Monday, September 22, 2008

Propagation of Sanskrit

Jhiri village Sanskrit

In the remote village of Jhiri, 150km north of Indore in the state of Madhya Pradesh, Sanskrit is the language of the people. Sanskrit the ancient language of India, and the language of religious hymns and ceremonies today, is used by the simple villagers of Jhiri in general conversation, official work, and entertainment.

Hindustan Times
Aditya Ghosh

Prem Narayan Chauhan pats his oxen, pushing them to go a little faster. Ziighrataram, ziighrataram chalanti, he urges them. The animals respond to their master’s call, picking up pace on the muddy path that leads to his 10-acre cornfield.

Chauhan, 35, dropped out of school early, after Class II. He does not consider it remarkable that he speaks what is considered a dying language (or that his oxen respond to it). For him, Sanskrit is not a devabhasha, the language of the gods, but one rooted in the commonplace, in the ebb and flow of everyday life in Jhiri, the remote hamlet in Madhya Pradesh, where he lives.

Bollywood dialogues in Sanskrit

Mutterings under banyan trees, chit-chat in verandahs, pleasantries on village paths, disputes in the panchayat — in Jhiri, it's all in Sanskrit. And then, a cellphone rings.

The moment of contemporary reality is fleeting. Anachronism and Amar Chitra Katha take over as the conversation begins: "Namo, namah. Tvam kutra asi?" (Greetings. Where are you?)

Women lead the propagation of Sanskrit

The much-admired 24-year-old Vimla Panna who teaches Sanskrit in the local school belongs to the Oraon tribe, which is spread over Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. Panna has been key in popularising Sanskrit with the women of Jhiri. With mothers speaking the language, the children naturally follow.

Take 16-year-old unlettered Seema Chauhan. She speaks Sanskrit as fluently as Panna, who studied the language for seven years for her Master’s degree.

Chauhan is a livewire, humouring and abusing the village girls in Sanskrit. "I just listened to Vimla didi," she says. "In fact, I'm often at a loss for words in Malwi." Just married to a man from a neighbouring village, she says confidently, "My children will speak in Sanskrit because I will talk to them in it."

As eight-year-old Pinky Chauhan joins us, she greets me politely: "Namo namaha. Bhavaan kim karoti?" (What brings you here?) Her father Chander Singh Chauhan laughs and says, "My wife started speaking to me in this language, so I learnt it to figure out what she was saying behind my back."

Myth of Sanskrit as a language of priests

Sanskrit is a compact language that requires far fewer words to convey a thought than most other languages. It is also a logical language with mathematical rules. A myth has been propunded that it is only a laguage of priests, because historically it was preserved orally by Brahmin families through the millenia of empire-building, cultural expansion, and the turmoil of foreign invasions (language development and history).

A similar experiment, started a couple of decades ago in Muttur village of Karnataka’s Shimoga district, failed, because of the caste factor — it remained caged with Brahmin patrons. "About 80 per cent people of the village are Brahmins who know Sanskrit but won’t speak it. This is because the carpenters and blacksmiths would not respond to it," says Dr Mathur Krishnaswami, head of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bangalore, who was involved with the movement.

"No language in the world can survive until the common man starts speaking it," he points out.

The 1,000-odd residents of Jhiri hardly speak the local dialect, Malwi, any longer. Ten years have been enough for the Sanskritisation of life here. Minus the Brahminical pride historically associated with the language — Jhiri has just one Brahmin family. And the village is an eclectic mix of Kshatriyas, Thakurs, Sondhias, Sutars and the tribal Bhils.

Costs and benefits of using Sanskrit

But Jhiri's pride stops at Sanskrit. The first doctor, engineer, economist, scientist or linguist is yet to walk out from it. After finishing school, most village youth join a political party.

Electricity is a matter of luxury, so is sanitation. Even the school does not have a toilet, which is the single biggest reason for girls dropping out at the senior secondary level. The average age of marriage for women is 14. Even Panna, who was thinking of doing her PhD, had to give in to the wishes of the wise men of Jhiri who got her married to the other schoolteacher, Balaprasad Tiwari.

There is no public transport; an Internet connection is unimaginable. Jhiri desperately needs to connect to the rest of the world, to explore its infinite possibilities, to grow.

All kinds of logistical problems crop up in Jhiri. This year, 250 students did their school-leaving exams in Sanskrit. "A Sanskrit teacher had to work along with all the examiners of other subjects," says Mukesh Jain, CEO, Janpad Panchayat, Sarangpur tehsil (which includes Jhiri). "I could not believe it when I first came here. It can get difficult during official interactions, but we encourage them."

But there are some positive offshoots too. Thanks to Sanskrit, Jhiri has re-discovered some lost technologies of irrigation, conservation and agriculture from the old scriptures. A siphon system of water recharging, for instance, resulted in uninterrupted water supply through the year in the fields. Small check-dams, wells and irrigation facilities followed.

