Monday, March 07, 2016

Peanut Gallery

One of the highlights of this week was a gem of a retort:

"It is quite rich to sit in the peanut gallery, pass comments and throw empty shells at those who are actually rolling their sleeves up and working on the ground" 

Rohan Murty said this while defending Sheldon Pollock, an American Academic who heads a pioneering project for the translation of Indian classics into English.

Earlier this week I had leafed through a few paperbacks in the "New Books" section of the Dayal Singh Public Library. Among them were three new books published by the Murty Classical Library of India (MCLI). I remembered my sense of awe, gratitude and amazement. Finally we had access to our own classics, not only in a format we could easily relate to (local language on the left, English on the right), but also at a very affordable price!

The petition against Pollock at

Why on earth would anybody object to  such a remarkable initiative? And who were these "132 academics and public figures" behind the online petition against Pollock and MCLI? What were their objections?

The online petiton can be still be accessed at . It was started by Prof. Ganesh Ramakrishnan of IIT Bombay, and, apart from the 132 "Scholars and Intellectuals" who have put their weight behind this petiton, it also claims to have garnered 12,500 supporters.

Their objections boil down to two points:

1. Pollock is not sufficiently "steeped in the intellectual traditions of India", and is therefore incompetent to be the Chief Editor of MCLI
2. He has objected to the recent police high-handedness at JNU, and is therefore politically biased.

To think that 132 + 12,500 people would sign up a shallow petition like this, tells a lot about the current status of "intellectual traditions" in our country.

A few months ago another bunch of 100 academics, this time esconced in the universities of USA and Western Europe, had objected to Prime Minister Modi's visit to Silicon Valley. Here the objections were about "lack of safefuards about privacy of information" and the Gujarat violence of 2002.

Online protests, petitions, and carefully handpicked outrages make you wonder about the real motive of folks who initiate such campaigns. Is it merely an attention-seeking tactic, or is there more to it?


  • Paranjape, Markand (21Mar16): The Problem with Pollock --
  • Dasgupta, Swapan (2015): If we won' save Sanksrit, why stop foreigners? ToI Blogs, 3Apr2016 -

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