classic literature

Watch Sheldon Pollock answering his own question, 'What is Indian knowledge good for?'

'It's what's left of god's purpose when you take god away.'

Why do some Indian professors want Sheldon Pollock to be removed from his position as editor of the Murty Classical Library? The MCL, masterminded and funded by Infosys founder NR Narayana Murthy's son Rohan Murty, aims to translate classical Indian texts of various languages into English.

Here's a stated answer, from the petition started by IIT Bombay Professor Ganesh Ramakrishnan: "He echoes the views of Macaulay and Max Weber that the shastras generated in India serve no contemporary purpose except for the study of how Indians express themselves."

Pollock's position is far more nuanced, however. He believes the Indian knowledge, as embodied in its ancient texts, serves no practical purpose, but shines a light on pure learning. And this, perhaps, galls those who believe that the Vedas contained the mysteries of modern science.

The video above is an excerpt from Pollock's 2014 lecture in Mumbai titled, "What is Indian Knowledge good for?" Here he explains how there is a global crises where the functionality of knowledge has gained relevance, forcing certain knowledge systems towards devaluation.

Declares Pollock: "Indian knowledge... like Greek knowledge, like Hebrew knowledge, is important because it doesn't do anything. It doesn't do anything. You cannot put a price on it. Kids today know the price of everything and the value of nothing...

"Market thinking – read Michael Sandel's book What Money Can't Buy – market thinking has invaded everything. What does the study of ancient India help you understand? That there are things you cannot buy, there are things you cannot turn into a profit, there are things you do not instrumentalise.

"We do not study ancient Indian past to find the cure for cancer in a Vedic text. There is no cure for cancer in a Vedic text, there's no recipe for cold fusion in the Veda. Knowing something about the past is radically non-instrumental if I can put it that way. We do not solve problems, we make problems, we, people who study such things, raise ontological questions, questions about your existence as a human being..."

Quoting from English playwright Tom Stoppard'sThe Invention of Love, Pollock goes on to answer the question he poses in the title of his talk.

"It's where we're nearest to our humanness. Useless knowledge for its own sake. Useful knowledge is good, too, but it's for the faint-hearted, an elaboration of the real thing, which is only to shine some light, it doesn't matter where on what, it's the light itself, against the darkness, it's what's left of god's purpose when you take god away."

Below is the video of the entire lecture, where Pollock routinely breaks into fluent Sanskrit.

Play
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Advice from an ex-robber on how to keep your home safe

Tips on a more hands-on approach of keeping your house secure.

Home, a space that is entirely ours, holds together our entire world. Where our children grow-up, parents grow old and we collect a lifetime of memories, home is a feeling as much as it’s a place. So, what do you do when your home is eyed by miscreants who prowl the neighbourhood night and day, plotting to break in? Here are a few pre-emptive measures you can take to make your home safe from burglars:

1. Get inside the mind of a burglar

Before I break the lock of a home, first I bolt the doors of the neighbouring homes. So that, even if someone hears some noise, they can’t come to help.

— Som Pashar, committed nearly 100 robberies.

Burglars study the neighbourhood to keep a check on the ins and outs of residents and target homes that can be easily accessed. Understanding how the mind of a burglar works might give insights that can be used to ward off such danger. For instance, burglars judge a house by its front doors. A house with a sturdy door, secured by an alarm system or an intimidating lock, doesn’t end up on the burglar’s target list. Upgrade the locks on your doors to the latest technology to leave a strong impression.

Here are the videos of 3 reformed robbers talking about their modus operandi and what discouraged them from robbing a house, to give you some ideas on reinforcing your home.

Play
Play
Play

2. Survey your house from inside out to scout out weaknesses

Whether it’s a dodgy back door, a misaligned window in your parent’s room or the easily accessible balcony of your kid’s room, identify signs of weakness in your home and fix them. Any sign of neglect can give burglars the idea that the house can be easily robbed because of lax internal security.

3. Think like Kevin McCallister from Home Alone

You don’t need to plant intricate booby traps like the ones in the Home Alone movies, but try to stay one step ahead of thieves. Keep your car keys on your bed-stand in the night so that you can activate the car alarm in case of unwanted visitors. When out on a vacation, convince the burglars that the house is not empty by using smart light bulbs that can be remotely controlled and switched on at night. Make sure that your newspapers don’t pile up in front of the main-door (a clear indication that the house is empty).

4. Protect your home from the outside

Collaborate with your neighbours to increase the lighting around your house and on the street – a well-lit neighbourhood makes it difficult for burglars to get-away, deterring them from targeting the area. Make sure that the police verification of your hired help is done and that he/she is trustworthy.

While many of us take home security for granted, it’s important to be proactive to eliminate even the slight chance of a robbery. As the above videos show, robbers come up with ingenious ways to break in to homes. So, take their advice and invest in a good set of locks to protect your doors. Godrej Locks offer a range of innovative locks that are un-pickable and un-duplicable. To secure your house, see here.

The article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Godrej Locks and not by the Scroll editorial team.