra and the wise Vidura, that goes on for the whole night.

Unlike the pancatantra or hitopadeSa, where a story ends with one profound subhAShita that serves as a morale summary, the whole vidura nIti is chock full of quotes, sayings, proverbs and subhAShita-s, that would make any quoter look like an “Instant Jnani“.  Its literally an encyclopedia of taxonomy of human behavior, a critique of human tendencies and a book of law for a ruler and advice to common man. Many popular quotes are from this chapter –

“ekaH svAdu na bhunjIta” – do not eat alone (always share food with others)
“satyam svargasya sopAnam” – truth is the step to svargaH
“kshamA guNo hi aSaktAnAm, SaktAnAm bhUShaNam” – Forgiveness is a virtue for weak, and an ornament for brave.
“mUrkheShu paNditAH jIvanti” – Because fools are around, wise are recognized (lit. wise survive in fools, ie in foolishness of other people)

and many many more. The last one, especially can be related easily in IT project environments. If you got a performance reward, its not because you worked hard, but others around you worked less harder than you! In some sloka-s, vidura’s perspective and straight-forwardness is stunning.

But there is always one thing most profound than others. In the first section of the dialog Vidura explains the dos and donts of a king just using numbers. Vidura delivers a summary of his advice to the king in a single quote.

ekayA dve viniScitya trImScaturbhiH vaSe kuru |
panca jitvA viditvA ShaT sapta hitvA sukhI bhava ||

By 1 determine (discriminate/divide) 2, using 4 overpower 3, conquer 5, know 6, shed 7 ane be happy.

If we take liberty to write this down mathematically, here is the formula for happiness:

happiness = 1/2 + 3^4 * 5 + 6 – 7.

The rounded answer seems to be 404 (as you type in a calculator), and Im pretty sure Vidura secretly encoded that happiness is not to be found without these – astonishingly predating the Http API.

Ok just kidding. Philosophically, this is explained as – Using 1 intellect (ekayA buddhyA), determine 2 – whats right and whats wrong. Using the 4 sAma, dAna, bheda, danda technique subdue the 3 types of people – friends, enemies and the confused. Conquer 5 indriyAs (senses of perception), know 6 (adhibhUta [material science], adhyAtma [spiritual science], adhidaiva [science of natural forces], adhiyajna [inquisition about one fundamental kartA], sarvagata [omnipresence of the kartA] and karma [that kartA is the real doer of everything]) and shed the 7 vices (striyA, mRgayA, pAnam, vAkpAruSham, mahat-daNda-pAruSham, artha-dUShaNam: respectively – indulgence in amorous activities, hunting, addictions like alcohol, harsh speech, excessive punishment, misusing wealth).

Then he goes after each number upto 10 and classifying various laws, rules, systems and observations by numbers. There may be some observations that are not relatable to modern society, but in many cases he seems to be spot on. The taxonomy of Vidura reflects a very deep knowledge of things around him. A deeper inference from this – to make such a classification, the person should not only know the properties of the subject, but also know what NOT belongs to that classification and why. To say that there are three primary colors (RGB model) takes observation. But to say only 3 colors are required, not more not less, requires deeper understanding of the nature of colors.

And finally, a word about the Samskritam behind it. Just like yakSha praSna is a great material on gender of nouns, vidura nIti is a fantastic source of using linga-s for cardinals. The slight variations of cardinals in Samskritam may distract a beginner learner (dve, dvau, trayaH, tisraH, catvAri, catasraH etc.) but these sloka-s will help to understand them with context.

The cost of price

Yet another Thanksgiving Day and a mad rush to get the best deals went by. In thee recent years, Black Friday has started arriving a few Mondays earlier, and if we apply mathematical induction, in a few years Black Friday deals may start by New Year. The tradition of having a nice family dinner and rushing off to retail stores at 12 mid night with friends and cousins may vanish soon. I hope such moments will make a great adventure story for our grandkids, er… only if they will ever sit down to listen to us, instead of playing PS10.

One of the things that surprised me in Russia (Soviet Union) was the “Price of Things”. Obviously, consumerism hadn’t gotten there yet (before 1991), so the prices were always fixed by the government. For any produce you pick up from store, there were only three price ranges – 1) moscow region 2) siberia region 3) vladivostok region. And each was about 10 kopeks (think 10 cents) dearer, to cover the transport cost! That’s it! Any city I go, any shop I go, whether its Moskva, Kiev or Minsk, the price of kilo of butter, a litre of milk or loaf of bread is same price. With inflation hardly a notion under socialism, the prices remained stable for a long time. And with government controlling produces, there were not 10 brands of milk, 6 gradation of fat %, with or without lactose, with or without Vitamin D, with or without DHA, organic and non-organic, quality of grass and food consumed by the cows, amount of hormones injected, pasteurized or homogenized, and a stamp of shelf life of 10 days for milk! And there were just two varities of bread (white and black – if you are curious).

