Friday, 15 August 2014

Ananya Vajpayei proves Sanskrit studies is shite.

Edited- an anonymous commentator has pointed out that I've completely missed 'the meat of the joke' (no doubt because my humorless Tambram genes are allergic to meat). Also Ananya lives in India, not Amerika as I enviously suggested.

Natural languages are interesting because their pragmatics solve a co-ordination problem, whereas their semantics do the opposite.  Classical Sanskrit is particularly interesting because, ab ovo, this was self-conscious and reflexive. Because of its syntheticity, Sanskrit, and Sanskrit influenced Riti type poetry, can always be viewed as a constrained optimization problem- i.e. there is a set of avadhanam questions which is the dual of the text. The hermeneutic method proper to Sanskrit- though far from forgetful of texts- is thus the reverse of historicist. It could be Gadamerian if  potential rasikas trained as Avadhanis- instead of holing up in Libraries to write worthless apple polishing dissertations while pretending to spearhead some vast subaltern revolt of the surd and silent Masses with which Revolt, however, those same Masses will have no truck- and all this at a time when there is a crisis in Student Loan Finance in the West- people realize their PhD in Telugu Tribadism won't even get them a job at McDonalds- so the whole swindle is already on its last legs and even the Pentagon won't come to the rescue because 'Regime Change' has proved a pipe dream.

Bearing this in mind let us look at this cri de couer from one of Sheldon Pollock's students- Ananya Vajpayei. My comments are in bold.

Sanskrit must be taken back (taking something back, means it was once yours and then someone took it from you. My Brahmin ancestors had Sanskrit- they were its leading exponents- then European and American Professors took this from me-so I should take it back from them by beating them or killing them. Is that what you mean Ananya?)  from the clutches of Hindu supremacists, bigots, believers in brahmin exclusivity, misogynists, Islamophobes and a variety of other wrong-headed characters on the right(as opposed to the Left, because we all know those guys are just sweethearts) whose colossal ambition to control India’s vast intellectual legacy (actually, it is Pollock who says only America can now do Indology)  is only matched by their abysmal ignorance (which you amply demonstrates in what follows) of what it means and how it works

An article in this paper on July 30 revealed that Dina Nath Batra,  head of the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti, had formed a “Non-Governmental Education Commission” (NGEC) to recommend ways to “Indianise” education. I had encountered Mr. Batra’s notions about education during a campaign I was involved with in February (which failed miserably in everything except getting you some publicity)  and March this year, to keep the American scholar Wendy Doniger’s books about Hindus and Hinduism in print. His litigious threats ( litigious threats? You mean he said Penguin was breaking the Law and Penguin agreed without taking the matter to Court?) had forced Penguin India to withdraw and destroy a volume by Prof. Doniger, and this was even before the national election installed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the ruling party in Delhi. In other words, Penguin was breaking the Law. Not some new law put in by the new Govt. but, simply, the law of the land. They decided to stop breaking the law and Ananya is unhappy about this because she wants other people to break the law but prefers not to do it herself. Very brave of her, I'm sure.
Ever since Mr. Narendra Modi’s government has come to power, Mr. Batra has become more active, (you mean effective. He was probably even more active when he was younger.) zealous and confrontational in stating his views about Indian history, Hindu religion, and what ought to qualify as appropriate content in schoolbooks and syllabi not only in his native Gujarat but in educational institutions all over the country.  Nonsense. People like him start out more confrontational so as to gain salience within their own camp. He is backed up by a vast governmental machinery by the fact that Mr. Modi himself has penned prefatory materials to his various books, and of course by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), of which he has been a member and an ideologue for over several decades. Oh I see. Mayawati wrote something. Once Chief Minister, U.P 's 'vast machinery of Govt.' totally destroyed Untouchability- didn't it? Nehru wrote something- immediately he was elected, India became a Socialist State without any Princely purses because 'vast machinery of Govt. was behind Nehru. How stupid are you Ananya?
Anything but ordinary

