With enough digging, all opposing sides in any conflict will eventually find something that fits their narrative.

If you dream up the truth, then why do you need to dig for it? This is a question that plagued my mind like a medieval bacterium this week, as the Archaeological Survey of India proceeded to dig for what the media claimed to be buried treasure and the ASI claimed to be buried archaeology. Whether the dig was on the basis of the fact that the fort was occupied by someone with “Bux” in his name or that a local seer had a dream where Raja Rao Ram Bux Singh gave him the GPS coordinates for 1000 tonnes of buried gold is not important. What is important is the realisation that if the ASI did indeed proceed to dig based on someone’s dream, then it’s archaeology that is buried, not gold. In any case, it’s a win-win. If we don’t find the gold, we would have dug up the truth that most religious seers are charlatans. If we find the gold, the seer would still remain a charlatan because once in a while, anyone can score a fluke, you dig? Considering the number of wrong predictions godmen have made over millennia, the laws of chance demand the occasional correct guess.

That’s not fair, you would argue. If we did find the gold, perhaps the godman does deserve some credit but this bit of logical sorcery is my attempt to counter millennia of similar fallacious reasoning by all manner of religious folks. The strategy was to predict something ridiculous and then when it didn’t happen, invent a whole new story for why it didn’t happen. Typically, in between the prediction and the not-happening, some money-collection-from-gullible-public tended to happen. So that is why I propose the existence of the goddess Athe, who specialises in taking seemingly supernatural occurrences and explaining them using statistics and probability. She doesn’t require prayer. She prefers that you re-read your high school Mathematics textbook.

In 4 century BC, there lived an extraordinarily smart chap in a place that is today called the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the Northwest of Pakistan, and in his time was called the kingdom of Gandhara, which also gives it name to the infamous city of Kandahar. His name was Panini and he was named after a grilled sandwich invented by the Achaemenid Persians from the west, in Iran. Later, when Alexander the Great brought Feta cheese to Persia, the Feta cheese-Panini sandwich was born, but we digress.

Panini’s extraordinary achievement was his formulation of the 3,959 rules that still continue to help CBSE Sanskrit students score better than those unfortunate Hindi ones in the board exams. These rules form the world’s earliest known work on descriptive linguistics and, more importantly, Panini’s Sanskrit grammar is also the world’s first Formal system. In simpler terms, his method of using symbols to describe the semantics of the language was so advanced that the 20 century logician Emil Post is said to have used Panini’s method to eventually arrive at the design and specification of computer programming languages.

Now that’s history. What has, however, survived in the public’s lazy conscious is this — “Sanskrit is the best language for computers”, which is largely an atrociously reductive summary of the story I just told you. It’s not Sanskrit but Panini’s method of formally describing its grammar that contributed (among other things) to 20 century logicians and linguists’ work on designing languages for computer programs. I can assure you, and I have tried this several times, that typing “Koham” on your desktop’s command line does not work. “Who am I”, on the other hand, is a valid UNIX command.

So what does Panini have to do with Raja Rao Ram Bux Singh’s 1000 tonnes of buried gold? His logic for Sanskrit grammar was dug up after 2000 years by 20 century logicians to design programming languages while we are content with the illogic of the simple ancient-glory narrative that has us believe that Kalidasa’s poems would make our desktop computers sing.

Real history is far more nuanced and often not amenable to simple narratives. You have to dig deep to find the real gold, the realisation that with enough digging, all opposing sides in any conflict will eventually find something that fits their narrative. From Jerusalem to Kashmir, opposing sides have to necessarily ignore bits of history that are inconvenient to their world-view.

The only other option is to dream up stuff and do the digging later.

krishashok@gmail.com