And guess what? When friends and relatives gathered around for weekends or holidays they did not talk about varieties of milk or whether the basic human consumable food like bread has any harmful ingredients like HFCS or who gives the best deal. No one regretted paying more for something and go back to stand in line to return it only to spend more money on something else than what they originally spent. Many conversations were around literature, music, culture, science, math and of course vodka.

Constrast this in US (for sake of this comparison) many conversations are invariably intruded with some sort of “where what is on sale, now?”. Pretty much every information media is always providing some kind of deal – email, mail ads, billboards, store coupons, online coupons, bulk coupons and so on. In general, the common public seem to spend more time trying to “get a better deal” out of anything. Imagine a person spends about 15 minutes on average a day (including spending time to return, talk to customer service etc.) to find a deal. Assume that about 100m buy stuff every day after comparing prices from various online stores, deal sites and retail outlets. So conservatively about 100 million x 15 minutes of time is “non-productive” every single day in US. All this is inessential non-productivity.

(Note: I’m not against choice, choice is needed for creativity. Just saying that that major part of our life could be productively spent elsewhere).

How does this all relate to Sanskrit? I am currently teaching Sanskrit to children (of ages 5 to 15) and I am realizing that the lack of phonetic knowledge is causing them a great difficulty. I then started looking into how the English language is being taught and it was very intriguing to see the amount of time and effort put into “giving a phonetic twist” to a script in which phonetics simply does not exist. As a child, I somehow learnt English as a foreign language, but I dont remember how I learnt it. Now when I try to feel how English is taught, I realize it must be one of the hardest things to do. I watched a kid trying to learn different pronunciations of letter “A” for about two weeks. She was very confused with the sound ‘A’ and how it ends up differently in bat, boat, far, near, that and so on. Nearly every other new word contained an exception to how a previous word was learnt. God forbid when it comes to consonants – who knows when what is silent – the point is there is no logical relation between the letters, script and the language. Children are merely forced into a prevailing structure, with every institution claiming their method is better than another. A whole industry of private schools, expensive curriculums, tutorial institutions, spelling-bee competitions and reading programs thrive just to “fill in the gap” of something fundamentally missing in the English script/language. Children at their early ages (1-5) are in the absolute prime time of absorbing languages. And guess what? Most of their prime time is lost in inessential non-productivity.

Constrast this with a fully phonetic language like Sanskritam, which has a very strong “shIkShA-shAstra” (phonetic-science). There is a clear separation of vowels and consonants, a clear notion of what parts of mouth is used to pronounce a sound, and what the amount of stress of each sound requires. There are even more attributes, but this suffices to make the point. The day a child learns the “sounds”, she is productive immediately with the words. The real challenge for the kids then is to find relationships between words within compound-words (samAsa) or in a sentence and that builds a strong analytical skill. This, at least should be one of the reasons why Sanskritam should be taught at a very early age.

(Note: I am not saying English shouldn’t be learnt or taught. Just saying that there is a major part of brain that gets exercised better when learning Sanskritam at an early age).

It may be sometimes like this

हिम ऋतुः आयमानः अस्ति । अस्मिन् नगरे तु सर्वदा मेघावृतः । पौलेन उक्तम् आसीत् ७ वादने एव अत्र भवति इति । सद्यः १५ निमेषात् अनन्तरम् अपि सः न आगतः । कुतोऽयम् विलम्बः । इतोपि किञ्चित् प्रतीक्षाम् करोमि । आगच्छति चेत् वरं नोचेत् अहमेव विद्यालयं गच्छामि । प्रातःकाले सुहृद्भिः विद्यालयं गन्तुम् मार्गकोणे प्रतिक्ष्यमाने मम चिन्तनयानम् निरोद्धुम् स्कन्धे लघूष्णहस्तम् स्पृष्टम् । प्रतिक्रम्य तत्र जार्जम् दृष्टवान् । ’जार्ज! नमस्कारः । आगतवान् वा ! समयः एव ।’

जार्जः मौनेन मां दृष्ट्वा नेत्रोन्मीलनं कृतवान् । सः अधिकतया न वदति । परन्तु सुहृदाम् मनश्चालनम् सम्यक् अवगन्तुम् समर्थः । योगाभ्यासम् वा ध्यानम् वा किमपि करोति । प्रायः तस्मात् बलम् । तदा एव ’सुहृदो’ इत्युक्तं शब्दं श्रुत्वा एव अवगतवन्तौ पौलः आगतः इति । यतोऽपि तस्य विलम्बनम् मह्यम् न रोचते, तस्य ध्वनिः मधुरा अस्ति । प्रसिद्धः गायकः भविष्यति सः इति मम न संशयः ।

