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Saturday, December 11, 2021

Reading Skills for Pleasure and Benefits - 7

(This is the final section of this series on Reading Skills) 

When I read about ancient Indian literature in Sanskrit and Tamizh, I try and read the original and use a standard classic dictionary, a dictionary of synonyms and other aids. My habit is to look up in the dictionary for even words I know, because the context in which we use the word currently might not have been the same in the past. In other words, the meaning might have been different. For example, the word veguli in Tamizh means an innocent, ignorant person, the way I have heard it used in conversations. But the word was used in the past to indicate “anger”. The word kolgai is used to mean one’s firm belief or doctrine. But it was used to mean “proper conduct” in Thirukkural (1019).


In addition, I like to read interpretation of these classics by both Indian scholars and scholars from other cultures. The best example is the interpretations of Rg Veda by Sri Aurobindo which is so different from those by foreign scholars. That should be no surprise. Outsiders see things locals do not see and vice versa. Differences in perspectives will be obvious.


I also like to read interpretations of Sanskrit literature in the English language and in Tamizh. Whenever such books are available, I encourage you to read them. The best example for me is the translation of Bhagavat Gita by Kavignar Kannadasan in Tamizh and in Marathi by Bal Gangadhar Tilak (translated into English by Balchandhra S.Sukthankar).


One more important point I learnt by reading several world classics in various languages translated into English is that some translators go for the meaning of sentences whereas others try to translate word for word. Both have value. It depends on what we want to do with the information. As already mentioned, the best example for me was when I was trying to compile all the conversations in Maha Bharatha. By reading critiques of various translations, I learnt that the translation by Prof. Ganguli is considered the best for word-by-word and stanza-by-stanza meanings.


When I was reviewing to make sure I put down in writing all the methods I have used in the past, I remembered one other item. I give a good glance at any book review I notice anywhere, if the title looks interesting. This is one filter I use to decide on which books I wish to buy and read and which ones I wish to get from a library.


When I am reading a book or essay, if I find reference to another article which is the source for the current author or appears to be interesting, I will find a source on the internet to look at it briefly. That has led me to several important books and articles.


One of the best recent examples is a reference to a Thanksgiving Prayer from the Iroquois Nations. This reference was in a book by  Ms.Robin Kimmerer with the title “Braiding Sweetgrass”. When I found that prayer, I found how profound that Prayer is and how similar it is to some of the Vedic prayers to the sun, the wind and the fire. In addition, I learnt that the charter which the Iroquois Nations developed to bind the warring tribes was a model for the federation of the original 13 colonies of the United States. Even more interesting was when I traced it back to Hiawatha who had a part to play in the 1500’s in bringing these original five (later 6) factions together.


One other recent example is a reference to a Sanskrit prayer called Shiva Mahimna Stotra by Pushpadanta. When I read that original in Sanskrit I found that this Stotra is the source for the well-known statement about the Vedic religion: “ Just as the sea is the final resting place for all streams of water, You are the final place to be reached for all people whatever path they choose and however straight or zigzag that path may be” (Sloka 7)


I have an annoying habit of scribbling along the margin or underline or highlight the text. (I must add that I do this only in books I bought. I also tend to buy books in which I may be tempted to make notes) It may be annoying to the next reader of the book. But I find it helpful when I decide to re-read the book or look for specific ideas and quotes from that book. It may also be helpful to someone who does not want to read the entire book but is looking for a glimpse of ideas. He or she can just read the underlined areas. True, it will be my personal bias. Therefore, it is better to read the entire book for oneself or get an unmarked book to read.


Let me finish with a quite from Albert Einstein: “Let every man judge according to his own standards, by what he has himself read, not by what others tell him”. He was writing about an author who was criticized for his views by those who had not read him or understood him. This statement resonates with me because it emphasizes both the need to read the original papers (or books) ourselves and to think on our own.


Thank you for letting me share my thoughts on reading. Hope you found some useful idea (s) for your personal use.

1 comment:

Kannan said...

Yes. The series has been very insightful containing rare gems recaptured from your memory. Thank you. Kannan