It’s unclear what the status or authority of Mr. Batra’s proposed NGEC is to be, (NO, IT ISN'T. It's a non Government body. Anyone can set one up. It has no statutory force and thus can only have persuasive powers- you know this but pretend not to because like maybe Modi is Hitler and Batra is Goebbels and please gimme tenure already coz I'm such a brave anti-Fascist- like, dunno, Anne Frank or something) but I was struck by the mention of one of my former teachers as a potential member of this commission. Seeing the name of Prof. Kapil Kapoor took me back to my days as an M.A. student in English and Linguistics at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Prof. Kapoor first introduced me and my classmates to traditions of literature, language philosophy, literary analysis, poetics, semiotics, grammar and aesthetics in Sanskrit. Many of us went on to write doctoral dissertations about these subjects, deviating from British, American and postcolonial literature, and the European literary and critical theory that constituted the bulk of our coursework.
Prof. Kapoor ended up becoming dean and rector, and later, during the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime, setting up the Centre for Sanskrit Studies at JNU. He and I lost touch, partly because I went away overseas and partly because of our political disagreements that were becoming increasingly apparent. But encounters with other scholars like the philosopher Arindam Chakrabarti, the Pa¯n˛ini expert George Cardona, and the Sanskritist, and eventually my doctoral supervisor, Sheldon Pollock made me decide to pursue more seriously the path that I had glimpsed in Prof. Kapoor’s classroom: I took up the study of Sanskrit for real. Okay this tells us two things. You didn't study Sanskrit 'for real' while you were in India. You have no passion or aptitude for it. Only after you went abroad- where opportunities to learn Sanskrit are very limited- and only after you got yourself a heavy-weight mentor like Pollock who could get you tenure track, only then did you start studying Sanskrit 'for real'. No wonder you failed. You may have built yourself a Career but you are a petty bureaucrat of a pedant. and will never be a savant.
One of the reasons this did not seem outlandish to me was because my father is a poet and writer in Hindi, and I had been exposed to Indian literary and intellectual traditions at home from a very young age.  You were living in India. Your parents are Indian. How fucking deracinated is the class to which you belong that you need to say- Dad is a Hindi writer, that's how come I can understand that dehati lingo?Along the way I had studied Romance languages as well, so that adding Sanskrit to the repertoire did not feel at all counter-intuitive. This is crazy. There is no connection at all between Romance languages and Sanskrit.  At Oxford, I wrote an M.Phil thesis about how the study of Sanskrit had shaped the ideas of Ferdinand de Saussure OMG, that old chestnut! Are you sure you're not related to Rajiv Malhotra? the father of modern linguistics in Europe. But after that, when I entered the South Asian Languages and Civilizations doctoral program at the University of Chicago, I did not properly realise what I had signed up for. You had no interest in philology and are obviously too stupid to understand computational linguistics but got by playing the posh brown totty card- which in England means you can get away with laziness and stupidity. Chicago, however, expects Asians to be workaholic geeks able to put in long hours of brainless drudgery.
Learning philology and Indology at Chicago was intensely challenging, yet also proportionately gratifying. We had the best scholars of South Asian studies in the world for our teachers. No you didn't. You had stupid narcissists.  Along with a small group of classmates, most of whom are professors now in America’s top universities but in shite Departments, I spent hundreds if not thousands of hours at the Regenstein Library, painstakingly unpacking sutras, verses, commentaries and arguments in a range of Sanskrit texts, increasingly difficult as we moved to more advanced levels. So you were doing stuff, in your late Twenties, which smart 12 year old kids have been doing effortlessly in Gurukuls all over India, not to mention Monasteries in China and Japan- for thousands of years! Bravo! Except, not bravo at all, by the age of fifteen those kids could make a logical argument. You can't. Nor can Pollock.
Encountering prejudice

