All for the love of Sanskrit

After a failed attempt at learning the vedic language in Chicago, Chad Mowbray packed his bags to travel all the way to Pune and do it right

By Heena Grover Menon

For someone who is born and brought up in California, sea surfing and spotting a famous actor is a given. But Chad Mowbray has never cared much for any of it. Playing his bass guitar, spending hours reading books, learning new languages and travelling from one city to another have become his passion.

He did a lot of odd jobs during his college years, sometimes being a bar spotter and getting paid for it by way of free drinks and food. In Texas, he graded essays written by elementary level students. “While reading those essays I realised how terrible the education system is. If I could write a book on the hilarious things these students would write in their essays, it would be nothing short of a bestseller,” Chad laughs. He completed his graduation in Middle Eastern Studies from The University of Chicago, then took a couple of years off to travel and learn Arabic, Persian, Syriac, German and a couple of other languages.

Chad calls himself an atheist but has always been deeply inclined towards the writings of various saints and Sufis. While learning Arabic and Persian, he chanced upon a biography of Ibrahim ibn Adham, one of the most prominent of the early ascetic Sufi saints whose life closely echoes the legend of Buddha. Ibrahim too had renounced his kingdom. “All this was very fascinating and I started getting deeper into trying to find connections with India and finally discovered ‘Kalilah wa Dimnah’, which was the Arabic translation of Panchatantra. Kalilah and Dimnah are basically the names of the two jackals in the first book. I learned that there were several other translations of Panchatantra which were written during different eras by many scholars in the Middle East and other countries and languages, including Greek, Latin, Spanish and Italian. But the origin of Panchatantra is India and to know how it reached these countries, I had to know Sanskrit.”

Chad says that even within India, many of the Jataka tales which were written during the Buddhist era can be found in the Panchatantra, which was written in Sanskrit between 4th and 6th century CE. Chad then enrolled in a Sanskrit course in Chicago, but dropped out in a few months, as he found it very hard to learn or understand. “But I was not going to give up just yet. So I took it up as a challenge and packed my bags to come to India. I enrolled for a nine-month course at The American Institute for Indian Studies in Deccan College.” The first six months were very crucial as Chad was still unable to grasp anything related to the language, but his zeal for learning and his teachers’ patience finally started paying up. He says that Sanskrit is more about memorising, which is something we don’t follow at all back in America. But to learn such a complex language as this, there’s no other way but to memorise. And that’s what he has been doing for the past eight months. He says that the results have been quite positive.

He is in Pune for another month and then plans to take a break before starting his PhD on how the important scriptures and writings travelled all the way to the Middle East. “I still have about two-three years to master the language and then I plan to become a professor so I could read and teach all the writings. For me, it’s not about learning for my own good, but to give it back to the society and showcase how significant it is to learn things like these. “

Chad has always been very fond of Indian food, even while in LA, he would often visit Indian restaurants. Ever since he moved to Pune, his breakfast has usually been poha, which he absolutely loves eating.

Originally published at

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