An Open Letter to Sri Rohan Murthy

Dear Sri Rohan Murthy,

I read with interest your article on DailyO explaining why you funded Harvard to start and run the Murty Classical Library. I shall be honest and blunt to a fault without meaning any disrespect. I am sure you agree that a frank discourse and exchange helps all of us. If it helps, I’ve been a senior academic for over three decades in various spheres related to Indology and Sanskrit among other related disciplines. In that spirit, let me state at the outset that you have been taken for a ride by Prof. Sheldon Pollock  or to be more truthful, by an Anglophonic attachment. Just because Harvard has experience in bringing out a classical series is no reason for your giving them the largesse.  You could have easily done the job in India by getting Indian Universities involved in the project and thus assisted the development of classical studies in India.

You have paid for promoting the American academics and indirectly, put things under their control. To be fair, I know that several Indians will be involved in the project and do the translations, but this is not the same as a series coming out of India. You have basically entrusted your money into a non-indigenous centre of power that will translate and over time, order and repackage classical texts of India to suit the Western vision of India.  I have admiration for the scholarship of Prof. Sheldon Pollock but the fact that such an endowment should have been made to a foreign university smacks of total mistrust in the abilities of Indian scholars, their institutions and their ability to execute the task. I do not blame Prof. Pollock, as he is working well in the interest of his language and his culture.

Shri Murthy, if your father could build an IT firm that counts as a solid achievement by an Indian, why didn’t you think it fit to place trust in Indians scholars to do the same with done the translation series? That some of them will be employed by Pollock is not the point. Sri Rohan Murthy, you have also erred on another major count. You have empowered English and not “modern Indian languages”—I refer to the classics that Prof Pollock professes to get translated. What is needed is the translation of the classics of Sanskrit and of each modern Indian language into other 25 or so modern languages. That is the task which would have instilled greater intellectual awareness, and led to a literary renaissance in India. It would have given creative work to thousands of scholars in India and made Indian medieval heritage an available reality. Several major translations done in the mid-20th century are lost or are out of print. Translations into English from the so called regional languages are currently being done by American university departments as parts of their doctoral and higher research programs while there’s no comparable effort in our own academia.

My dear Rohan Murthy, you have provided financial help to all those employed abroad—to be candid, you have breathed fresh life into these universities which are increasingly starved for funds and shutting down Indology and/or Sanskrit departments.  You could have helped the Indian language departments immensely if such translations between the languages of India had been done by an Indian general editor located in India.  It would have helped the literary studies at our universities.

More generically, there seems to be a fundamental error in the minds of globalized Indians—that packaging Indian things into English empowers Indian things. This is a grievous fallacy. The Salman Rushdies of the world have brought some fame to India but how abiding the fame is, only time will tell. However, the Tulsidases and Tagores have constructed the spiritual, philosophical and literary consciousness of India. Let their languages be promoted with each other, for each other and by each other. With due respect, you seem to resemble another version of Chandrabhan Prasad who has recently consecrated a temple for the “English Goddess for Dalits” near Shahjahanpur.

In the end, Sri Rohan Murthy, I would say, yes, it is your money and your prerogative to donate to whoever you deem it. I don’t grudge the fact that you have chosen to serve Harvard. Perhaps, some other Indian corporate can still take the challenge and serve Indian languages, keeping both the control of the discourse as well as the funding rooted within India.
With best wishes,

Dr. Bharat Gupt
Associate Professor (Retd), Delhi University

Dr. Bharat Gupt is a retired Associate Professor who taught at Delhi University. He can be contacted at [email protected]
  • Ranga

