Book Recommendation: Ghumakkad Shashtra by Rahul Sankrityayan

Ghumakkad Shashtra
Ghumakkad Shashtra by Rahul Sankrityayan

I was in two minds about the book recommendation for this month. To recommend it or not to recommend it. The reason for the dilemma was that the book is written in Hindi and no English translation seems to be available. And because the book is not in public domain yet, venturing on a translation would require complicated rights negotiation.

But it is a book that provokes me. And some of you can read Hindi. So, I decided to make it the Book of the Month despite my hesitation. May the torch of “ghumakkad dharma” be kept aloft by the Hindi readers until an accessible English translation is made available.

What is a Ghumakkad?

Wanderer, traveller and nomad are some of the words that come to my mind as translations. And yet, thanks to the old, cliched problem of translations, none of them are quite what Ghumakkad means. A Ghumakkad is not purposeless like a wanderer, not formal like a a traveler and not tied to his herd like a nomad.

Ghumakkad is a devout follower of Ghumakkad Dharma. And Ghumakkad Shashtra is a textbook, a reference book, a how-to and a shashtra to aid that devout follower.

The author was what in today’s slang would be called a thorough badass. He had first ran away from home at the age of nine. He first started studying Buddhism so that he could denounce it in favor of the Arya Samaj’s interpretation of ancient Hindu religion. In the end he converted to Buddhism. Despite having little formal education, he was a polyglot who knew Hindi, Sanskrit, Pali, Bhojpuri, Urdu, Persian, Arabic, Tamil, Kannada, Tibetan, Sinhalese, English, French and Russian. Despite that he favored Hindi as the national language of India. Because of that stand, he was expelled from the Communist party, although he was a staunch communist and a noted Marxist theoretician.

You have to be a badass to write a book like Ghumakkad Shashtra with a straight face. There is no apology for assuming that there is something called Ghumakkad Dharma and that it needs a Shashtra. And a shashtra it is, one that can put today’s how-to’s and “for dummies” books to shame with his detailed exploration of all the big and small aspects of Ghumakkadi.

I can almost imagine Pt. Rahul Sankrityayan speaking in an entrepreneurship conference today, telling young aspirants that they shouldn’t care for what the world would say, how mother would cry, how father would be disappointed and how marriage prospects would be ruined. He speaks to the aspiring  ghumakkads and not to the 21st century tech-entrepreneurs. If parents don’t understand your aspirations, how you could be a better person and how you could make a better contribution to the human race by being away from them, then it’s their problem.

He is brazen about things. Ghumakkads should not marry, and if they do the spouse must be a fellow ghumakkad. At no point of time should they try to come in each other’s way. If one is feeling restrained by the other they should be free to go ahead on their own. And under no circumstance should they grow the family. That’s the death of a Ghumakkad. You can almost see the book faltering here with lack of concrete advice. I am guessing that it was because birth control was not mainstream then. But it doesn’t fail to address the common societal concerns about not having children. Why worry about children? Look at the number of people in your caste and gotra. Too many people have already done enough to keep the clan going. What misery can befall the human race if a few ghumakkads decide not to have progeny? Talk about being ahead of his time. The decision to not have children raises eyebrows even in the 21st century, even amongst the most elite, most enlightened folks.

But this indifference to typical familial and societal imprisonment in the name of love does not mean that ghumakkads are heartless people. They love humanity. Their instant connection to and love for a fellow Ghumakkad is enviable. And they wander for the betterment of human race. They are the ones who have given us ancient travelogues; who have led to the synthesis and assimilation of various cultures; who have spread art, science and knowledge from one corner of the world to another. Today’s Ghumakkads must add to the tradition. They must write, take photos, create art and leave them behind for the world. But they shouldn’t be  fame-seekers. So long as their work benefits the world, a true Ghumakkad will not care if he gets the credit or not. Ghumakkad is the ultimate knowledge-seeker.

The societies that have produced and encouraged Ghumakkads have prospered. Those who have shunned them have deteriorated (how Indians made crossing the sea a sin and how backward our society became)!

So what if he is writing in the first half of the twentieth century? He doesn’t think that only men can be a follower of Ghumakkad Dharma. It is open to everyone, including women. He is convinced of the success of women emancipation. He has seen so many changes in just three generations that he doesn’t see the need for women to hold back. Yes – the society has a history of subjugating women and they might have a few more obstacles in their way. But what is a Ghumakkad if not the conqueror of mountains? And ditches and societal chains.

It’s a life lesson. What should you be doing from the age of 10 or 12 so that you can leave home and be a Ghumakkad by 20 is all covered there. Can  you give a challenge of the duration of JEE preparation for kids these days, do you think so? What do you do about money? How do you approach the backward tribes and the nomads? What about the fear of death? Can you still keep your religion if you are a Ghumakkad? Is there a best religion for Ghumakkads, that is if they need something other than Ghumakkad Dharma?

Some concerns are outdated. A lot more (all?) of the world is mapped now that was in his days. A lot of information about far-flung places is available on your fingertips. An updated shashtra would have instructions not only on how to make friends everywhere but also on how to get Internet access every now and then. An updated shastra would also not bother about how to preserve your diaries over the years, because you have to travel light. There is computer to type it in and there are Internet and cloud to back it up on.

I have overcompensated here for the lack of English translation of the book. I have been tempted to summarize. But I haven’t really done so. Your must taste the rasa of the shashtra on your own and dilute it by taking it through an intermediary, a poor intermediary at that.

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