On revising scripts and calendars: An open letter to Maharani Preneet Kaur of Patiala

Improvements, revisions, and modifications are deemed a necessity lest an academic is pigeon-holed as a non-entity. Applause of a newer schism is acceptable, but to be ignored or deemed unremarkable is the ego-death nail to an academic.

The above paragraph is borrowed from my essay ‘Changes to Alphabet’. In that essay I discuss how English letters evolved, being in some cases joined together, eventually either to be dropped or replaced. The essay took shape after a Sikh academic from North America descended on this little island and delivered a polished, well-rehearsed gobbledygook word-speak. A mooncalf let loose simply because he could deliver a polished talk. As for the content – I was left waiting for content, but it never arrived. What I heard instead was nonsense packaged with the panache of a campus novelette.

The problem with revisionists and academics is that in their desire to ‘be someone’ they attain Idiocy. Many who read my work are aware of the definition that we, from our background, use to identify ‘stupid’ – an individual who has read five books on a given subject and thinks that makes for expertise. An idiot takes that belief to a whole new level and begins expounding the ‘idealism’ therein.

Sikhs make for a great anthropological study. A recent history. An evolving culture. An old cultural heritage whose source is lost in antiquity. Sikhs are consciously and constantly redefining themselves. However, their psyche repeatedly pulls them towards their inner source – into events and time that current conscious memory has forgotten …my kind of a big deal, really.

Yes, I am privileged to be born a Sikh (each birth in a given faith and culture has a reason – the subject for different essay), and I love studying Sikhs. Doing so is primarily for my own benefit in that I explore, examine, explain, and understand myself; and this then allows me to better understand how established cultures, languages, and scripts evolved.

Take the example of the Sikh calendar.

Sikhs have been in haste to separate themselves from ‘Hinduism’, which to this moment they consider a curse on their identity. Yet, as I have openly and vociferously explained, Sikhism precedes Hinduism by 150 years or so. In such an environment limited knowledge can be a dangerous thing. The so-called educated elite, those who scraped through to the Ivy League institutions in the United States, were unable to explain why the birth of Guru Gobind Singhji, the tenth Sikh Guru, sometimes has two birthdays in a calendar year, sometimes one, and sometimes none. They decided the fault lay with the Hindu calendar and Hindu mischief, and they wallowed in their complete ignorance of the facts behind such things.

This educated elite were/are so dumb that they could not explain that the phenomenon of Guruji’s birthday happening once, twice or not at all in a year was due to the fact that the Gregorian calendar starts almost two-thirds of the way into the Vedic (Sikh) calendar. Thus in the Sikh calendar, Guruji’s birthday indeed happens only once a year. Nor could they explain that all Sikh, Vedic, Hindu and Buddhist dates are aligned with and in keeping with the organic function of planet Earth, and are based on the cycle of the moon. In this cycle, dates change annually: the organic conveying a procession that is neither mechanical nor machine-precise. Being organic, it requires grey matter to comprehend its function, the very grey matter that is fast becoming extinct due to the lazy reliance on, and utilization of, computers.

Hell, even I have become a victim of computers, for I have forgotten how to spell basic words, relying totally on spell-check. On top of that, I am fast losing my in-built sense of direction, which I have always used to sense the position of the sun or where the cardinal points of the earth lie. I have become utterly dependent on GPS systems to get around.

To revert, the USA-educated elite who graduated in one type of ‘ology’ or another, rather than use their commonsense or become masters of astrology or astronomy, bleated endlessly and ran down the Sikh hierarchy and authority at Amritsar. They called them illiterate and rural and accused them of not moving with the times or being modern enough. The global rolling stone pressure exerted by the rest of the expatriate ‘educated’ Sikhs forced the Amritsar authority to sanction a study.

Sod’s law, where idiots reign more idiots mushroom to champion the new idiotic thought.

