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AUSTRIA MEETS INDIA - INDIA MEETS AUSTRIA (I)

A few years ago, I gave a lecture at the "Austrian Cultural Forum" in New Delhi about the learned Carmelite monk Paulinus a Sancto Bartholomaeo OCD (1748 - 1806), born Philippus Vesdin, who came from Austria (Hof am Leithaberge, Lower Austria). He spent many years in India and after his return published the first printed grammar of Sanskrit in the West, published in Rome in 1790. One of my dialogue partners after the lecture was the Indian university professor Franson Davis Manjali (third from left), who had studied in Paris. Sadly, he passed away on 14 June 2023. Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, where he taught linguistics for around 40 years, has set up its own memorial page for him on the internet - https://www.fransonmanjali.com - well worth a read! We had warm and friendly conversations on a number of topics of mutual interest - he was only one day older than me (he was born on 10 November 1955 in Mysore, now called Mysuru), and we shared a common love for the French language and culture, among other things.

 

If you ask an Austrian today about an Indian personality he or she knows, the answer is almost always Mahatma Gandhi (1869 - 1948). Professor Franson Davis Manjali primarily studied the writings on Mahatma Gandhi published in France, such as the essays on him by the French writer Maurice Blanchot (1907 - 2003) - the first essay appeared in 1931. In that year, Gandhi travelled to Europe - in Italy, for example, he met with Benito Mussolini, but Pope Pius XI refused to meet and talk to him. Pius XI (1857 - 1939) was Pope from 1922 to 1939).

 

Maurice Blanchot was not only concerned with the political circumstances of his time, but also very intensively with Hinduism as a religion - his work "Autour de la pensée hindou" was published in 1943 and "Pèleringae aux sources" in 1944. Mahatma Gandhi also had many followers in Europe. The Italian Lanza del Vasto (1901 - 1981), who was a philosopher, artist and also a "non-violent activist", became particularly well known. He became his disciple, lived with Gandhi in his ashram in Wardha and was given the name Shanti Das ("servant of peace") by him. This Western disciple had a great intellectual interest in Hinduism, but without converting to it. He travelled barefoot, clad only with a wooden stick in his hand and a linen cloth, to many regions of India, including the headwaters of the Ganges.

 

Professor Franson Davis Ma njali was a committed advocate of intellectual exchange between his home country India and the Western countries - he was well-versed in the history of this dialogue, which has been going on for many centuries, at different levels and with varying intensity, also through his studies in Paris, about which he told me a lot. During my lecture in New Delhi, he was particularly interested in the relationship between Father Paulinus a Sancto Bartholomaeo (1748 - 1806) and the French, as he came to India on a French ship (the journey took just over six months and went around Africa!) and also travelled back to Europe on a French ship. The learned Carmelite quoted French authors in several places in his work.

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