"It is matter of pride for us to retrieve these old techniques from the scriptures. With no help from the government and without using any artificial systems, we’ve reaped great benefits," says Uday Singh Chauhan, president of the Vidya Gram Vikash Samity, which runs development programmes in the village.
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Saturday, September 13, 2008

IAF at Nellis

Su-30MKI at Red FlagThe Su-30MKI, takes off at Nellis Air Base. Picture by Kedar Kamarkar; view entire collection at Kedar's gallery.

Marking a new phase in its defence ties with the US and some of its allies, the Indian Air Force (IAF) took part in complex and advanced network-centric "Red Flag" war games with US and NATO air forces last month.

India Today

Sukhoi-30s, IL-78 tankers and IL-76 aircraft rubbed shoulders with F-15s and F-16s in the network-centric operations -- the toughest test for flying machines and men -- over the Nevada desert in their first appearance in the peacetime aerial war games.

"We regularly conduct exercises in India. We have also held joint exercises with the US, both in India and in America. But what makes this exercise unique is its scope and scale and the fact that it is a multi-national effort," Wing Commander George Thomas, who is the Commanding Officer of IAF's 20 Squadron, told PTI.

"In India we would launch up to 50 aircraft in an exercise and in Red Flag as many as 70 fighter aircraft are launched in one combat mission. And there are two such missions every day. What also makes the exercise unique is the range targets at Nellis Air Force Base, both air-to-air and air-to-ground, and the amazing resources," he said during a break in the fortnight-long exercise.

As many as 1,000 personnel, including 247 from IAF, are participating in the two-week exercise concluding on Aug 24. The Indian Air Force has sent eight Su-30s, two IL-78 tankers an IL-76 aircraft. France and South Korea are the other two important US allies taking part in the combat exercise being held on the outskirts of the Sin City of Las Vegas in searing temperatures touching 50 degree centigrade. Wing Commander Thomas said it was a huge learning experience for all the participants, adding that for IAF "it is everything we hoped for and more."

"It is a multi-national exercise which provides us opportunities to work with more than one air force and with a larger variety of aircraft and resources. It also exposes us to different procedures and the ability to integrate with so many people at the same time is unique," Thomas said.

"The exercises help us test how the forces would work together during large scale missions. It allows us to understand and speak the same language. If we do have to operate as a group in a contingency, we will have an understanding of how the other air force operates and be more effective," said young pilot B S Reddy.

IAF Contingent Commander Group Captain D Choudhary said that planning and preparation for this exercise had begun a year ago when India accepted the invitation. Part of the preparation involved providing the USAF India's training objectives.

"Every nation provides their training objectives, which may not necessarily be in sync. What makes this exercise special is that Red Flag develops and designs the training in a manner to achieve most of those objectives," he said.

He also noted that the exercise comes at a very good time for IAF, which is a force "in transition -- evolving from a tactical air force to a strategic air force."

The American side seemed very interested in the Su-30MKI:

David A. Fulghum in Aviation Week

American, French and South Korean aircrews are getting a close look at one of the world's fabled aircraft - the Indian air force's Su-30MKI strike fighter.

An Indian air force group of 50 pilots and weapon systems officers - flying eight Su-30MKIs, two Il-78 tankers and an Il-76 transport - are just finishing a month-long deployment to the United States with a training cycle at the latest, annual Red Flag aerial combat excercises based at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.

They were part of a contingent of 246 IAF personnel selected from 20 (fighter) Squadron, Poona; 78 (tanker) Squadron, Agra; 44 (transport) Squadron, Nagpur, and a special operations team trained for combat search and rescue, says Group Captain D Choudhry.

Of great interest to observers - and no doubt to U.S. intelligence - was the Su-30MKI's Russian-made, long-range radar and AA-12 Adder air-to-air missile capability. In fact, foreign air force officials admit that they suspect that intelligence gathering goes on at an event like Red Flag.

Indeed, to observers' dismay, and no doubt to that of the U.S. intelligence community, the IAF flew with a number of handicaps, some of them self-imposed, some not.

Their powerful Russian-made radar was, in fact, emitting, says Choudhry, but operating only in the training mode which limited all its range and spectrum of capabilities. In addition, the IAF wasn't allowed to use chaff and flares to avoid being targeted by surface-to-air missiles nor did its aircraft have the common data link. CDL brings a flow of targeting information into the cockpit displays that improves the accuracy and speed of data transfer and eliminates the need for most communications. The Indian air crews had to rely on voice communications which slowed the process and limited situational awareness.

"It was almost what we expected," Choudhry says. "Because we couldn't use our chaff and flares, when we were targeted by SAMs we were shot down. And there was no picture in the cockpit to help our situational awareness so the workload on the [aircrews] was very high." Nonetheless, "We came a long way. We trained hard. And the degree of difficulty was not unexpected."

More pictures and discussions at Bharat-Rakshak.
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