19 Sep 2010

Learning Sanskrit at 60

Author: hashcookies | Filed under: Taleemnet

Age is no bar for learning new languages, proves Aravind Vishnu Karande who pursued his long cherished dream of not only mastering Sanskrit but becoming an ardent Sanskrit teacher who has 100 plus disciples to his credit till date, and all this at a ripe age when people retire from active life! “I had this undying urge to learn Sanskrit – one of the 22 scheduled languages of India – which could not materialize during my school or college days.  Later in my professional career as an Executive Engineer, I was too busy to catch up my childhood dream.  But after I retired in 2001 from Marmagoa Port Trust, I warned myself if I don’t do it now, I will never accomplish it.  It took me seven years before I could master the language thoroughly.  And I am happy today that I could live my dream before breathing my last,” says engineer Karande Sir at 69.  He conducts Geeta classes and teaches Sanskrit free-of charge in Marcel.  “All those who approach me with a wish to learn Sanskrit are welcome,” says he.

Karande obtained Visharad degree in Sanskrit (equivalent to BA) from Tilak Maharashtra (deemed) University at Pune.  For obtaining this degree he got guidance from Sanskrit Bharati professors.  Having its headquarters in New Delhi, Sanskrit Bharati is an organization devoted for the spread of Sanskrit.  Karande’s social activity, apart from being self-satisfying is proving to be benefiting the society at large.

How did this begin and when? Karande started learning the ABC of Sanskrit after he retired from MPT at the age of 60.  He devoted his full time to his newfound love of mastering a totally alien language.  With no one to guide him as a Guru, he managed to learn the task all by himself, by just going through books.  Book like Sanskrit Shikshan Sarani written by Acharya Ramshashtri is considered one of the best books for beginners, he opines.  There are other books too, that are easier to grasp, available at cheap rates.  Karande answered exams in Sanskrit like Trutiya, Chaturth, Pancham and Shashtham which is equivalent to Std 11 level of Sanskrit.  After seriously attending a number of speaking classes Karande could not only speak fluently but could also teach others.

Wow! Learning by oneself? Is it possible? “Why not?” asks Karande adding, “I searched for a Guru, but found none.  All I got was a list of books to go through and learn Sanskrit all by myself.  I started like an Eklavya – keeping in mind that the person who handed over the list to me but whose name I could never learn, is my unseen Guru.  All I knew about him that he was from some temple in Old Goa.”

So the journey took off.  It took seven long years for Karande to get acquainted with the written and spoken language and master the communication skills in it.  With brief experience in teaching earlier in a school and a college, Karande was a confident enough to teach Sanskrit to other students like him who had no teacher.  He wanted to help those who had the wish to learn Sanskrit but had no guidance.  And thus began his noble profession at the ripe age of 68, and with zero monetary gains.  Yes, Karande Sir does not charge anything from his students whosoever he/she may be, and whatsoever his/her age may be.

But isn’t Sanskrit a dead language? What’s the point of learning it in this age of technology, one may wonder.  Karande has an answer, “Sanskrit is not a dead language.  It is only in deep slumber.  We have to wake it up and make it applicable.  Unless one speaks in it and uses it in everyday life, Sanskrit will remain dormant.  Spoken Sanskrit is still in use in some traditional institutions in India and there are many attempts of revival.  We, Indians, leave it to the West to endorse the importance of our ancient art and culture, our rich traditions, our heritage and our medicines to try and believe it ourselves.  The corpus of Sanskrit literature encompasses a rich tradition of poetry and drama as well as scientific, technical, philosophical and Hindu religious texts.  We have forgotten to respect this golden language – the mother of all ancient languages.  There have been suggestions to use Sanskrit as a metalanguage for knowledge representation in e.g. machine translation, and other areas of natural language processing because of its relatively high regular structure,” explains Karande.  He strongly believes in remaining a student throughout the life.  “Keep learning; learning is a never ending process that gives pleasure.   The more you learn the more is the quest for learning.” is his message to today’s youth.

Karande is all praises for Goa Sanskrit Bharati and its president – Chinmay Amshekar who is striving hard to spread the love of Sanskrit through various activities in Goa.  The organization conducts in-house Bodhan Varg of 10 days at a stretch where students stay together and learn to communicate in Sanskrit.  Every word is spoken in Sanskrit here, which builds in confidence among new students to express themselves in Sanskrit.  Karande himself had been a student of Bodhan Varg few years ago, the experience of which helped him go a long way in teaching Sanskrit.  “As students we wrote each and every word spoken and heard in the class and then repeated everything while teaching other students.  It was a sort of live demonstrations where we had to sit and watch and then reproduce ourselves,” remembers Karande.

Earlier Sanskrit was spoken in an oral society.  Oral tradition was maintained through the development of early classical Sanskrit literature.  When Sanskrit was written down, it was first used for texts of an administrative, literary or scientific nature.  The sacred texts were preserved orally and were set down in writing at a comparatively late date.  Merely learning the pronunciations’ of words in a language is not enough.  One has to learn to speak in it and use it in day-to-day life.  Languages die when not used for generations.  To keep any language living and flowing, there has to be spoken exchange of words in it.  “I am trying to teach others what I have learnt.  I wish I had more enthusiastic students who would sincerely takeover my mission,” expressing his sole wish Karande hopes to keep alive this Gurukul tradition.  He sounds optimistic when he says, “My body will perish and turn into ashes but my work will speak for me.  I want to leave imprints behind in the form of my disciples.”

Let us salute this unsung hero who is silently contributing his share as a teacher to inculcate the love of Sanskrit in the newer generation keeping a low profile himself, in some remote corner of Goa with least expectation of applauds from the society.  Hats off to Karande Sir! Happy Teachers Day!

(Interested learners in Sanskrit can

Contact AV Karande on 9545474591 or 2288039 and at avkarande@yahoo.com)

About Karande: An Engineer-turned-Teacher

A student from Pune Engineering College, A V Karande secured his degree in Electrical Engineering in 1964. Maths was his favourite subject.  During the holidays he taught the students of Sharada High School, Marcel on Principal Sakhardande’s request but for a brief period.  Teaching was fun, he found out then.  But his career kicked off in Mumbai in the real sense, where he worked initially for almost a year before returning to Goa for good.  No work in Mumbai Municipal Council prompted him to quit the job as a Sub-engineer, as sitting idle would give him no experience at all, he though.  He then joined Chowgules in Goa.  After working for their pallets production plant for almost 3 years he again switched over to teaching.  Venturing into this noble profession he tried his luck at Engineering College at Panaji.  After gaining experience as a teacher for one-and-a-half year Karande finally joined MPT as an Engineer.  He was happy with his work as it kept him busy.  Being a workaholic he loves work that keeps him busy all the time.  After 35 years of service in total, Karande finally retired 9 years ago, only to change his profession for good – this time again to his all-time favourite – teaching.  He turned to teaching at the age of 68 and is still on the move.  There is lot to learn from a person like him who is keen to share his words of wisdom with one and all.

(The above article appeared under the title, “Sharing Words of Wisdom and was written by Bharati Pawaskar. It appeared in the Sunday edition of the Herald, 29.8.2010)

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