With all these BJP budhhijeevis, who seem to be able to speak in many tongues, hogging all the media and mind-space, I seem to have slipped up on blogging about this full text of a wonderful lecture (that I did not attend but enjoyed reading thoroughly) Ram Guha delivered at the India International Centre, New Delhi, on 15 May 2009, to mark the birth centenary of B S Kesavan:
This essay is inspired by an argument between the scholar-librarian B S Kesavan and his son Mukul that I was once privy to. I forget what they were fighting about. But I recall that the father, then past 90 years of age, was giving as good as he got. At periodic intervals he would turn to me, otherwise a silent spectator, and pointing to his son, say: “makku!”, “paithyam”! Those were words that Mukul, born in Delhi of a Hindispeaking mother, did not himself understand. But I did. They meant, roughly and respectively, “imbecile” and “lunatic”.
B S Kesavan knew that I lived in Bangalore, that both my parents were Tamil, and that one of my great-uncles had been a Tamil scholar. Thus, when his son’s stupidity (real or alleged) could not be adequately conveyed in their shared language, namely, English, he took recourse to his mother tongue, which was also theoretically mine. The emphasis must be on theoretically”. My great-uncle the Tamil scholar used to write postcards asking me to “learn Tamil and lead a simple life”. I failed him wholly in the second respect, but have down the years managed to pick up a few dozen words of Tamil, among them makku and paithyam.
It would be fascinating to find out how many of our readers here regularly read anything other than English. Ram Guha goes on to name three contemporary scholars in their 40s -- A R Venkatachalapathy, Tridip Suhrud, and Yogendra Yadav. Do you know of any more?
Aug 21, 2009