Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Women Protagonists & Linguistic Paleontology in The Aryabhata Clan

Interestingly here [in The Aryabhata Clan and The Ekkos Clan], the main detective, the main protagonists – they are all women characters. Every action thriller – the main protagonist is always male, whether it’s Robert Langdon, or Indiana Jones, Sherlock Holmes. I haven’t come across any female detective. In my book, all the main action heroes are women. Even in my previous book, The Ekkos Clan [that was the case].

My protagonist is Afsar Fareedi. She’s half Pakistani, half Iranian, born and brought up in the USA, married to a Bengali, who stays in Calcutta. That itself gives a very complicated lineage – a Pakistani married to a Bengali, staying in Calcutta. She’s the main protagonist, who cracks all the codes.

She’s a Linguistic Paleontologist. So, what’s Linguistic Paleontology? It’s a new discipline – it’s part of linguistics, studies of languages. What [do] they do? They try to recreate the origin of languages. They try to recreate the ancient history of the languages, based on some primitive words, which have existed, [managed to survive], in the modern form of the languages. I can give you some examples.

Most of the origin of languages are, I would say, very cryptic, because there’s [generally] no historical proof [about that]. If you talk about the two main languages of Indian subcontinent, Tamil and Sanskrit, nobody exactly knows, who were the original Tamil speakers, who were the original Sanskrit speakers, how did Sanskrit evolve from its mother language…

What [do] the Linguistic Paleontologists do? They try to recreate the history [of a language], like the paleontologists, who look for fossils and then, they try to create the habit, […] try to recreate the life, [evolution and environments] of [organisms that existed in the remote past, like] dinosaurs, or some [other] extinct creatures.

The Linguistic Paleontologists – they look for linguistic fossils. Linguistic fossils are […] remnants of some very ancient words, in the ancient form of the language, which have somehow survived, and which are still being used. The biggest example of [a] linguistic fossil is this word Sindhu, the river Sindhu or Indus, which is the origin of the words Hindu, India, Hindi, not only [in] India, [but also as far as] Indonesia – the Indo of Indonesia also comes from that Sindhu; nesia [coming from the Greek nesos] means island, so Indonesia means “Indian Island”. That’s how the name came.
This Sindhu word is not a Sanskrit word. Though it’s a part of the Indian ethos, and it’s a part of Indian history, the origin of Sindhu […] is a mystery. The origin is not Sanskrit. After [a] lot of research, it was figured out that the word Sindhu comes from an almost extinct language called Burushashki – you can go to google and search in Wikipedia. The surviving generation of Burushashki [speakers] – they are now in only two [valleys] in POK, Pakistan occupied Kashmir. (Burushos, the speakers of the Burushaski language, are spread across the two valleys – Hunza-Nagar and Yasin – in the Gilgit-Balistan region of POK. There are around 100000 Burushaski speakers in POK and few hundred in Srinagar in India, speaking a variant.)

Two [valleys] are there who still speak the Burushaski language, and this language is now dying. They, [the new generation of the native Burushos], have all moved to Urdu and other forms of languages spoken mostly in Pakistan. Some also speak variants of Kashmiri. But this [endangered language] – at some point of time, three thousand years back – Burushaski, used to be a major language in Central Asia, in that part [of the world]. And it was so strong, that lot of those [Burushaski] words have percolated into Sanskrit. (Sinda, meaning river in Burushaski, is one such word, which is the source of the Sanskrit Sindhu). That is called [a] linguistic fossil, […] this word, which originates from some ancient language, which has almost died, or which is on the verge of being dead.

So, the Linguistic Paleontologists – they study these words like Sindhu. How did it come [about]? The moment you discover that this word is not Sanskrit, but this word belongs to Burushaski, where only two [… valleys in the Gilgit-Balistan region of POK] speak the language, from there, you can go back, and do backward engineering, [and] figure out: How did it happen? [How, where and when did the Burushos interact with the Sanskrit speakers? Where did the Sanskrit speakers come from?]
This entire Linguistic Paleontology – this is like a detective novel: You get some clue, and you have to go back and figure out what happened.

Afsar Fareedi, my James Bond, my Indiana Jones – she has studied this thing. And then she’s a historian, she’s a linguist. She also has good knowledge about archaeology. And again, her lineage, that she’s an American citizen of Pakistani-Persian origin, and who has married an Indian, [and] her knowledge about Indian history, about Indian subcontinent, her knowledge about Islam, her knowledge about Hinduism – all those things also play a big role in the understanding of the common narrative [of the undivided Indian subcontinent – a theme, which is central to The Aryabhata Clan].

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