Asha Sridhar goes to class with a motley group, united in their love for Sanskrit language

When N.V. Deviprasad, Principal of The Madras Sanskrit College walked into the classroom, clad in a dhoti, a crisp checked shirt, and no book in hand, there was pin drop silence and everyone from 78-year-old retired aircraft maintenance engineer C. Srinivasan to 54-year-old housewife R. Sukanya and the 20-something B.Com student A. Samhita nimbly sprung up to greet him. “Come and sit forward,” he appealed to the younger students, “People should not think that Sanskrit is only for older people.”

Over the last 24 years, the college has been engaging ex-bankers, educationists, charted accountants and engineering students in its part-time programme in Sanskrit, and these students have studied texts like the Hitopadesa and mastered the Devanagari script. The camaraderie of the current batch is so apparent that they bounce off each other. “Our youngest student is 19 and the oldest is above 80 years old. From retired principals and IT professionals to artists and housewives, people from all walks of life have attended this course,” said Mr. Deviprasad. “Last year a family of four joined our certificate programme.”

While the certificate programme is a six month course, the diploma course stretches over a year, and students get their certificates from the University of Madras. Many even take the Sanskrit programme as an add-on course.

With a combined strength of 65, the class according to Ms. Sukanya, was conducted even on a day with an earthquake warning. “All of us came,” she says beaming. “Even during heavy rainfall, our attendance was extremely good.” Some members of the class who wrote their final exams last week, met again to share feedback, and to listen to one last excerpt from a Sanskrit classic from Mr. Deviprasad.

“Most of us in class are over 60, and having young people in the class only heightens the spirit of learning. We have to keep pace with them, and spring up and answer before they raise their hands. There many things we study in life to make more money, to get better opportunities, but I wanted to learn Sanskrit, purely out of passion,” said T.S. Venkataraman. “I have no fear of exams,” he announced, like most others in his class.

While the older people value the enthusiasm the younger students bring in, the latter are astounded by the punctuality of the elders. “Nagalakshmi amma comes to class all the way from Ennore. Though she is a frail-looking lady, she has such an amazing grasp of the language. It is extremely humbling,” said Ms. Niranjana. More young people, she felt, should come forward to learn Sanskrit. “If you let go off the language, you also lose the works written in the language. Reading a translation is never like reading the original.”

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