Regarding indology

nanda chandran vpcnk at HOTMAIL.COM
Tue Oct 24 08:07:30 UTC 2000

>In a rather Buddhist manner, I think, I've tried to characterise
>indologists by what they habitually do, not by what they are,  or what
>formal qualifications they have.

But c'mon, Dominic, how logical is this strait-jacketing? After all
the journals you mention, do not discuss the acronymns themselves, do
they? Their value lies in the discussion of the Indological subjects.
If somebody has genuine interest and has read the relevant subjects,
though not from these journals, can't they contribute meaningfully to
the discussions? Can't they bring some fresh insight into unresolved
problems? Wouldn't Indologists be interested in understanding such

>It is impossible to know the "strength of an argument" unless you have a
>thorough grounding in the field.

Why should it be so? Afterall we all converse in the same language,
right? If I claim something and I'm wrong, somebody just has to
show why - based on reason and factual evidence. Will merely applying
to some supposed authority on the subject because he differs in his
views, suffice?

The difference between an "amateur" indologist and a scholar is that
the latter has formal academic training on the subject. Though such
training has its own advantages, it still doesn't ensure truth in
every claim the scholar makes. If the amatuer too has studied the same
material, how can you be so sure that he cannot come out with quality
work on the subject? If the quality of his work is doubted, let it be
done on the soundness of the argument itself.

>This "certain knowledge/instinct" can be profoundly misleading too, of
>course.  Having grown up in a culture is absolutely not the same as having
>an analytical knowledge of that culture.  That's why some Hindu students
>fail courses in Hinduism (yes, it happens!).

Here we come to the crux of the problem. There are two positions
- intuitive and analytical. The one who would combine both is ideally
an Indian Indologist. He would have grown up in the culture and also
been exposed to the analytic way of history writing. If free from
political/ideological prejudices, he would indeed be the model Indologist.

Regarding the two other players in the field - foreign Indologists
and amatuer Indian Indologists, I've already explained the weakness of
the former - they lack intuitive insight since they're not part of
the culture. With the latter though they have intuitive insight into
the subject due to growing up in it, your complaint is that they
lack the analytic skills. Let me disagree with you here - most of
the amateur Indian Indologists you see on this list are from a
scientific/mathematical background : they are software engineers,
astronomers, molecular or aerospace scientists - in whose fields
analytical skills are of the utmost importance. Day in and day out,
they use these skills in their work - that they're good at it can
be confirmed in the way foreign countries are wooing them.

I hope nobody is going to say that analysis differs when it comes to
Indology! Logic is logic - analysis is analysis - whether software or
history or philosophy - we systematically sift through the available
evidence and try to come out with the best possible solution. Ofcourse,
it could be pointed out that even such sifting of evidence requires
some knowledge of the subject - sure, but then let that be decided on
the strength of the argument itself.

>I'm afraid your argument is based on a grossly oversimplified fantasy of
>the foreign indologist.  Almost all the people I know who study classical
>India professionally (Indian and non-Indian) have complex, multi-racial,
>multi-cultural backgrounds, have lived in many countries, including India,
>and speak several languages.  The ability of an indological scholar to
>enter empathetically into an understanding of Indian culture depends on a
>number of factors, including how self-reflective the scholar is, how good
>a writer, how well-educated, how interested, and so on.  This applies
>regardless of birthplace, caste, or gender.  You can't essentialize
>scholars on the basis of geographical origins in any simple or even
>worthwhile manner.

Foreign Indologists might be doing this cross-culturization as a
profession. But we Indians, who live(d) abroad, have done it
practically. Over long periods of time, we've lived and worked in
foreign lands - not due to any "professional interest", but for
survival itself. We have mixed with foreigners socially and
professionally, tasted their food, experienced their culture,
shared their joys and fears.

I'm myself a pretty self-reflecting type and one of my personal
interests is psychology and culture. I watch and try to understand
peoples and cultures. I would also say that I'm pretty well read
with regards to Western literature - from Louis L'amour to Tolkien;
from Camus to Nietchze to Kant. I'm also a keen listener of Blues
and Jazz.

But by this I'm no way deluded into thinking that I fully understand
Western culture. There're some African Americans that I've met, whose
grasp of blues and jazz, is quite different from mine. John Coltrane
and Abbey Lincoln mean something to me, while it means something else
to them. While I'm excited by certain things, they're excited by
certain others. And there can be little doubt as to whose perception is
closer to the composer's.The same is the case with Americans/Europeans with
regard to their own culture. I thought I was quite knowledgable about Irish
folklore, till an Irish collegue in London made me realize
otherwise. His grasp of the subject - the motives, the details - were
quite different from mine. His was an intuitive knowledge naturally
acquired by living his culture, while mine was grasped from an inferior
second hand medium - books. The same was the case with a stage actress
who was my neighbour in Newyork city with regards Shakesphere. Though
I can reel of the names of the albums of Miles Davis and his band
members, I still realize that with regard to what's most vital in the
whole thing - the spirit of the music - any African American will be
more knowlegable than me - for it is his music, created by his own
people and culture and hence is natural for him. For the analyzer
it is only an objective analysis; but for the people who live
it, it is a subjective experience. These produce two different kinds
of knowledge and as stressed by numerous expositions of brahma vidhya
- it is the experience which is the superior knowledge.

I am reminded on the movie, "White guys can't jump", where
Wesley Snipes mocks Woody Harleson for listening to Jimi Hendrix.
He simply says, "you (because Harleson is white) cannot 'know'
Hendrix, man!".

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