Indology has been described, for all time to come, as the language used by Indologists to communicate among themselves. Philology then has got to be one of its parts of speech. It’s not the queen of sciences as the ideologues among Indologists would make it out to be. Quite the contrary. The crest jewel of Indology i.e., cognate nature of Sanskrit and the European languages such as Latin and Greek, won’t buy a scholar in the Indian universe today even a cup of lukewarm dal. What relevance then did it have before Independence? Only that the hegemonists kept preaching it. What relevance does it have today – only that the hegemonists of the current day would continue to preach it as their way of preserving hegemony.
The theory of cognate languages was used to maintain the fiction that although Indians and Europeans belonged to one race in the misty past, the Hindoos had lost their vigour owing to caste, myth and ritual and their focus on spiritualism as opposed to materialism. Cognate languages went together with the notion of original homelands. This came in handy to project a notion of legitimacy to Colonialism as the Hindoos themselves, according to this homeland theory, were purportedly from an original home in the Eurasian steppes.
Now turning to the seemingly wholly unrelated topic of Sheldon Pollock. Who or what is Pollock? The latter question is perhaps easier to answer. He’s a lineal descendant of the Colonial era hegemonists. He’s not even an Indologist but an ideologue among Indologists. His life’s purpose is apparently to show that the Hindus have not produced any meaningful knowledge since the 17th century whereas the Europeans and Americans have. That is, if you agree with the premise that Indology is meaningful knowledge. He does however concede that spirituality and the realm of consciousness may be left to the Hindus which it always has been. Indology, being ultimately of Christian inspiration, has nothing to say on this and the Hindus, in any case, need to be kept busy with something.
To this way of thinking, Indology is of critical importance because even though the colonies have all got political independence, the narrative of how they view themselves is too important to be handed over to them. It is through this narrative and the structures this narrative creates that the colonial edifice of thought continues to be perpetuated. However all such narratives need financial support. Gone are the days when Indologists were supported generously by their governments in return for services rendered.
Gone are the 1940s when a Daniel HH Ingalls (in later life, Pollock’s guru) or a W Norman Brown ( in later life, founder of the first South Asian department in the US) could sit in India, purportedly teaching English while spying on the natives. Gone are also the 1950s when a professor of Hinduism and Eastern Religions (Robert Zaehner) along with his university superior and a professor of Persian, (Ann Lambton) could together set up shop in Teheran to begin covert operations against a legitimately elected regime and ultimately, with American help, to topple it. Gone are also the 1960s when an up and coming Regional Studies academic (Eugene Irschick) could pour oil on the incipient fire of Tamil separatism while ostensibly engaged in doing fieldwork for his upcoming book. Then the governments funded everything.
But from the 1970s onwards, there was a big change. Enthusiasm and funding for universities, social sciences and their collective stepchild, Classical studies and Sanskrit, started drying up. This lack of funding like the Saraswati River really has no place in Indology. Pollock is a product of this climate change, a product of this struggle for relevance.
So he went to India with his theory of hegemonic role of Sanskrit, in which apparently the Colonial authorities had been complicit all along. He found a willing audience in a political establishment which, after having ridden to electoral majority for 50 years on the back of ‘keeping communal peace’ in India a la the British Raj, was carving out a constituency for itself among those who thought keeping ‘the caste peace’ was more important. The ideologues of this political establishment while enthusiastic about Pollock and his Indological colleagues, were faced with the same funding issue. They migrated in the opposite direction e.g., Romila Thapar. More about this amusing Völkerwänderung another time.
Pollock started going to India with the express purpose of cultivating sources of funding such as the newly emerging billionaires. These people were held to be culturally more naïve than the descendants of the textile mill owners of India. They were also an easier touch owing to their status anxiety. His work however remains the same i.e., Indology. The purpose of Indology remains the same i.e., hegemony. Philology is just one of its tools.
Indology needs money. There’s money in India. But the Indian benefactors must not be allowed to think that scholars in India are more deserving of these monies. Ergo, the theory that Pollock has been arguing with some considerable vehemence that India has not produced any worthwhile thought since the 17th century. If you buy one lie, you buy the other too i.e., that Indology is meaningful or worthwhile knowledge.
Unless anybody wants to turn the clock back to the Colonial times, there’s no sense in engaging with him or his highly prolix works. Irrelevance will dump Pollock in the trash heap of history.