Listen, My Children...

Every Little Helps

Thursday, August 28, 2003

On Lemuria

I like UT. If you smile at people, they smile back! In Boston, if you smile at people, they give you a worried look and check to make sure their shirt's buttoned properly. My professors are grand as well, with such different styles of teaching.

One professor, a German lady, is exceptionally German. Her jokes, apparently, do not translate -- she had me in stitches the whole class, but no one else was laughing at all. Her teaching style is rather Germanic, which seems nice. I finally understand what people at Harvard, mostly transfers, were saying back in all that grade inflation hoopla -- the workload for this class seems miniscule, but students were complaining about how heavy it is and the professor was apologizing for the unusually large amount of reading. Same with one of my other classes (not Sanskrit, for Sanskrit's the same everywhere). It's true -- students at Harvard (and, I'm assuming, other Ivies) simply do a heck of a lot more work than students at other schools.

The Sanskrit professor, Patrick Olivelle, is incredibly brilliant. No surprises there. He also teaches in the best old style, the method used by and only by all of the old Sanskritists, German, American, and Indian, who were trained both in India and in the west. Not too much recitation, but also no imaginary dialogues between imaginary people named Raja and Rani.

But then comes my Tamil professor -- my word, he's unique. Like many Tamilians, his language and cultural history are tantamount to religion for him. Even billboards in Tamilnadu say, "Long Live Classical Divine Tamil." He's got all sorts of entertaining and easily refutable ideas about historical linguistics and South Asian history. The most entertaining -- and obviously the most important to him, as he spent nearly a whole lecture in a language class detailing his beliefs on the subject -- is the existence of a sort of South Indian Atlantis called Lemuria. This Tamil-speaking kingdom was grand and imposing and covered an entire continent filling up nearly all of what is now the Indian Ocean. Plate tectonics, of course, are out of the question for many Indians, because the geography of India is divinely created and has been exactly the same since the beginning of time. (Sinking continents and kingdoms excepted.) There have been some excellent books on the sacred geography of India; none of them, however, mention Lemuria. Why? Because of a North Indian conspiracy to keep from common knowledge the fact that the Tamil-speaking people were rulers of the world. The professor has been to the University of Wisconsin at Madison, place of exceptionally good language programs and home to an impressive geographical library. When the professor went to the library to look for their documents on Lemuria, the people there "refused" to give them to him -- further evidence of a conspiracy. Some even denied the existence of such a place, "more proof of western ignorance about this great and true kingdom." Well, then!

But I suppose it takes all kinds. Some of the biggest conspiracy theorists -- including the author of the most well-written of the moon-landing-was-faked books -- are college professors, but always in other fields from those they allege conspiracies in. They can still be quite good in their main field. Heck, the last remaining communist does quite well teaching linguistics at MIT.


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