It’s hard to describe the peculiar pain and pleasure of this language, so strict are its formal rules, so complex the ideas it allows one to formulate, express and analyse. Yet you can't express a complex idea. You are too stupid. Sanskrit enables thought at a level distinct from ordinary thinking in the languages of everyday life. Rubbish!  This is not to say that one cannot have a perfectly ordinary conversation in spoken Sanskrit: one can, of course, and in Sanskrit pedagogical environments, this is normal. But most of the vast literature available in this amazing language is specialised, technical and anything but ordinary. However, all of that vast literature can and, in general, has been put in to other languages- scholastic Tibetan or Telugu aren't inferior to Sanskrit, in any sense, though, I suppose, Sanskrit is compositionally easier. D. Venkat Rao estimates that some 30 million texts in various forms exist in Sanskrit at this time, the largest textual corpus of any extant human language. English is an extant human language. About 300 million texts that we know about are added to its corpus every year. 
Half of my long years as a doctoral student were spent away from Chicago, in India. For my dissertation, I read a small body of late medieval Sanskrit dharmashastra works. Why? Were you genuinely interested in the subject or was it because you had already made up your mind about their content and it was the least cognitively challenging type of drudgery you were capable of? These were texts of a legal and normative nature that were specifically about shudra-dharma: the rituals, duties and constraints associated with shudras, the social category that constitutes the fourth stratum of the orthodox brahminical fourfold varna-vyavastha, what we now normally designate as the “caste system.” I read with pandits and professors, at mathas, Sanskrit colleges, Oriental institutes and Sanskrit departments within regular universities, in places like Mysore, Bangalore and Pune. I even studied Kannada and Marathi to ease my passage. Poor thing- having to learn Kannada and Marathi just to talk to some beastly natives! Clearly knowing Kannada and Marathi can't help one to grasp Sanskrit better. Perish the thought! Everything you need to know about Sanskrit is in the library in Chicago.
Nothing in my experience or education up to that time had prepared me for the sheer wall of prejudice that blocked the access of someone like me to the particular aspects of the history, ideology and politics of Sanskrit that I was interested in. Here I was — female, a north Indian in south India, a student enrolled at a foreign university, a Hindi-speaker, and only tenuously and dubiously of a caste that pandits considered acceptable (why? Vajayei is considered a Brahmin or Kayastha name) . My teachers and I struggled to communicate, but in the end, most things were lost in translation. (Whose fault was that? An IAS officer posted in Maharashtra learns Marathi- even if they haven't studied Linguistics and Sanskrit. But our little darling 'struggled to communicate!' OMG, these evil Pundits are discriminating against me coz they don't speak Amerikan! A well-known Sanskrit professor in Maharashtra told me that only “perverted women” became scholars, a pronouncement that brought several months of our readings to an abrupt close one afternoon, and ensured I never again returned to meet him. Only a perverted scholar would deliberately chose a subject they find distasteful. Why? It is a waste of resources to study something you already know to be Evil- if the Government has already ruled that it is Evil. You are simply trying to grab publicity for yourself.
The caste hierarchy and sexism, the inequality and misogyny that the social worlds of Sanskrit engender and proliferate are shocking to a modern sensibility. So Sanskrit is shit and people who boast of their credentials in its study are worthless smegheads. No argument from me. However the 'social worlds of Sanskrit' don't 'engender and proliferate' anything. Otherwise you wouldn't have needed to learn a bit of Kannada and Marathi. Clearly, either you are not part of Sanskrit's 'social world' or the people you complain of weren't or else neither you nor they were part of that 'social world' because it doesn't exist. What doesn't exist can't engender and proliferate anything. As for this 'modern sensibility' you speak of- either it is rational or it is what you have which, I'm sorry to say, passed its sell by date in the mid Nineties.
 For a decade, my teachers in India and abroad had taught, tended, scolded and moulded me like their own child. Now I was confronted with a shrinking community of Sanskrit scholars left in a few places in India. They felt embattled inside collapsing institutions that had no space for their learning, demeaned by democratic politics and secular public life that stigmatised their orthodox beliefs, threatened by gender equality that resisted the patriarchy inherent in their practices, and humiliated by their sheer marginality in the economy of new knowledge systems, communication technologies and political common sense. They were bitter and resentful, and the occasional interloper like me — that too someone with an obviously critical agenda — had to face the brunt of their frustration.
Yes, Sanskrit Profs weren't well paid and, in any case, caste politics and scyophancy and so on took its toll- but smart people do Sanskrit for fun- not to get tenure. They make money in their day time job, and practice Avadhanam as a recreation. But this has always been true. Pedants have shit for brains. Which is why you chose that profession.
Another journey