A Sikh lecturer in Canada took hold of the reins, aware that if he could muster enough money for a seat at his university he would become a professor. He duly raised funds on the back of the emotional outcry over the Sikh calendar, and in his spare time he ‘studied’ astrology and astronomy.

Idiot can only lead idiots. The idiot led. Idiots followed. The authorities in Amritsar voiced their objections to the ideas taking root, only to be called rural (an insult in India denoting backwardness).

The idiotic professor, having secured his chair, became a chameleon, changing colour to suit his surroundings. He touched a raw nerve and exploited the belief that Sikhs were being misled by Hindus. The Hindus, he exhorted, have been manipulating the calendar since the beginning of time, and they caused the demise of Buddhism in India. He further claimed that the Hindus have every intention of overpowering Sikhism and turning it into a branch of Hinduism just as they did with Buddhism. He conveniently leaves aside the fact that Buddhism ebbed out of India and flourished in Greater India, Myanmar and beyond, simply because this suited its emotional requirements.

The Sikhs bought into the myth he spouted. The masses loved his delivery. After all, he was a professor at a Canadian university. One does not become a professor at a western university without deep powerful knowledge.

Wow. Deep powerful knowledge. Professorship! What next? Sun, shine, backside – and hey presto, a professorship!

The professor went on to detail how in 13,000 years January would become June, and June would become January, if Sikhs followed the Hindu calendar. All of this was down to the cunning Hindus and their calendar, insidiously mocking and subverting time.

All however was not lost. He had an answer to the problem. A knight in a shining armour he was for the Sikhs.

His solution?

That the Sikhs ditch the Hindu calendar. For, Sikhs are not slaves of Hindus. Instead, Sikhs should take up a solar-based calendar, the Gregorian calendar in effect.

Err, excuse me, is that not swapping one slave master for another? Never mind me, I’m just splitting hairs. Did you get that pun? Splitting hairs…and me, a Sikh!

The educated Sikhs clamoured for the company of the saviour professor. An alien Guru had descended on Sikhism from a university in Canada.

I recall how I stood alone and apart from the braying crowd on the issue. Nobody wanted to listen to facts when they could instead organise Sikhism’s separation from Hinduism, finally freeing themselves from those they believed were their progenitors. Nobody at the time wanted to hear or accept that Hinduism was invented 150 years after Sikhism. A minor detail, irrelevant, they told me.

So, the Sikhs recreated their calendar, throwing it in the faces of the very Gurus who had accepted the tradition of the Vedic calendar. The very same Gurus whose written word in Guru Granth Sahib Ji they themselves deem sacrosanct, were dismissed out of hand as a mirage, along with the calendar dates cited within the Sri Guru Granth Sahibji, because it suited the ‘educated’ Sikhs to do so.

The wonderment of the new Sikh calendar flew in the face of commonsense and reason. It gave Sikhdom a single shared date on which to celebrate the enthronement of one Guruji and the cremation of the preceding Guruji.

Educated idiots at their excellent idiotic best.

But, hey, at least the calendar separated Sikhs from Hindus. Never mind that the dates of events were now totally out of sync with reality, and were not in keeping with the monthly, lunar-cycle based prayers set forth in Sri Guru Granth Sahibji. You see, for all their denial about astrology, Sikhs in fact conduct prayers at the new moon as well as at the full moon, as set in the Sri Guru Granth Sahibji. But since the Vedic traditional cycle month, as accepted in the Sikh scriptures, starts one third of the way into the Gregorian calendar – or to put it accurately, the Gregorian calendar starts two thirds of the way into the Vedic calendar – the advent of the new Sikh calendar overthrew many a traditional event.

The basic fact which the Sikhs would not accept from me was that the alien Guru Professor from the Canadian university had misled. He did not share the information that the 13,000 year astrological process is in fact only half a cycle, and that when the full cycle takes place, after 26,000 years, June would again fall in June. But, hey, that’s a minor omission, as long as the Sikhs are able to cut their ties to Hindus. That the Hindus evolved after the Sikhs was another truth unacceptable to the Sikhs at the time of this debate.

