August 17, 2013 (Open The Magazine by Aatish Taseer): HPI Note: The author is a noted writer based in UK.)
I had come to Sanskrit in search of roots, but I had not expected to have that need met so directly. I had not expected my wish for a “historical sense” to be answered with linguistic roots.
Aged twenty-seven or so, when I first began to study Sanskrit as a private student at Oxford, I knew nothing about the shared origins of Indo-European languages. Not only did I not know the example given in my textbook–that the Sanskrit arya, the Avestan airya, from which we have the modern name Iran, and the Gaelic Eire, all the way on the Western rim of the Indo-European belt, were all probably cognate–I don’t even think I knew that word, “cognate.” It means “born together”: co natus. And natus from gnascor is cognate with the Sanskrit root jan from where we have janma and the Ancient Greek gennao, “to beget.” Genesis, too.
And in those early days of learning Sanskrit, the shared genesis of these languages of a common source, spoken somewhere on the Pontic steppe in the third millennium BC, a source which had decayed and of which no direct record remains, absorbed me completely. Well, almost completely. The grammar was spectacularly difficult and, in that first year, it just kept mushrooming–besides three genders, three numbers and eight cases for every noun, there were several classes of verbs, in both an active and middle voice, each with three numbers and three persons, so that in just the present system, with its moods and the imperfect, I was obliged to memorize 72 terminations for a single verb alone.
And still I found time to marvel at how the Sanskrit vid, from where we have vidia, was related to the Latin videre–to see–from where, in turn, we have such words as video and vision; veda too, of course, for as Calasso writes in Ka, the ancient seers, contrary to common conception, did not hear the Vedas, they saw them! Or that kala, Time and Death, should be derived from the Sanskrit kal, “to calculate or enumerate”–related to the Latin kalendarium, “account book,” the English calendar–imparting, it seemed to me, onto that word the suggestive notion that at the end of all our calculations comes Death. Almost as if kala did not simply mean Time, but had built into it the idea of its passage, the count of days, as it were.