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Dr Bharat Jhunjhunwala

Dr Bharat Jhunjhunwala

Dr Bharat Jhunjhunwala

Two books immediately come to mind from within Indian Studies reading your book: one, In Search of the Cradle of Civilization: New Light on Ancient India by Georg Feuerstein, Subhas Kak and David Frawley; two, Diana L. Eck’s India: A Sacred Geography. You following T S Eliot’s dictum of integrating tradition and individual talent bring in a more technical understanding of India’s ancient geography and geology to interrogate the concept of the Prophet or the Navi in your book. In this is you open up the space for inter-religious dialogue going beyond the works of Frawley and Eck. Why do we need a new comparative anthropology of ancient India?

Feuerstein’s book demolishes the Aryan Invasion Theory. Eck’s book deals with the sacredness of India but is mainly restricted to the larger Hinduism. My book takes a quantum jump and shows that the India is the home of the Semitic Religions. I have focused on the Prophets because the narrative is told through them. We need a fresh comparative study to explore these common roots. As far as I know this has not been suggested before.

Your Endnotes are a treasure trove most of which invite the discerning scholar to pursue further research about the Semitic religions. It is heartening to see that you see the need for further empirical validation of your findings within the specialised domain of ancient riverine scholarship. For instance, in Endnote 809 on Adam, you seek new research. Keeping this in mind, we need to ask you how do we accept that the Garden of Eden was not a metaphor for a specific unsullied state of the soul but was a real place? We need to ask you this because redaction critics of the first Book of the Bible, Genesis, will have trouble with a real Garden of Eden or a real Adam. What is gained by making real that which is considered mythical?

Biblical scholars often consider the narratives of Adam, Cain and Noah to be metaphors. My understanding is that the denial of their historicity is rooted in the mismatch of the narratives of these 3 Prophets and the West Asian geography. The idea that these were ahistorical metaphors has been evolved to circumvent this difficulty. I show that the narratives match with the geography of the Indus Valley hence there is no need to consider them as metaphors. I would add that historicity of these narratives does not subtract from their metaphorical or theological importance. On the contrary, it adds to their importance.

Tell us about your journeys through Rajasthan and Gujarat and use of (satellite) technology in writing this book. This will help other scholars in building upon your use of data collection and contemporary technology. Your book will go a long way in redefining the terrain of Indology and Indian geography.

Oh, I travelled incrementally. I found certain leads at one place that took me to the second and then to the third and so on. For example, I was told about a place named “Lankeri” in Kutch while I was travelling in Jodhpur. So I travelled to Kutch and found Lanka at Dholavira. My experience is that the smallest lead can provide dramatic evidences. I was searching for caves between Maharashtra and Kutch to find Kishkindha. I found some info on the net about Maneknath Cave near Danta. When I reached there, I found living traditions of Hanuman and Rama having come there.

I found the satellite maps of plaeochannels to be most effective in tracing early course of the rivers. Then I backed it with field visits. Then the two became complimentary.

You scrutinise the Indus Valley Civilization in the light of comparative geography and comparative religious studies. What is your advice to young researchers who want to pursue the domains you re-establish in your book since neither is ancient comparative geography taught in any Indian syllabi and, religious studies as an independent discipline is not permitted to be taught in UGC funded universities and colleges?

We can easily circumvent this limitation by penetrating the academic world through any one of the many disciplines involved. For example, one can write about Ibrahim in a study of Valmiki Ramayana in the Department of Sanskrit. I think we have to work around the system for some time until the idea gets accepted.

What is your perception about digitisation and the need for online access to everything Indological?

Are we as a nation and a culture, complacent about making our ancient Scriptures readily available?

If one were to write on say the Tantras, one would not find anything substantial and academically rigorous except in foreign websites. Could you please lay out a roadmap wherein we can digitise Sanskrit corpora and ensure they are available to the public in clear English too.

Step 1 would be to make and provide concordances of Rig Veda, Valmiki Ramayana and Mahabharata online. I do not know if one exists at all. It is so easy to research on the Bible or Quran because one can access different meanings of the Hebrew or Arabic words. First let us do this. Second step would be to do the same for other Vedas and texts.

You have done a great service to Indian historiography through your book. Could you tell us about the historians who have influenced you in writing this book.

I have ploughed a lonely furrow. The only person who encouraged was Late Shri Krishna Deva, historian of art. I also got help from R S Bisht, archaeologist. I got some vague encouragement from the writings of fringe historian Gene Matlock. Alas his writing lacked the depth and were not backed with evidences. Mainly it has been a lonely walk.

Even though you are a career economist with contributions to economics, you have integrated diverse academic disciplines in your fascinating book. Who in your life, from family to friends and teachers, influenced you in rethinking Indian Studies?

I think it was divine inspiration. I used to think about synthesizing Hinduism and Marxism as a student at University of Florida. I did that to my satisfaction while affiliating with the Left political forces while teaching at IIM Bengaluru. But Marxism died by that time. So that urge to synthesize flowered into a synthesis of religions.

Generally, literary Festivals have a superficial butterfly like impact on both the audience and the panellists. Unlike other celebrations of the written word, VoW 2017 saw serious academic discussions where systems biology to the interface between literature and jurisprudence to Tamil Temple architecture were discussed. How do you think VoW has changed and will change the ephemeral nature of discussions in literary meets? In other words, how in Jane Tompkin’s phrase, do you think VoW is doing its “cultural work”?

I don’t think we should try or even it is possible to gauge our impact. Deep influence on one person can change the world; superficial influence on thousands can be forgotten. We must do our work, period.

About the Interviewee:

Dr Bharat Jhunjhunwala is a noted economic journalist, author and former professor of Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.