When are we taking about? 1998.

Almost 20 years on, I am pleased to share with you that Sikhs are getting around to ditching the new calendar. In time, it will be totally ignored.

But, if you think a lesson has been learned by the Sikhs as a result of this debacle, hell no!

For now we have Maharani Preneet Kaur of Patiala, an MP there until 2014, who has funded, via a ‘Local Area Development’ scheme, the ‘Advance Centre for Technical Development of Punjabi language, Literature & Culture’, at the Punjabi University of Patiala.

Her Royal Highness Maharani Preneet Kaur is an excellent example of an apologist ignorant of real facts, who supports an idea as long as it sounds good and gives her credit in some way, shape or form.

The first point to note is that after more than half a century of independence, people like Her Royal Highness do not have the presence of dignity, mind, or credibility to use the correct spelling of Panjab or Panjabi, insisting instead on using the ignorant Anglo-Saxon spelling of Punjabi or Punjab.

So, what should I expect from her involvement other than ignorance masquerading as fact, and the advancement of false knowledge?

The study group has under the patronage of the Maharani announced on its website that a new set of letters has been added to Punjabi/Panjabi.

Excuse me, since when did Panjabi (Punjabi) become a separate script from Gurmukhi, (its original name) which was formulated by the Sikh Gurus, and completed particularly by the second Guruji, Guru Angaddevji, under instruction from Guru Nanakdevji, thereby making it sacrosanct? Panjabi is not a separate script from Gurmukhi. They are one and the same. Yet, Her Royal Highness, out of sheer ignorance, or desire for importance like the educated idiots, has allowed her name and prestige to be connected to a mess very much like that of the 1998 Sikh calendar change.

The argument she and her acolytes make is that as Sikhs interact on the global stage, so they adopt new foreign words, which in turn requires that Panjabi (Punjabi) create new alphabet letters to deal with them. Ok, let us examine their argument.

I have yet to come across a similar example in any of the European languages, where foreign words beget new letters in the alphabet. Even in Magyar, the language of Hungary, a language entirely separate from its neighbours and which is spoken by only 10-12 million people, new words find a resonance and are integrated within the existing vocal context and written spectrum. There is no inferiority complex requiring that the word be pronounced exactly as it is in its original language, or that new alphabet letters be arbitrarily created to pay such unnecessary homage.

The Anglo-Saxon spelling and pronunciation of the majority of Indian towns, cities and landmarks did not require race-Europeans to re-examine their own script to accommodate these Indian names and terms. To this day, I do not know what Punjab is or what it means. I know what Panjab is. But Punjab? No idea, other than a deliberate desire to insult the Sikhs by mispronouncing the name of their country.

Jaggernaath is a Vedic term limited to indicating a large rolling-wheeled mechanism that carries a particular Vedic, now Hindu, object of reverence and worship. Indian maturity and sensibility would never consider or allow the term to be used in any setting other than that. Anglo-Saxons abused the word and its connotation and designation. They changed its spelling to fit into English alphabetic constraints, whereupon it was spelled ‘juggernaut’, and came to mean a large-wheeled lorry carrying any kind of cargo including meat, whereas its function and name had originally referred to a conveyance limited to religious and faith-based use only.

Bombay. A word which people of my father’s generation and those before him found insulting, but which they were forced to use by the British. How on earth could the (arrogant) British not pronounce Mumbai? Instead, they overcame their own inferior self-worth through intimidation, bullying, and threats of exclusion from mainstream affairs, and forced Indians to adopt the new spelling and pronunciation of Mumbai. Hence, Bombay.

Avtar. The actual English spelling is meant to be Av-v-tar. Above the first ‘A’ is a diacritical mark that requires that the following character be pronounced twice. Yet the Anglo-Saxons initially insisted on pronouncing it as Avta. The ‘r’ would remain silent. Then the pronunciation in western America changed it to Av-a-taar. How on earth does Avataar spell Avtar?

