Malhotra does the same with Pollock, setting out the Pollock arguments first and focusing particularly on Pollock’s views on the Valmiki Ramayana. There is a heavy dose of Pollock in the book. Indeed, though a battle for Sanskrit, the book is pegged on Pollock. (This is a style Malhotra has adopted in his other writings too, such as vis-à-vis Wendy Doniger). In fairness, the author does cite his reasons for giving Pollock this prominence. Despite those arguments, one does feel the Pollock presence is too pervasive. The titles of the chapters are an indication of the way the argument flows.
Chapter one—‘The Hijacking of Sanskrit and Sanskriti’: there are two intellectual teams, but the home team is largely non-existent. Chapter two—‘From European Orientalism to American Orientalism’: such as from William Jones to Sheldon Pollock. Chapter three—‘The Obsession with Secularising Sanskrit’: ignoring the sacred aspects of Sanskrit, sidelining the oral tradition, using Buddhism as a wedge, disconnecting kavya from Vedas and shastras. Chapter four—‘Sanskrit Considered a Source of Oppression’. Chapter five—‘Ramayana Framed as Socially Irresponsible’. Chapter six—‘Politicizing Indian Literature’. Chapter seven—‘Politicizing the History of Sanskrit and the Vernaculars’. Chapter eight—‘The Sanskriti Web as an Alternative Hypothesis’. Chapter nine—‘Declaring Sanskrit Dead and Sanskriti Non-existence’. Chapter ten—‘Is Sheldon Pollock Too Big to be Criticized?’
There is a lot of Pollock and there is a lot of polemics. But there is a lot of stuff to read and ponder over too. The essential point is about the discourse being captured by a certain Western approach, which is no longer purely Western, but is increasingly being internalised and portrayed as an Indian approach too, since many Indian Indologists, historians and journalists have studied in the West and are part of the same intellectual networks and support systems. This is not a binary situation of one approach being wrong and the other one being right. However, there is an indigenous and original Indian knowledge system and approach too, even though it may have fallen somewhat into disuse, partly because it is not familiar with the language and paradigm in which intellectual debates are increasingly conducted. That alternative paradigm needs to be energised (what Malhotra calls the ‘home team’). It is no one’s case that this book represents the alternative paradigm. Indeed, that alternative paradigm is a work in progress, even if in its very early stages. This volume is best understood as an exhortation for that alternative paradigm. As Indians, if we don’t bother, we will have to discover our knowledge when it is rediscovered by the West and repackaged and delivered back to us. For people to be persuaded that this would be a terrible idea, this is a wonderful book that needs to be read and disseminated. Though labelled a ‘Battle for Sanskrit’, it is about our legacy. In the process, if more people are motivated to save the legacy, if not to join the battle, this book will have served its purpose. Beyond the Pollock pickle, there is a lot of staple fare to worry and mull over.