Category Archives: South Asia

Buddhism comp passed!

I’ve gotten word from Karen Lang that she and Paul Groner rated my Buddhism comprehensive exam with an “enthusiastic pass”. (Those exams are not graded with letters: either you pass or you fail.) Yay!

I’m working on my Hinduism comprehensive now.

And then the methodology comprehensive.

And then the dissertation proposal.

And then 9 months of research abroad… probably Taiwan.

And then writing the dissertation and defending.

And then back in the workforce.

The necessity of memorization

One of my projects this summer was to start memorizing the verses of Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā. At cruising speed, I’m able to learn about one verse a day… which is not too shabby considering that in the AIIS program last summer the memorization rate was 2 verses a week. It is an unfortunate fact that during the most part of my Sanskrit studies, memorization was not a priority for me or my teachers. I’m not saying that my teachers did not ever have us memorize anything. I did memorize some vocabulary and some declension tables in my classes in Western universities. However, in the Western setting especially, memorization was a fairly limited and artificial affair. After my experience this summer, I am convinced that the memorization of actual texts is a desirable element of learning Sanskrit and should be present from the earliest stages of learning.

Continue reading

Table manners

Yesterday my wife and I had dinner at Madras Palace, a local Indian restaurant. I had a paper dosa and decided to eat it the way I was taught to eat food during my stay in Pune last summer: I used my right hand exclusively. No utensils. That earned me a few curious looks from people passing by our table.

More adventures in Indian cuisine

I’ve written before about my pitiful dosas and how I learned that I really need to spread the batter. I’ve since bought an actual tava… which does help but not that much. I’ve also experimented with rava dosa and found the batter to be thinner. It requires a different kind of handling… gentler. And then tonight I made idlis for the first time. Results were so so but that is to be expected for a first try. I bought a plastic contraption that can be used in the microwave to steam the idli batter. (Purists are probably going to have a fit after reading that.) It contains 3 levels of idli molds. The batter at the top and the bottom levels were well cooked but those in the middle were a bit crumbly. I’ll have to adjust the cooking time to take care of this.

This weekend: uttappams. (Nothing new, I’ve made some before.)

Strange encounter of the Devanagari type

Yesterday, my wife and I went to a used book store. I was browsing their foreign books section and found a book with Devanagari script on it. The first thing that caught my eye was the word dharmaśāstra (धर्मशास्त्र) written on the cover. I thought “aha! a Sanskrit book”. But above it I saw the word māramana (मॉरमन), which did not ring any bell. (People who read Hindi will already have found where I erred.) I looked at the table of contents and realized immediately that the book was in Hindi, not Sanskrit. But that word, māramana, did not ring a bell. I was trying to figure out whether it was the name of an ancient author, a place, some sort of obscure philosophical view. Then I noticed the ardhacandra over the first syllabe. That’s the half moon diacritical mark above the word. This is not a normally found in Sanskrit so it has to be a modern Hindi word. Since it is Hindi, the last short “a” vowel is not pronounced so it should sound like māraman. Still, nothing came to mind. Then I remembered that the ardhacandra is normally used in transliterating the long “o” sound found in some English words (like in the name “John”: जॉन). Ok, so it is an English name sounding like moraman…. the religion of moraman…. moraman morman… Mormon!

It was an instructional book about Mormonism. It’s been my experience that recognizing English words transliterated in Hindi is pretty hard. Unfortunately, I don’t have to read such transliterated words very often. Here, I had a big fat clue in the ardhacandra but I’m reading much more Sanskrit than Hindi these days and even in the Hindi I read from time to time, the ardhacandra is not very frequent. So it initially slipped my mind. In general, Hindi transliteration of English words is done to represent how the English word sounds to the ears of native Hindi speakers. Hence, it requires quite a bit of mental gymnastics for a reader thinking in English to totally flip perspectives. The reader must no longer be an English language speaker looking at Hindi as a foreign language but must become a Hindi speaker looking at English as a foreign language. Arguably, the same gymnastics sometimes has to be performed with French for instance but because English and French “grew up” together, so to speak, and use the same script, the mental gymnastics involved are usually trivial.

Dosa breakthrough

I’ve been making dosas at home for a while but my dosas have always looked rather fat compared to those you can get from people who know what the heck they are doing. By “fat”, I mean that my dosas were thicker than normal. I thought maybe the problem was my batter or my instruments or whatever… but no… it was me!

A few days ago, I came across a site that hosts video recordings of people showing how to perform various recipes. They did not have anything about dosas but I figured that somebody had probably taken a video and put it online somewhere. So I found a video, watched it and learned what it is I was not doing right. The key is that after putting the batter in pan, you must spread it with your ladle. I had tried it several months ago just out of a desire for experimentation but I found it hard to keep the dosa intact while spreading the batter because the batter tends to stick to the ladle. So I abandoned the idea of spreading the batter. But there’s no way around it: if I want a normal looking dosa, I must spread it. I just have to learn to spread it correctly.

Last night I put this discovery to the test. My spreading technique is not perfect yet but my dosas now look much more normal. My dosas were rather unequal last night but one of them was the best looking dosa I’ve ever made. With a bit of experimentation with cooking instruments and learning how dosa batter behaves I should be able to get better.

Hindu is not a language

On the topic of Enya’s new made-up language,

Terry Dolan, professor of English at University College Dublin, said: “It’s a very eclectic language. It seems to choose elements at random. It brings in a whole wealth of different language forms such as Anglo-Saxon, Hindu, Welsh and, I think, Siberian Yupik as well.”

Repeat after me: Hindu is not a language. Hindu is not a language. Hindu is not a language. Possibilities for this mistake:

  1. This is just a typo. Yep, it is pretty easy to type Hindu instead of Hindi. Typos slip through all the time.
  2. The reporter who took down Dolan’s comments does not know that Hindu is not a language. Dolan said Hindi but the reporter recorded Hindu.
  3. Dolan himself made the mistake and no one caught it. If this is the case, in the future, someone else than Dolan needs to be interviewed for questions of language. Really.

I hope the first possibility is what actually happened in this case.

By the way, Hindu is a religious denomination.

भारतीय खाना बनाना

मेरे ख़याल में भारतीय खाना सब से स्वादिष्ट है। इसलिए अक्सर भारतीय खाना बनाता हूं। लेकिन भारतीय खाना बनाने का कार्य मुश्किल ही है और सच पूछो तो सुस्त हूं। अच्छा, अभी मैंने झूठ कहा है। वास्तव में बहुत मेहनती हूं लेकिन मेरी कार्यसूची में खाना बनाना महत्वपूर्ण नहीं। पकाने से कई दूसरे काम करने हैं मुझे (जैसा हिन्दी लिखने का अभ्यास करना)। मेरे लिए पत्नी खाना नहीं बना देती क्योंकि वह मांसाहारी है और मैं शाकाहारी हूं। (वह मेरा खाना बना सके लेकिन यह बोझ उस पर मैं नहीं डालना चाहता। यह स्थिति पारस्परिक है – आम तौर से मैं उसका खाना नहीं बनाता।)

तो ज्योती, गित्स और दूसरी कंपन्यों से मदद लेता हूं। कभी कभी मुझे भारतीय दुकान में जाना है क्योंकि कुछ ज़रूरी चीज़ें सिर्फ़ वहां बिकते हैं। तो भी पहले से अधिक भारतीय खाना आम दुकानों में भी मिलता है। अंत में आसानी से भारतीय खाना बना पाता हूं।