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'Teaching Sanskrit through Internet is fun'

August 27, 2010 20:02 IST

Dr Sudhir Kaicker, former professor, computer science, in the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, came to Toronto's Sheridan College to continue teaching the same subject.

But the move made his dream come true. The Sheridan College has agreed to introduce a Sanskrit course from September 14. Kaicker, who had developed an e-tutorial for the language, has been asked to take the classes.

India Abroad's Ajit Jain finds out how the Sheridan College computer science professor became passionate about teaching Sanskrit.

Tell us about the Sanskrit course you will teach at Sheridan College.

It's a dream come true. We are starting a basic course from September 14 that will introduce the Devanagari alphabet and script as well as the formation of simple sentences. Depending on audience interest, advanced courses will be introduced.

We have one campus in Oakville and one in Brampton. I teach in both, but the Sanskrit courses will be in Brampton, where the South Asian community is concentrated. 

Will you be teaching this through your e-tutorials?

Yes, it is called SanskritaPradipika. The idea was to make Sanskrit easier for even people who don't know an alphabet of the Devanagari script. One of my JNU students, Jayant Shekhar, who is now an associate professor, computer science, at Vivekananda University, Meerut, helped me write the tutorial. It took us almost four years, 12 hours a day without a break, to write the program. But it doesn't have the pronunciation.

Isn't that a big handicap?

Yes, but the difficulty was the program already had six million lines. Had we put in sound, it would have become very, very long and would have taken forever to download, frustrating the users.

How did the idea of creating an e-tutor came to you?

I thought we could use the principles of Sanskrit grammar to devise a new computer programming language, but that initiative didn't proceed the way I had hoped it would. Since we had learnt so much of Sanskrit, we thought why not write a tutorial to teach it.

If you want to enjoy the Indian culture, if you want to enjoy the Bhagavad Gita then you must know Sanskrit. You should be able to read the original scripture, original texts and documents to enjoy them. Today I am in a happy position to read the Gita and Ramayana. It gives me so much pleasure; I thought this should be communicated.

What are the results of your efforts to teach Sanskrit through the Internet?

Over 12,000 people have downloaded Sanskrita-Pradipika. I get calls all the time from people across the world who would like to learn Sanskrit on the Internet.

I have a Chinese student, Maureen Chiang, who has been learning from me for over two years. She can now recite shlokas beautifully. Twice a week, we connect on Skype and spend three hours on it. I have students from Germany, England, South Africa, two students from India, all learning Sanskrit on the Internet.

Toronto University used to have Sanskrit classes, but they were discontinued. Do you believe there will be interest in the classes now?

I believe there will be interest, as I make Sanskrit so much easier and fun for students; the tutorial is user friendly. We have gone to a couple of Hindu temples here and sought help from the priests to make announcements about the classes.

We have approached several community newspapers too.  There are no Sanskrit classes at any Toronto university. We will try to get students from McMaster University in Hamilton too.

I am optimistic that we will get a good response. If this initiative is successful, the college will agree for subsequent courses.

What do you have in mind for the subsequent courses?

The first course will be on how to write simple sentences, but I could teach much more advanced courses. Then we could have a steady stream of students reading the philosophy, culture of India in the original form. 

What do you think of the quality of local students?

It's very discouraging. At the JNU, we used to get 180,000 applicants for a mere 30 seats in our MCA (Masters in Computer Applications) program. We used to get the best brains in the country; they were ahead of their teachers. It was a real pleasure to teach them. 

Are people in India taking interest in Sanskrit?

I believe so. Jewish scholars have helped revive Hebrew, which was almost dying, so why not Sanskrit in which we have all our original texts? Our tutor is a little lamp for Sanskrit and its aim is to provide a leisurely introduction to the language.

Image: Dr Sudhir Kaicker

Ajit Jain in Toronto