After about three years of fighting a losing battle, I decided to make what I could of the dharmashastramaterials on my own. The dissertation got completed, and later, when I was writing my first book on an unrelated subject, I returned with joy and pleasure to the classics of Sanskrit literature, like Ka¯lida¯sa’s long poem, the “Meghadu¯ta,” sections of the epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and the Bhagavad Gita. This is crazy. Every other 'upper middle' Indian I know- including Muslims- likes relaxing by turning over the leaves of favorite Sanskrit and Persian texts. Why? Indians like Indian Literature. Most of us are guilty of writing metaphysical poetry. Some do it with a drink in hand, others after correcting their kids' homework or telling them a bed time story. In the safe cocoon of another great American institution, this time Harvard University’s Widener Library, I could bracket for a few years the dark side of Sanskrit, its complicity with the power dynamics of caste and gender that make modern India the most confounding contradiction of on-paper political equality and lived social inequality. If Sanskrit has a dark side so has Persian and Arabic and every other language in the world. America has on-paper political equality- does Ananya think it has no lived social inequality? Look at China. There has been no great linguistic break but there certainly has been a change in Social inequality. Language- especially a dead classical language- has zero explanatory power in this context. Why pretend otherwise? People will only be confirmed in their low opinion of your subject, Ananya. You really aren't accomplishing some tremendous David vs Goliath triumph by writing this stupid article. You are just a stupid Careerist pushing an out-dated agenda.
But now that India is ruled by the Hindu nationalist government of Mr. Modi, with grandiose and historically baseless announcements being made all the time by the likes of Mr. Batra, it seems the time has come to deal with everything that is wrong with Sanskrit, yet again. Why? Batra is a retired school teacher. Did he teach Sanskrit? No. He taught English and Hindi. Is he using Sanskrit to mobilize support? No. He is using Hindia and English. Why, yet again, deal with everything that is wrong with Sanskrit? When was the last time you dealt with everything wrong with Sanskrit? Did it do any good? If not, what the fuck is your major malfunction you worthless cretin? A language is only a means to an end. Sanskrit is a powerful tool, but whether its uses are salutary or destructive depends on whose hands it happens to fall into. Its rigour and beauty are undeniable; so are its rigidity and elitism, in certain circumstances. Towards what great end have your written this shite, Ananya? To attack Batra? Surely, you need to do that in Hindi or Sanskrit- not English so atrocious that even that former School Teacher from the boondocks will feel only contempt for you?
My former professor, Kapil Kapoor, was knowledgeable and passionate about Sanskrit, which is what made him such a memorable teacher. I cannot believe that he would endorse the ridiculous claims made by some Hindutva spokespersons that there were airplanes and cars in ancient India, and that the Vedic culture invented stem cell research. But, Ananya, he hasn't endorsed those ridiculous claims, has he? Look at the Encyclopaedia of Hinduism he has just edited. Is there one single article there which 'endorses ridiculous claims'? There isn't is there?  So why bring it up? Isn't it because there is not one iota of evidence for your thesis- viz. Sanskrit has a 'Dark Side' and it is threatening to take over India- and Dinanath Batra is like the kid in Omen, except now he has got Super-Powers and OMG, Modi used a Sanskrit phrase on TV....here come the Storm Troopers! One of the things I remember about him most vividly was his earthy sense of humour. “If Pa¯n˛ini was at Takshila,” he often joked, “that probably means he was a Punjabi, like me.” We would all laugh,  Would you ALL laugh? Why? Panini came from Punjab. So did your Professor. OMG that is so-ooo funny because like...urm... Punjabis only know agriculture isn't it? You fuckwit racist retard, do you really think your Hindi speaking ancestors were smarter than Punjabis or Marathas? transported for a moment to the vanished classrooms of remote antiquity, when one of the most astonishing works of systematic knowledge of all-time, Pa¯n˛ini’s Sanskrit grammar, the Ashtadhyayi, was probably composed somewhere on the plains of north-western Punjab. Panini work may astonish you- but then you are a very very stupid person- but it isn't 'one of the most astonishing works of systematic knowledge of all time'. How could it be? Other Classical Languages with equal or greater geographical reach got along perfectly well without it and, in any case, Linguistics just isn't very interesting because we're hardwired for it. If you think the device on which you are reading this is less astonishing than the Panini's achievement you are wrong. Patanjali himself would find your smartphone more astonishing.
It’s up to liberal, secular, egalitarian, enlightened and progressive sections of our society who happen to live in America to preserve and protect this unique civilisational resource. But you are too stupid to do it.  Ask Sheldon Pollock. Kapil Kapoor opened a window for his students, from where they could see a breathtaking vista of India’s past, filled with traditions of philosophy, religion and literature unparalleled in almost any other language. Horseshit. Greek has Sanskrit beat for prose, Chinese and Persian are better for poetry, Arabic is very much alive, Hebrew has revived. Sanskrit is a hereditary hobby that Avadhanis and Acharyas, but also drunken shitheads like me, cultivate gratuitously. What Chicago calls Sanskrit is a coprolite extracted from the rectum of Teutonic dinosaurs who once ravaged Philology Depts across the Continent in pre-Darwinian times.
Scholarship like that of Sheldon Pollock and his colleagues helps us to understand the history, the power, the circulation and the importance of Sanskrit knowledge systems in the pre-modern world, not just in India but across Asia. Rubbish. Pollock Bollocks is shite. We learn to really read texts, to carefully unpack their meaning in complex historical contexts of production and reception, rather than merely brandish them as false tokens of identity and imagined superiority in our own times. Sanskrit, for you, was just a Credentialist passport to tenure- but then, you are stupid and ignorant, so being a pedant is the best thing for you. To revive Sanskrit, we must first shoot the Professors.
(Ananya Vajpeyi is the author of Righteous Republic: The Political Foundations of Modern India,HUP, 2012. E-mail: vajpeyi@csds.in)

