Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Specific People

Before continuing, I must first acknowledge here that it has been many moons since I last posted on this blog (don’t be fooled by the date of this particular post, it is only being posted in November, though the actual contents of the post do correlate with the posting date), and for this delay I sincerely apologize. I encountered so much in so little time that I was overwhelmed by the intake of information, thus resulting in my inability to write. But it was a flight I took from Bangalore to Cochin that inspired me to continue writing… I’ll get to that later.


In this post I want to talk about some of the people I have interacted with in Sringeri, whether that is on the level of student-teacher relationships, friendships, or both, or just general interactions. I find that it would be impossible to successfully explain everything that I feel with regard to the people here, but I will certainly try my best. I want to explain my interactions with people here to frame the rest of my accounts regarding Sringeri in a context that can be understood later. Think of this as a “reference” post.


The first and foremost mention should undoubtedly go to the principal/headmaster of this university, Professor Ramanuja Devanathan. He is incredible, in every sense of the word. He is the Dumbledore of this institution, and I do not say that lightly. He is magical. His magic is that of commanding respect and attention, and he deserves every bit of it. Every interaction I have had with him, or seen him having with others, has been amazingly direct. He is able to handle probably around 100 tasks (or more) at once without seeming overwhelmed; he gives speeches in front of the students as a headmaster should and provides words of encouragement and criticism to everyone equally (showing that he knows and cares about everyone); he caters to the needs of individuals (students and teachers alike) on a micro-scale, but also caters to the needs of the university as a whole on the macro-scale with an astounding and adroit ease in switching between both. He is a master manager and friendly person, with palpable power in his speech and actions. I cannot say enough about him. He is my mentor here, my guide and my protector, as well as a friend.


The next mention should surely go to my Vyaakarana teacher, Priyavrata Mishra. He is a PhD student here at the university, and was the first of my teachers to be introduced to me. He teaches me Vyaakarana and Uttararaamacaritam. I find that every class we have turns somehow into a philosophical discussion about something or another, many times about liberation and often about dharma. He is only two years older than me, but his depth of knowledge and clarity about life amazes me. Our thought pattern is very similar, and our opinions/thoughts match on a lot of levels, but observing him has taught me that I have so much left to learn. Naturally, I have learnt from him about much more than just the subjects he teaches me; he integrates a modern perspective with ancient knowledge that makes him a very rare type of person. He is easily my role model here, but has also become my closest friend in Sringeri. He’s originally from Orissa (a state in eastern India), and his father is an English teacher back home, so he knows Oriya (Orissa’s state language), Hindi, English, and Sanskrit; but he is also fluent in Telugu, Marathi, and Kannada. Because he has been in Sringeri for three years, he knows the lay of the land pretty well, and is therefore also my guide around the city.


My Nyaaya teacher is named Shyaamasundara. He’s also a PhD student here, but a very sharp contrast as a person. He knows only Kannada and Sanskrit, learned in the Shaaradaa Mutt here, and I cannot help but be taken over by his ostensible innocence. Maybe he’s not innocent, though, because he betrays his depth of personality sometimes in class, but he laughs or smiles at the smallest of things. He also always laughs any time anyone else laughs. I am amazed by his depth of clarity (everyone just has so much clarity around here) and his method of presentation in class. He makes everything so clear, and makes sure the student (me) knows what he is talking about before moving on. His presence is a calming one, never unnerving, but he is always aware of everything, extremely observant. He knows when I’m confused or something even close to confused just by looking at me, even when (I swear) I don’t betray any sign of being confused while in class. Since he knows Kannada and Sanskrit, and I don’t know Kannada, when we come across something that I don’t understand, he is somehow able to convey its meaning through Sanskrit alone. I don’t know how he does it, really, because often times he just repeats the same word or concept and I end up understanding it on my own. Perhaps this has to do with the concept of “sphota” in Sanskrit (look it up on Wikipedia). All in all, I’m honored to be his student.


Food is a pretty important part of one’s life, as we generally eat three times a day, so it is about the lady who feeds me that I would like to write next. (I stopped eating with the two guys that would come to my room morning and evening to make food, because it was quite time consuming and also left my room relatively dirty on a daily basis. The reason I came to India was not to make food or learn how to survive on my own; it was to learn Sanskrit and the Shaastras. In the process, whatever life-training I receive is of course welcome, but I realized that I should not be engaging in activities that are so time-consuming that I cannot focus on my studies.) The lady who feeds me is named Usha, and the students who eat at her house call her Usha Akka as a form of respect. “Akka” means “didi” in Hindi, and there is no equivalent in English. It is a term of respect for an older sister figure. Since Usha Akka only speaks Kannada, I have had to pick it up in order to communicate with her. Which is awesome, because it means I will be forced to learn it, therefore (hopefully) expediting the process of learning the language.


Another person I must write about is Shivannaji. Shivannaji is one of the workers in the university, in charge of running errands for the headmaster, going to the bank for the university, and taking care of the posts associated with the university. He has been given the challenging responsibility of taking care of me and my needs while here. I call him the “Hanuman” of the university because he literally takes care of everything and everyone all the time. I don’t know how he does it, but it is fascinating to me! He makes me feel good everything I pass by him. I have traveled on his motorcycle more than any other vehicle around here so far. (And as an aside, traveling by motorcycle is so much fun. I must learn how to ride one. Over here, everyone looks at me in surprise when I tell them I don’t know how to ride one; for them it’s as common as riding a bicycle… I always have to explain that in America, not everyone rides motorcycles because the distances traveled are far more than the distances traveled here.) Shivannaji is awesome.


Another awesome character is Mohanji, the head guard of the university campus. He has also been given charge of taking care of me. The needs he takes care of are of a slightly different nature; rather than taking me to the doctor or to the post office, he does things like refill the water in my water filter. He is a great person to talk to, and I am often brought to tears by his passion for his work and also the circumstances he works under. The guards here are severely underpaid (this is a government institution, what more can you expect) but they keep this campus safe and stay on guard 24/7. Mohanji has told me that he can easily find another job that pays more, but because of his devotion to the headmaster, he stays here. He feels as though all the students on this campus are his own children, and therefore he works extra hard. He has trained all the guards to be professional and wear uniforms. He even works in the gardens on the campus. I don’t understand where he finds his motivation, but then, like I said, Devanathan Acharya (the headmaster) is magical.


I guess that’s all for now, but when I come across more people I just have to write about, I will!


Rajiv Khanna said...

Well Said! I think you are among Karam Yogis, great place to learn Shastras.


mary said...

Welcome back to the blogosphere my friend, we've missed you! Love hearing about everything!! Write more!

Skittles said...

Such interesting people. Thank you for sharing! It sounds like you are surrounded by great company, and that's so wonderful. Enjoy all of the learning, my friend.