’अस्तु तर्हि । गच्छामः । अद्यतन पठनं सुन्दरं स्यात् । महकवेः अनुसन्धानम् करोति इत्युक्तवान् आस्सीत् आचार्यः ।’

’अस्तु । गच्छामः’ । तावप्युक्तवन्तौ ।

किमपि परस्परमनुक्त्वा किञ्चित् दुरम् चलितवन्तः वयम् । पौलः एव प्रथमं पृष्टवान् ’अद्य प्रात:काले गणितम् खलु?’ । ’आआम्म्म्म्’ इति अति मन्द-स्वरेन किमपि विचिन्तयन्निव जार्जः प्रत्यवदत् । ’मह्यम् तादृशम् गणितम् न रोचते यादृशम् भाषाज्ञानम्’ इति पौलः अवदत् । ’न केवलम् भवते, मह्यम् अपि’ इत्यहमपि समावदत् । ’अद्य ब्रह्मगुप्तस्य चक्रवालम् पाठयति । किमपि न अवगतम् मया गत वर्गे । चक्रवालम् व विचक्रवालम् वा कस्य को लाभः । किमपि भवेत् ।’ इति किञ्चित् उच्चस्थाय्याम् एव अवदम् । अग्रे वयम् मौनेन गत्वा विद्यालयम् प्राप्तवन्तः ।

’आर्यभट्ट-भवनम्’ आगतम् । अत्रैव हि गणितवर्गप्रकोष्टः । आचार्यः पाठम् आरब्धवान् । मम मनः तत्र नासीत् । यथेष्टम् नवोड्डयनकौशल्यः प्राप्तः विहङ्गरिव उड्डयनम् कृतः । न केवलम् आकशे अपि काले च । Keats वर्येन सह प्रातराशः । माध्याह्ने Wordsworth-कविना सह भोजनम् । रात्रौ तथा हि बृहत् कविसम्मेलने मधुरकाव्यपानम् ।

घण्टानादे गणितवर्गः समाप्तः । शीघ्रमेव समयः यापितः । उत्तममेव । यथापूर्वम् किमपि न अवगतम् । त्रयः वयम् मिलित्वा यास्क-नाम्ना भाषाभवनम् प्रति गतन्वन्तः । तत्र दूरम् गच्छन्तम् अन्यतमम् छात्रम् दृष्ट्वा जार्जः माम् सूचितवान् ’नूतनः सः । नाम तस्य रिच्’ ।

’एवम् वा । उत्तमम्’ । कदाचित् नाम श्रुत्वैव केषाञ्चित् जनानाम् आत्मसम्बन्धः निर्दिश्यते स्यात् । सः अपि तत्रैव गच्छन्नस्ति यत्र वयम् । अस्तु अनन्तरम् तेन परिचयम् करोमि इति चिन्तयित्वा प्रकोष्टम् मित्रैः सह प्रविष्टवान् ।

अस्माकम् आचार्यः अशिथिल: इति अन्ये छात्राः वदन्ति । तन्न मम मते । मह्यम् तु सः कारुण्यः इव भाति । तस्य भाषाज्ञानम् दृष्ट्वा अनेकवारम् विस्मितो आसमहम् । सर्वेषाम् आचर्याणाम् प्रियतमः सः शिष्यः यः विषये स्वाभाविकज्ञानम् च आसक्तिम् प्रदर्शयति खलु । द्रोणार्जुन न्याय्यरिव ।

Good morning, sir |

Good morning |

आचार्यः अपि कुतूहलेन प्रणम्यत् । ’उपविशन्ताम् ।’ एतस्य वर्गे मया तु सर्वदा प्रथमे मञ्चे एव उपवेष्टव्यः ।

’अस्तु । अद्य किञ्चित् सिंहावलोकनम् कुर्मः । विभक्त्यः स्मर्यन्ते वा?’

इतस्ततः लघुशब्दम् श्रुतम् । न कुत्रचित् उत्सुकम् । तृतीये मञ्चे उपविष्टम् जेम्सम् दृष्ट्वा आचार्यः पृष्टवान् ।

‘He’ इत्यस्य पदस्य सप्त-विभक्तिम् उभयोर्वचनयोः प्रदर्शयतु कृपया ।

He, They
Him, Them
By Him, By Them
…..