Yoga/Joga. Yoga is very much older than Sanskrit, but is used in pure Sanskrit. Regardless, in all north Indian languages it has always been pronounced as Jog or Joga. The word Joga is used in Sri Guru Granth Sahibji by the Sikh Gurus. So, now, will Her Royal Highness champion the removal of the word Jog/Joga from north Indian speech because the Europeans are not familiar with the word and refuse to consider its usage? Europeans were initially introduced to the word Jog/Joga in the nineteenth century and it is found in the literature of that era. But imperial self-consciousness and lack of self-worth meant that the word had to be changed to Yoga, which the Europeans found to their consternation existed in pure Sanskrit.

In Panjabi we have a very soft ‘t’, a medium ‘t’, and a hard ‘t’. The English lexicon to date refuses to accommodate the need for the real three dimensational Panjabi letter ‘t’.

So, why, oh why, do the Panjabi and the Indian ruling elite think they have to construct new letters to accommodate words from around the world, in order to speak them as the natives do, lest they be accused of lacking ‘modernity’, when nobody else does?

If the Panjabi educated ruling elites’ sense of self-worth is measured by their servile need to create new Gurmukhi characters, then I invite them to huddle together and create a totally new alphabet for social, commercial and enterprise usage and to leave Gurmukhi alone as a language and a script solely for Sikh religious use.

If she is to be engaged in anything, let Maharani Preneet Kaur of Patiala sponsor and support that kind of activity. Her current course of action focused on denigrating Gurmuki/Panjabi script – and seemingly reinforced by the common person in Patiala who lionises her (but who those of her ilk cannot see as anything other than beggers and spongers) – is akin to the Nazi destruction of German literature in 1933.

Leave the gift of Gurmukhi alone.

Your Royal Highness Maharani Preneet Kaur of Patiala, please stop interfering in an excellent language originated by the Sikh Gurus, unless you feel you are better equipped and ought to supersede them. Your Royal Highness, you are making a colossal mistake. A mistake so gross in its ramifications, that it will be a harbinger of the demise of Sikhism as it stands.

Your Royal Highness, consider yourself advised…or reprimanded.

Your choice.

You choose.

Gurmukhi vis-à-vis Panjabi (first written: 8th August 1988)

Over the years and in the course of my travels I have learned an enormous amount. One of the earliest tactics I cottoned onto during this time was to observe what the European museums and artefact collectors could tell me without sharing with them that which was obviously beyond their ken.

Why?

An example was shown to me of some of the earliest Gurmukhi characters inscribed on a plinth – they were presumed to be part of a now-defunct ancient language once in vogue in an area north-east of the Black Sea and north-west of the Caspian Sea. I enthusiastically pointed out the Gurmukhi to the group, who also had in their possession coins used as currency in north-western Europe in the area of the Low Countries and that depicted the historical figures of Sita and Raam. I of course was over the moon. Contacting the group sometime later, in order to show them to one other distinguished person, I was dismayed by the way they immediately closed ranks. The later official line was total refutation that the group ever had said items in their possession. And so I ‘wised up’ and came to understand that Europeans collectors hide away artefacts conclusively proving India’s cultural and linguistic dominance over the whole of Europe.

My personal research following this encounter later threw open just how mired in Sanskrit words are the north and west European languages still commonly used to today. And I know that more formal archaeological research will unearth evidence that India and Sanskrit-Indian masters dominated the European peninsular.

But everything is cyclical.

India once dominated. Then she retreated from her sphere of influence, drawn back to her roots in Aryadesh (the original name for India). The subsequent decay of Aryadesh became evident in first the depletion and then the non-existence of any recognisable and serious artistic literary medium among the nmasses. Sanskrit, that universal, which was later to be imitated by Latin during the penultimate decay of the Roman Empire, became the language of dictatorship, inculcating far-reaching social divisions, not merely of labour and language but of legitimacy and power and identity. The selfish overlords became despotic and the masses as usual paid the price.

