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Bringing colossal Indian past to the present through classics

Prashanth G N, Bengaluru, Nov 24, 2014, DHNS: 1:22 IST
Rohan Murty
Murty Classical Library of India (MCLI) launched in 2008-09 at Harvard University after a grant from Rohan Murty, Junior Fellow at Harvard University, and son of Narayana and Sudha Murthy, is ready to release its first set of five translations of ancient Indian texts, in January 2015.

“This is the beginning of our dream to bring a colossal Indian past to its present. We plan to bring five to six translations every year,” Murty told Deccan Herald in an interview at his home office.

What prompted Murty to get into classical Indian literatures and texts? Says Murty: “It is prestigious to have a John Loeb book collection. It is said people always bought Loeb’s books in metres - give me 10 metres of Loeb’s books! Prof Loeb (philanthropist and investment banker), now at Columbia University, would always say a gentleman is one who reads and a book should fit into every gentleman’s pocket. The Loeb books were very small but widely read.

He has guided translation of nearly 550 volumes. When I felt the aura around Loeb’s books and I found them in major classics departments outside India, I wondered why we weren’t reading our own classics? I bet my generation has never heard of great Indian texts nor ever read them - like the Nyayaikas tradition, whose construction of logic almost 1500 years ago was spectacular, and still a challenge to modern logic. Even early calculus was phenomenal. These are classics far ahead of the West. We should read Pythagoras and Euclid, but why not also Aryabhata or Akbarnama? I was looking for an India narrative, not always a Greek and Latin one.”

Murty says English made all Western classics accessible. “I felt we too should have a systematic way to bring out our own texts and that led to the MCLI. I hope the translations survive beyond my life time, in perpetuity, and as along as institutions are alive.”

Murty’s endowment is vital. “If well-invested, the endowment will live a long life. The translations are certainly not Harry Potter series, which generate millions. I also felt Harvard institutional support could stoke global interest in the translations.”Murty is conscious that “non-specialists can’t do such work”.

“I am not a scholar. I’m a regular guy. Scholars are best equipped to handle cross-cultural translations.”

Columnist Gurcharan Das introduced Murty to Sheldon Pollock, Sanskrit and American and comparative intellectual history scholar, now at Columbia University. “I was interested in non-Sanskrit texts, too. Vernacular literatures would lose out if focus is only Sanskrit. He readily agreed,” says Murty.

Release in Jan 2015

The five translations will be released at multiple locations in India and abroad beginning with New Delhi, where thinker-economist Amartya Sen will release the books; go on to the Jaipur Lit Fest, where Rohan Murty will deliver the keynote address, then to Bangalore, where Manjul Bhargava, the Winner of the Fieldsl Medal, the highest award in Mathematics, will do the honours. Murty and the MCLI team will then release the works at London, Washington, DC, and at Harvard, the home of MCLI.

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