मौनम् । अनिर्वृतम् मौनम् वर्गे । ‘Pin-drop silence’ इति न्याय्यम् भवन्तः श्रुतवन्तः खलु । तथैव । मम मनसि क्षणे एव अनेके विषयाः विचाराः विमानम् इव प्रचलन्तः आसन् । विभक्त्यः । अहो सुन्दरम् सरलम् च । भाषाज्ञानस्य मूलभूतमेतदेव ननु । तदज्ञात्वा कथम् उत्तीर्णम् प्राप्स्यन्ति एते बालाः । अस्माकम् पूर्वजानां भाषां ज्ञातव्यम् इति लवनमात्रमपि अभिरुचिः नास्ति एतेषाम् ।

आचार्यः माम् प्रति वीक्षितवान् । भवान् जानात्येव, प्रतनोतु इति संज्ञया आदेशितवान् । अहम् बहु उत्सुकेन उत्थाय

to him/for him, to them/for them
Of him, of them
In him, in them

इति संपूरितवान् । अपि सर्वान् छात्रान् एक वारम् चक्षुषौ सारयितवान् ।

’धन्यवादाः । उपविश्येताम् । पश्यन्ताम् छात्राः । इयं भाषा सुलभम् अस्ति ननु । पद द्वयम् एव – Him/Them. केवलम् उपसर्गान् प्रयुजुय वाक्यार्थाः निर्णेयिताः । अपि च वचनद्वयम् एव – एकम् च बहु वचनम् च’ । अत्र कः क्लेशः ।’

पाठः अग्रे गतः । कुतुहलेन श्रुतः मया । यदा यदा Keats अथवा Wordsworth प्रति आचार्यः वदति, अहम् पौलं प्रति पश्यामि । तस्य मुखेऽपि प्रसन्नता दृश्यते ।

वर्गे समाप्ते, सर्वे गतवन्तः । मम एकः प्रश्नः स्फुरितः, पुनः आचार्यम् प्रति गच्छामि स्म । तस्मिन्नेव समये तत्र अन्यः आचार्यः आगतवान् । अतः तयोः सम्भाषणं श्रोतुम् अवकाशः अभवत् । आद्यौ तयोः सम्भाषणम् सम्यक् न श्रुतम् । किञ्चित् तीक्ष्न-कर्णाभ्यां श्रोतुम् यतितवान् ।

’आम् भॊः’ इति मम आचार्यः अवदत् । ’उदर निमित्तमेव जीवनम् । किं करवाणि । मनः तु षेक्स्पियर् वाञ्छति । मुखेन कालिदसस्य प्रशंसाः । भाषाम् तु पाठयामि । परन्तु छात्राणाम् आसक्तिः न अस्ति । तेषाम् अङ्कान्यैव लक्ष्याणि । विभक्तिम् पाठयामि । व्याकरणम् पाठयामि । परन्तु “What is your name?” इति पृष्टे प्रत्युत्तरम् दातुम् अपि असमर्थः आधुनिकाः बाला: ।’ इत्युक्त्व किञ्चित् मौनम् साधितवान् । पुनः ’अस्माकम् आधुनिक स्थित्याः कारणम् भारतम् एव । तैः अस्माकम् भाषाक्षीणम् अभवत् । तैः महती हानिः कृता । अयर्देशः हस्तात् गतः । स्काट्-देशः अपि गतः । अखण्ड-आङ्ग्ल-साम्राज्यस्य लक्ष्यम् अधो पतितम् । धिक् भारतानाम् ।’

अन्यः आचार्यः अपि किञ्चित् मौनेन स्थित्वा तदनन्तरम् अङ्गीकृतवान् । ’सत्यम् उक्तम् विन्स्टन्-वर्य । परन्तु अयम् शापः स्यात् । इदानीम् छात्राः षेक्स्पियर् न इच्छन्ति । कालिदासम् वा भारविम् वा पठितुम् इच्छन्ति । इदानीं तु किञ्चित् वा पठन्ति । भविष्ये तदपि न बोधितुम् अवकाशः अस्माभिः न लभ्यते । एतैरेव सन्तुष्यामः ।’

’कथं भॊः । कथं सन्तुष्यामहे ।’ इति दु:खेन समावृतम् वाक्यमेव मया अन्त्या श्रुतम् । व्याकुलितोऽहम् आचार्यं पृष्टव्यम् प्रश्नम् विस्मृत्य गृहमागतवान् । वेगेन आगत्य मातरमपि अनवद्य मम प्रकोष्टद्वारम् पिधानम् कृत्वा किञ्चित् कालम् मौनेन भित्तिकं उपरि गभीरतया स्थास्यमानम् षेक्स्पियर्वर्यस्य चित्रं द्ष्टवान् । ’इयम् मम प्रतिज्ञा अस्ति । न केवलम् व्याकरणम् परन्तु भाषायाः सर्वज्ञानम् प्राप्य जनाकर्षनोन्मत्थनकविताः रचयित्वा आग्ङ्ल-भाषायाः महोन्नतम् प्रापयिष्यामि । कदाचित् एवमपि स्यात् ।’

१९४८-तमे भारतात् स्वातन्त्र्यम् प्राप्य वर्षैके समाप्ते ।
– जान्