    What a pointless rant by this retired Prof? What does he want to say? His argument is least intelligent. He keeps talking about ‘Indian’ scholars etc like there are many here?! How many scholars of international academic worth can he point us to? Do Indian universities even have the kind of equipment and infrastructure to deal with a project of this nature? If they don’t, what are people like him doing other than simply sitting and making demands? Given a chance, Prof Gupt would have jumped at any academic position/offer Harvard or any such Ivy league Univ gave. His letter spells ‘S O U R G R A P E S’ in such largess, it is not even amusing after a point. He speaks of Narayan Murthy and Infosys as an example. Pray what were they doing in the company? What clients were they servicing? From Bihar? Or Jhumritalayya? They created an infrastructure here because the costs were cheaper here. They hired local labour here because there was smarter and better educated technical lot here. It isn’t the same with liberal arts and humanities. Those areas are dying in Indian universities. In the last decade or more, several departments of performing arts, sanskrit and other languages have been closed down for good. Why don’t people like Prof Gupt show their passion by helping restart those? It is mighty easy to point fingers at the work someone else is doing. Give Prof Gupt a few thousands of $$ and he is the type who will promptly book his return ticket to Disneyland or something! People like Prof Gupt belong to the low-academic and low-intellectual cadre, even in Indian universities. Their frustrations come forth when they flash their personal politics, messed up ideologies and give such unasked for sermons. If he was so passionate about something like this, what stopped him from gathering funds, starting projects and showing it here in India, all these years? He is certainly older and may be even more experienced than Rohan Murty! Such Prof Gupts do more harm to any good work. They know they can never be a part of any genuinely serious academic intervention. Nor have they done anything much all their lives to be taken seriously. Best is to ignore such fools. Take good knowledge where ever it comes from. India or Honalulu!

  • rama ranjan

    Why does Rohan look like a brown version of Zuckerburg? Earlier, his dad bought out admissions for Rohan and his sister for a whopping $5M each at Stanford (or perhaps Harvard). Perhaps Rohan is sealing his future with American businesses through these grants.

  • पूर्णमदः

    You think the class-system peddling lot like him are going care for lowly Indian scholars ?

  • Narasimha

    Oh! Poor India! Thou don’t need enemies from without, as you have plenty of Narayans and Rohans from within that support the rogues of Western Indology.

  • RVenkatanarayanan

    It is Rohan’s prerogative to dispose off as he likes the money he inherited from his father. But every point made by Bharat Gupt is valid and calls for a reasoned response. That must be from Rohan and not from Pollock because the latter will only defend the indefensible for, as Bharat says, Rohan’s millions makes Pollock its master to serve his interests. Of course one can anticipate the argument that what is being attempted is to make ancient India’s philosophical and literary riches to the wide world. That is nonsense considering that a far higher priority is to revive and rejuvenate classical scholarship within India and to bring the ancient texts to the millions in India in their own mother tongues.
    Be that as it may, apart from keeping Pollock amply compensated for years hence, for his scholarly altruism and apart from Harvard adding to its huge coffers, what Rohan has chosen to do, is to make Indian scholars queuing to become intellectual and language coolies of Pollock. It should be obvious how Pollock will call the shots in the entire venture! The learned professor has pulled off a bloodless coup. Indian riches, both ancient texts and modern money, will serve him very well for decades.
    R.Venkatanaryanan

  • Priyadarshan Pant

    Dr. Bharat Gupt is spot on. How could Narayan Murty be so naive and foolish?! Anyway, the deed is done now. Will he make amends? If yes, how? He should have the guts and intellectual honesty to accept his blunder and make amends. I have learnt from some quarters that he did this as his son was in Harvard. If so, it is even more silly. Well, whatever may be the motivations, the fact remains that he blundered. Dear Shri Narayanamurty-ji, please make amends.

  • Pingback: Twenty statements from Sheldon Pollock on India, Hinduism and Sanskrit | IndiaFacts()

  • daibon Ten

    The problem with these uppercase douchebags who inherit their wealth seriously believe they are something.. these loser have nothing to contribute on their own an d and end up doing the most damage.

    e.g Nehru

    2. the upper caste Brahmin who went to Doon school and became the head of the Maoist movement

    3. The owners of The Hindu.,.. these leftists have arranged marriages with other upper caste Brahmins while pontificating leftism.. Pffft!

    4. Mani Shankar Aiyer!

    5. Now this c0ck s_ucker

    The evil upper caste brahmin leftist kunts!

    • Dr. MS

      Mr. Daibon Ten, I am not sure if your anger is with upper castes in general, or some upper caste people. Your comments are both crude and unfair. Your comments are also not rooted in facts and reality.

      For example, Dravida Munetram parties of Tamil Nadu, and Madras Presidency before that, promoted and practiced anti-Brahminism…But that anti-Brahminism did not translate into effective anti-Casteism or removal of caste hierarchy in Tamil Nadu, or so called Dravida Nadu.

      Brahmins, like many groups, are diverse and so is their politics. Why single them out?

