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Meet Pandit Hussain Shastri, model of secular India In Love With Sanskrit

Meet Pandit Hussain Shastri, model of secular India In Love With Sanskrit

Author: Pankaj Jaiswal, Lucknow (jaiswal@hindustantimes.com)
Publication: Hindustan Times
Dated: May 24, 2007

Pandit Syed Hussain Shastri is a Sanskrit scholar who has lived Sanskrit all his life. Pandit and Shastri are not secular badges to his name. They are now an integral part of his name - earned after years of dedicated scholarship.

In Mirzaganj village in Malihabad people know him as 'Pandit Syed Hussain Shastri' and address him as Shastriji. He had decided to learn Sanskrit because his father wished it. He said: "Once I started learning it in childhood, I just fell in love with it. The romance continues."

Seventy-nine-year-old Shastri said: "I find French beautiful, but Sanskrit is the most beautiful." In last 56 years people came from far and wide - Varanasi, Alla habad and Europe - to learn Sanskrit from him. One of them, Henry Shock, a scholar in oriental studies from Illionis University visited him two decades ago. Shock said to Shastri: "It is highly doubtful Sanskrit is a living language, but it is never doubtful that it is living in your body."

Shastri said: "I was barely four when I took admission in Dharm Sangh Sanskrit Vidyalaya and began my journey in Sanskrit. I continued with Sanskrit studies at Government Jubilee Inter-College and then Lucknow University. In 1952, I graduated in Sanskrit." He has a post-graduate degree in the language. He survived a heart attack two months ago. "I am waiting for death to tip toe." In the same breath he recites: "...And not a stone to tell where I lie...Just let me live and let me die." Now most of the time he spends in reading Bhagwad Gita in Sanskrit. Pandit Syed Hussain Shastri said that he believes in Brahminism. He said: "Take away Brahminism from Sanskrit, and it loses its soul."

Shastri said: "I faced resistance from both the communities. In those days people were less secular in matter of religion. But my love for language finally triumphed. Now, I have taught the language to my niece."

Shastri said he was once interviewed by Henry Shock. "Shock has been the only person who interviewed me in Sanskrit. Many times during the interview I attempted to drift to English, as I knew he was from the US. But he continued in Sanskrit. When I asked him where he learnt Sanskrit, Shocks said: Germany."

For some people languages know no barrier of caste, creed, religion or nationality.

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