7 comments:

  1. Oh dear. Once again, your supposedly humorous blog has missed the real meat of the joke.
    Ananya- who protests so vehemently about the Brahmin stranglehold on Sanskrit- sent an email earlier this year to another Brahmin, Akshay Pathak in which she suggested a legal strategy to get Arundhati Roy's book on Ambedkar banned on the grounds that it breached copyright and imperilled serious research. Needless to say, Ananya is due to publish her own book on Ambedkar. Read more here- http://www.thedelhiwalla.com/2014/08/01/letter-leaks-arundhati-roy-nastily-attacked-by-author-basharat-peers-wife-ananya-vajpeyi/
    Incidentally, she lives in India not the U.S.A as you appear to think.

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    1. Hilarious!
      Pollock's big whinge is about how Indian curators don't give him access to their palm-leaf manuscript bhandars. Good to know his disciple- except it turns out she isn't one at all, having turned her back on Skt- are interested in banning books so as to gain more currency for their own illiterate rubbish. Ananyaji has restored my pride in Brahminhood. Stupidity and Ignorance are not enough. Opportunistic Careerism too is a must. Mind it kindly. Aiyayo.

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    2. 'In contemporary India, debates around figures from the past and their import, if any, in our lives, are driven by a crude anti-intellectual identity politics and not by the curiosity to learn about the varied, often incommensurable, historical experiences of the diverse communities that constitute the nation. The impulse on the part of certain self-appointed spokespersons for this or that caste group or religious sect is to appropriate a prominent historical person — say Chhatrapati Shivaji, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Subhas Chandra Bose or Swami Vivekananda, to cite some recently controversial examples.

      'The next step is to control the narratives around these lives, promote certain interpretations and repress, attack or dismiss others, and insist that these legacies belong exclusively to a given group, while everyone else has to keep a distance, or face consequences. Put off by the bellicose posturing of a few rabble-rousers, who make up for in vicious invective and threatening rhetoric what they lack in scholarly rigour, moral authority or rational competence, historians are reluctant to examine such characters closely. Consequently, the dominant representations of genuinely significant figures are often constituted in equal parts of hagiography and propaganda on the one hand, and ignorance and falsehoods on the other.'
      This is Ananya writing in the Telegraph.
      But, in a private email attacking Arundhati Roy's book she says this-
      'one of the things not known to many people is that the writings of phule and ambedkar are controlled and managed by an especially constituted committee with an office in mumbai. it is this committee that has brought out some 22 volumes of ambedkar’s selected works over the years. It was originally headed by the distinguished ambedkar scholar, the late vasant moon, and it has a statutory status in the government of maharashtra, department of education. it basically has all the source materials — the published and unpublished corpus of phule and ambedkar — and is responsible for bringing these out in published form at a low price affordable for a wide cross-section of readers. you may have seen the blue and white hardbound volumes of ambedkar’s selected writings produced by this committee.

      it is my understanding that without explicit prior permission from this committee, no work by ambedkar may be annotated, edited (critically or otherwise), and published for profit in the public domain by any writer, editor or publisher. if anyone does so, it a violation of copyright and may attract — in fact should attract — legal action.'

