Last month witnessed a mini-controversy with a difference. Some 130 academics wrote to Infosys co-founder Narayana Murthy and his son Rohan questioning the choice of Sheldon Pollock, a renowned professor of Sanskrit at Columbia University, as chief editor of the Murty Classical Library — a well-funded project to translate 500 volumes of classical Indian texts into English. The doubts over Pollock centred on two broad themes.
First, it was suggested that Pollock had insufficient “respect and empathy for the greatness of Indian civilization”. Pollock, who was honoured with a Padma award in 2010, was seen to be too partisan both in his disavowal of the “Sanskrit cosmopolis” and his public stands on contemporary politics. The appeal expressed fears that Pollock would attach needless hidden meanings to classical texts with a view to demonise India’s inheritance. This apprehension was further fuelled by the hissy fit of a Pollock bhakt: “Sanskrit must be taken back from the clutches of Hindu supremacists, bigots, believers in Brahmin exclusivity, misogynists, Islamophobes and a variety of other wrong-headed characters on the Right….”