Gutenberg revolutionized the world with the invention
of the printing technology in the 15th century. The Renaissance and
the Reformation as well as the humanist movements owed much to the introduction
of printing. Knowledge became relatively more easily available to the public.
Knowledge makes a lot of difference.
Knowledge was kept away from the
ordinary people for a long time. In our own ancient Bharat [even the name ‘India’
is being made to vanish!], Sanskrit was declared as the language of the gods
and hence only Brahmins were supposed to use that language. It is quite another
matter, and a terribly ironical one too, that today the descendants of those
ancient Brahmins are spending a
gigantic sum of money on making people learn Sanskrit. What was forbidden
once is an unwanted commodity now.
Brutal punishments were meted out to
any low caste person who happened to hear Sanskrit shlokas recited even by
chance. Knowledge was appropriated by one particular group of people who knew
how to grab and use power for their own benefits. Today their successors do the
same thing in a different way. History repeats itself – as comedy, tragedy or
farce, depending on which side you are.
Renowned Malayalam novelist O V Vijayan
wrote a novel, Thalamurakal – Generations, about a low caste person who
wished to acquire Brahminhood by learning Sanskrit and the scriptures. When he
finally does become a Brahmin through the yoga of knowledge [gyan yoga], the
realisation about the futility of it descends on him like a fatal weapon. He relinquishes
his Brahminhood with contempt.
Brahminhood is a kind of hubris, the
character realises. There is little difference between his own hubris which
made him seek out Brahminhood and the hubris of the ancient Brahmins and that
of Hitler’s Nazis. [Vijayan’s novel was published in 1997, much before India
became Bharat once again in the hands of certain fascist leaders.]
It is not only in India that
knowledge was kept away from the ordinary people. Umberto Eco’s villain in The Name
of the Rose is a monk in a medieval monastery who does not want anyone
to read anything other than the Bible. All truth lies in the Bible. Why should
anyone read anything else? He kills quite many monks for the sake of preventing
knowledge from reaching others.
Gutenberg came a century after that,
however. Eco’s novel is set in the year 1327.
Now, more than half a millennium
later, are we moving backward – from Gutenberg to Zuckerberg, from books to
social media, from enlightenment to falsehoods?
Gutenberg is a German name. ‘Guten’
means ‘good’ and ‘berg’ is ‘mountain’. Zuckerberg is a German name too and Mark’s
origins lie in Germany. ‘Zucker’ shares its root with ‘sugar’ [or ‘shakar’ in
Hindi/Sansksrit – after all, Sanskrit belongs to the Indo-Germanic family of
languages]. Maybe, the transition from Gutenberg to Zuckerberg is one from a mountain
of knowledge to the delusions of saccharine.
But we are fortunate that Gutenberg’s
mountain is still accessible. Project Gutenberg
makes about 70,000 free ebooks available to anyone who wishes to read good
books. Gutenberg or Zuckerberg? The choice belongs to each one of us.
PS. This post is a part of Blogchatter Half
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