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    3. Ananya continues- ''... the truth of the matter is, without a stable, consistent, and carefully tended corpus of source materials, not just of ambedkar’s writings but those of so many others, like gandhi, nehru, tagore and countless historically important figures, and without some checks on who can publish what and add what notes and make what editorial decisions, scholarly and historiographical work completely loses any kind of verifiable objective basis.
      'ambedkar is doubtless important for us all, but his works are not a free-for-all. a person who is a publisher not a scholar, and a writer who is an essayist and novelist not a scholar, arguably have little standing or authority to first of all take as their own, and then substantially meddle with, a text like annihilation of caste. without the copyright-owning committee’s express permission, their claim to be putting forth “an annotated critical edition” is further disqualified.

      i am telling you this in confidence and not in a public forum because you seem to have a genuine concern for the way in which ambedkar gets appropriated and represented. i myself work on ambedkar, and so have no desire or intention to engage with other people’s illegalities and self-promotion. when i am ready with my book, it will contain everything substantive i have to argue about ambedkar’s life, work and importance to us as a nation. but perhaps you could alert activist and ideologue friends in this field that this book that you and they are so exercised about has legal and procedural issues besides having the discursive and political problems that you have so ably alluded to in your article.'

      So, kids, what have we learnt today?
      Writing for a magazine, Ananya bemoans the bureaucratic neglect of Ambedkar. Writing in confidence to a fellow lefty Brahmin, she suddenly insists on the legal rights of some 'statutory body' which in fact was so lethargic as to fail to assert its copyright in the Delhi High Court. The result is- Ambedkar's books are 'orphan works'. No one is asserting copyright. It seems that this vaunted 'especially constituted committee' with statutory powers which Ananya tells us is doughtily defending high academic standards, is either moribund or dead or never existed in the first place.
      But she already knew that.

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    4. 'Solidarity — with the weak, the marginal and the wronged — is not about appropriating the experiences of others to assuage your own conscience or aggrandize your own reputation for being conscientious. From humble beginnings, Ambedkar grew up to be educated and well-off, but he continued living in a chawl until his official duties no longer permitted it. This was something he did without any fuss or advertisement: it was consistent with who he was and what he stood for, not designed to impress anyone or seek attention for himself.'
      So, Ambedkar stayed in his family home- maybe it was because it really was his family home. Perhaps, he preferred the love and affection of old neighbors to the glacial comfort of a posh bungalow. Ambedkar has credibility because he wrote about what he knew intimately. He wasn't teaching 'Dalit Studies' he was teaching Law because he actually was a first class lawyer.
      Ananya isn't Dalit, nor does she come from some horrible Manuvad High Caste home. Who, then, does she speak for? Her scholarship is worthless because she is stupid and ignorant. To engage with Ambedkar you need a background in Economics, Sociology and Jurisprudence plus an intimate knowledge of Marathi. To understand Ambedkar's debt to Ayothi Dasan, you would need to consult Tamil texts. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Buddhist studies require Pali and (for comparative work) Magahi and so on.
      Taking this path leaves no time for apple polishing sycophancy or politically correct diatribes.
      That's why this sort of work isn't being done in the Academy- or if it is, we don't hear about it.
      Instead we get this-
      'A showy and self-serving solidarity without respectful empathy, impassioned hectoring without deliberative reason, and facile identity politics without moral responsibility have brought Indian scholarship, and especially the discipline of history, to a dangerous brink. It is for historians to wrest the knowledge prerogative back from the bigots and charlatans who think they can colonize public consciousness by beating again and again, their loud and hollow drums.'

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  2. I can has access to palm-leaf manuscript bandars? Will they bite and/or poop on me? That's ok, as long as I get teh sanskritz. P.S. Your reading of Vajpeyi is right. Everyone knows it. But she'll still get tenure. P.P.S. I like the blog.

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    1. Lol! You are most welcome to contribute.

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