The dialects of Panjabi constituted the language of spoken communication, while Sanskrit maintained an iron-grip as the official language of governance and dharmic observation. (Please do not confuse dharma to mean religion. In the same way you should not confuse Soul with Atman.) Thus, Panjabi had neither social nor literary status.

With the Turkish invasion of c.12th century came Persian’s replacement of Sanskrit as the language of government administration, the failure of Arabic to command such dominance stemming from the high prejudice and low esteem in which it was held compared with Persian. Thus, Sanskrit underwent a further evolution – from a global language to one symbolising internal Aryadesh power and authority, to a language confined to the refined pursuits of literary, philosophical and dharmic expression.

In the early 1800s the English missionary, William Carey, initiated a language program emulated throughout the administrative sectors of the East India Company. It aimed at teaching the colonisers the language of the people they ruled, for the purpose of more effectively administering colonial rule. The result was a codification of complex native linguistics, shoehorning them into the grammatical limitations of English. For their part, the Indian masses, excluded from learning Sanskrit, took to enthusiastically studying English. Theirs was a keenness to understand the outside world, to expand their knowledge base; and it stood in stark contrast with the disinterested English colonial who displayed no faculty for learning new languages. Soaking up English literature, history and rules of language composition the Indian assistant translators mired themselves in a construct far less complex than Sanskrit; and in turn they came through their acquisition of the English language to depose Panjabi as the language of communication, most prominently in the matter of prose-writing.

Sanskrit’s own evolution as the language of the reified, disconnecting it from the language of political power, was formalised in Macaulay’s 1835 injunction that English be adopted as the language of government. And by 1844 English language knowledge was an imperative qualification for those Indians wishing to join the Civil Service; thus, reinforcing the value-meaning of English as the language of literature and power. Local languages naturally suffered, though it must be said that parts of the Indian gentry refused to be complicit in this mass linguistic migration, encouraging local language use, extolling the superiority of the Sanskrit-language classics… but all the while inexorably drawn towards the English-language classics.

In the clash of the titans, Sanskrit and English, had the bracketing of the former as the language of refinement and privilege and power not occurred, entailing exclusion of the mass of Indians from learning and using a language that had once enjoyed global power, then English would never have secured a foothold in India. In the meeting of two wrongs only a wrong will win.

Here then was a multiplicity governed in various streams of its official, unofficial, ritual and everyday life by a hierarchical structure of languages. Local languages have been among the worst-suffering in this hierarachy – with Sanskrit marginalized, the appetite for complex grammatical syntax was lost; English-learning had bequeathed a laziness, an attitude of ambivalence towards the cosmopolitanism conjunctural with being a multiplicity such as India was and is; and variation consequently became something to be frowned upon, cast into the wilderness. Simultaneously, the rising fortunes of English in India heralded a panacea for the social and political exclusion experienced by the lower orders, a level playing-field on which to improve their standing.

The saddest joke is that in lionizing and valourising English, we may forget that that greatest of English writers – Shakespeare – has been proven by the University of Cambridge studies in 1890s and early 1900s to be the most shameless plagiariser. Names, settings, even entire works appear in Shakespeare having been lifted directed from Arabian stories.

Returning to my opening salvo about Panjabi and her Gurmukhi characters, these are reinvocations by Guru Angaddevji (following instructions laid down for him by Guru Nanakdevji) of an ancient script. So it was quite natural that I was so enthused and excited by the finds described in the opening paragraphs of this post!

Gurmukhi, the ancient language stretching from north-east of the Black Sea to north-west of the Caspian Sea, has 52 distinct sounds; and we can see today how the multitude of European languages use diacritical marks to enlargen their own sound base (in English there are 26 distinct sounds) in approximation of the more numerous Gurmukhi characters. I’ve carried out my research on this topic, and many years ago. It remains for the current crop of linguists to draw out these linkages, to present the array of Gurmukhi in European format with existing and newer diacritical marks that fully and finally captures its breadth and scale and sheer beauty.