      In Tamil Nadu today Brahmins are poor or working class, and some of them are not very bright, educated or sophisticated in thinking. They, pathetically, continue to rely on family loyalty, charity and community handout for help. They have never figured out how to fight for their rights, and for fairness for all in the system (including themselves) within the State or with State support or protections.

      What we see in Tamil Nadu today is a new kind of caste politics where people get admissions, degrees, jobs and promotions strictly based on caste (except it is caste associated with some low rank or low status). Forty percent of people lie about their caste on most quota and reservation applications. Modi is trying to change that. But people who have benefited from these kinds of protections and privileges are not going to go away without a fight. They will also fight hard and dirty.

      But how is Socialism against meritocracy? And how is Capitalism for meritocracy? In many parts of India you can get a degree for money, grades for money and jobs through connections and privilege! They are all Capitalists. Is this okay according to you?

      I think it is wonderful that some Brahmins married outside the community, and took pride in their ability to practice anti-casteism or non-casteism more than the hypocrites of Dravida parties who only preached but did not practice much. Some Dravida men admitted to me that they are willing to marry only fair women in castes above them in hierarchy…but not below them. This includes many high level members of DMK party and the Congress party. in TN. I see this all the time in Tamil Nadu, and yet too many Brahmins who live in TN cannot see it, or are too dumb to figure out this hypocrisy around them.

      There are many Brahmins who have married outside their caste and are neither Socialists or Communists, and some married outside their caste while being or becoming Communist or Socialist. Some married within their castes and are Socialist, Capitalist or non-ist.

      They are a diverse bunch.

      Brahmins of India, and particularly of the South, are more diverse than other groups that tend to be far more clannish, homogenous and tribalistic. Brahmins are less tribalistic than even Jews. They are more independent, diverse, disagree with each other and at times take a very individualistic opposing positions even against people in their own groups. It makes them critical risk takers and independent fair minded people, or some become so independent that they become useless to any group development (including their own).

      So…why this anger? And your name is Daibon Ten…a Northeasterner I presume? So why this level of anger over people you know so little about, and who do not exist in your neck of the woods at all?

      Kindly read more on this issue before spewing out your venom with reasons that remain murky

      Best wishes

  • NK Sarma

    He is just a western educated rich kid. I’m sure he is a patriot but definitely not a nationalist. He grew up with western thoughts, he would eventually settle in america, so he tends to invest in US. Even for those youth currently living in India, patriotism is only till singing jana gana mana and wearing tricolor stickers during independence day and cricket matches. There are very few nationalists thinkers at young age and this small minority is the one who always thinks about benefit for nation at every small work they do, right from buying a tooth paste to entrepreneurship. Rohan Murthy is not one of them. I won’t blame him because he just can’t think in the nationalistic perspective.

    • Karthick

      For that matter, I would not count NRN as a nationalist either.

      • NK Sarma

        Individual opinions apart. Nationalists can be in many hues and NRN is one in his own way. Things that he has done for Indians outweighs his mistakes against Indian political interests. NRN has given lakhs of Indian middle class and poor families a comfortable livelihood. Families from early 90s to mid 2000s will understand what I am saying and how he brought in revolution on Indian families and changed western perspective of all Indians as snake charmers. He is still seen by majority of people as a person with impeccable integrity and a nationalist. Rohan is an academic; comparing NRN with Rohan is misplaced.

      • rama ranjan

        Mr N Murthy is a businessman first and an Indian next. A few years ago, he refused to celebrate a flag hoisting event on the Infosys campus, saying that it will offend foreigners working on the Infy campus.

  • Jitu

    It is sad to learn that learned individuals like Murthy and son also fall prey to the likes of Pollock. 🙁 Taking a leaf from Murthy’s own Infosys he could have invested in India instead of funding Harvard.

  • malavika

    Unfortunately for Hindus Sheldon Pollack’s work is going to do more harm than good. Nothing good for the Hindu community or Sanskrit is coming out of this endeavor because Pollack wants Sanskrit to be a Classical Language, i,e a dead language so, he can distort and discredit the meaning and native narrative of Hindu culture through Sanskrit.

    It is Murthy money to spend which ever way he chooses, but we can critique the work that comes out of this project. What Pollack and his cohorts say is not the final word.