He speaks Sanskrit like a native.
Contributed by : Yogesh Patil
Michael, who is taking part at the World Sanskrit Book festival, looks a little out of place in the Indian milieu. “Yes, I speak Sanskrit, I love this culture,” says the fair-skinned youth, when asked what drew him to the Sammelan.
He was the only student of Oxford University who took up a course on Indian languages and religion in 2006. He went on to do an MPhil in classical Indian religion.
Despite his deep studies on religion, Michael remains an atheist. “I am not a Christian or a Hindu. I am a nastika, but I am a humanist. I have complete support from my family on whatever I do. My father inspired me to take up Buddhist studies. I am passionate about Madhwa philosophy,” he told The Times of India. He has a fine knowledge about different Bhakti panths prevalent in India, has studied Upanishads, Madhwa Vedantha and personally loves Shankaracharya’s teachings.
Translation not easy
For his PhD, Michael is working on Nyaya Amrutha, a Sanskrit text. “The word nyaya not just means `justice’ as we usually co-relate. It means a system, a way of life. Nyaya Amrutha can mean a system that gives endless nectar. I am struggling to translate the title itself. Every word in Sanskrit has several specific meanings and it cannot be boiled down to one single synonym in Sanskrit. But I would not give up translation, because it is a learning exercise and these texts must be made available in Sanskrit,” says Michael.
He also teaches Sanskrit at Manchester University. His dream is to be a `upadyaya’ in a vishwavidhyalaya! This is his third trip to India. On earlier occasions, he was here in search of manuscripts when he was working on a “critical edition on Krishna devotion”. Though a Briton, Sanskrit is not alien to Michael, who has also learnt to speak Tamil, Kannada and Hindi.
According to Shridhar Acharya, who is holding demonstration Sanksrit classes at the Sammelan, Michael’s love for the language came as a surprise. “He speaks in flawless Sanskrit. I have been teaching this language for the past 29 years and I feel proud to know about his interest, which many of our own students have lost over the years. People like him can also bridge India’s international relationships. That is the beauty of Sanskrit,” Acharya said.
For Saraswathi Shenai, who considers the language her mother tongue, Michael’s passion is proof of the good deeds he might have done in his previous janmas. “Otherwise, it is impossible for a foreigner to get attracted to our bhasha, and travel overseas to attain wisdom. It is a miracle,” she said, taken by surprise after seeing him writing and speaking in Sanskrit.
Email and Sanskrit
Michael prefers to email in Sanskrit, whenever he wants to communicate with his teachers and friends. “I use the Devanagari script. But we do not have a system yet, where email IDs can be written in Sanskrit,” he says.
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