I've been given the honor of reviewing the most recent book by renowned Indian journalist Rajiv Malhotra, titled "The Battle for Sanskrit," which is about precisely what its title says. Well, I may have asked for the honor rather than it being straight out given to me - I asked Mr. Malhotra if he knew of any writing opportunities about Hinduism, and in response he said I could review his book. So here I am. However, this post isn't a full-length review, as I haven't had enough time to read the entire book as of yet (it clocks in at over 400 pages) - other projects and real life obligations have prevented me from getting as far in the book as I would like to have progressed by now. But I figured I should at least write a "first impressions" to reflect on the progress I have made so far. After all, what I have read so far is certainly tantalizing for me to read further, and sharing my experiences so far with the book would do well to entice others to read it for themselves and make their own observations.
To further elaborate on what "The Battle for Sanskrit" is about - it's about how certain Western scholars have, after a fashion, perverted the studies of the language Sanskrit for the ends of the West, namely framing Sanskrit as an "oppressive" language full of socially abusive meanings and norms. Indeed, the book (or what I've read of it so far) talks about American Orientalism, how it's permeated American studies on Indian civilization, and its inherently Hinduphobic discourse. At first, I have to admit that my emotional "fight-or-flight" response was triggered when I read the premise of the book and some of its reviews - those who have read my blog know very well my past "white guilt" and my lack of self-respect that I ascribe to being white (which I will not repeat in this post), and I anticipated it being heaped upon right from the opening pages. However, the book was far from expressing this sort of attitude in what I have read to date, and I soon discovered that my initial reaction was akin to wanting to argue against a sensationalist social media headline (more commonly known as "clickbait") without reading the content of the article itself. That was a trap I've fallen for before in many a social media post, and I didn't want to fall for it again.
Indeed, while what I've read of the book so far does indeed take many Western scholarly assumptions about India to task and exposes an inherent Hinduphobic agenda among Western academia, it's truly a balanced sort of discourse that doesn't rely on cheap emotional manipulation. It's scholarly language is more akin to engaging Western academia in a contest of skill rather than outright combat, making it (ironically) easier to digest. (I say "ironically" because normally the usage of advanced and obscure vocabulary makes scholarly work impenetrable to the average reader; in the case of this book it serves to intone respect to the reader and not insult the reader's intelligence.) Indeed, I felt like by reading this book, instead of falling for the trap of belittling myself for being a white guy (and thereby missing the point of the book entirely), I felt like I could be a part of the solution by being aware of these sorts of anti-Hindu phenomena prevalent in Western scholarship. And it's not just people like me that Mr. Malhotra is addressing either - he mentions that there are accomplices to Hinduphobia among Indians as well, and while Mr. Malholtra makes the case that such Indians still suffer from having their minds being colonized by Western interests, he suggests that part of the problem is a willingness to be colonized in such a fashion, and that the solution is internal, that such Indians have to heal themselves and regain their own self-respect; that they're only as Westernized as they allow themselves to be.
Again, this is only a "first impressions" post, and I have yet to read the entire book to get to all the gritty details as to Mr. Malhotra's arguments. But so far, I'm very impressed at Mr. Malhotra's out-of-the-box thinking when it comes to the so-called "clash of civilizations" that so many people on either side of the divide want to perpetuate. I've already gleaned volumes about my own perceptions and misconceptions from what I've read so far, and I seek to further hone my learning by reading the rest.