Shilpa Sumant has been so nice to come to Vienna for two lectures and for some additional hours of chatting. For the ones among you who have not yet encountered her work, Shilpa has published important studies and critical editions in the field of the Paippalāda school of the Atharvaveda, but her command of Sanskrit and her activity at the Pune “Encyclopedic Dictionary of Sanskrit on Historical Principles” makes her approach broad and particularly rich in cross-references and unheard-of materials.
Her first lecture, on her critical work on the Karmapañjikā (a ritual manual (paddhati) of the Atharvaveda, for which however no Ritual Sūtra is available) has been an interesting chance to discuss how to edit non-standard Sanskrit. As a rule of thumb, Shilpa (and Arlo Griffiths, who edited with her the text) tend to correct errors which originated in the transmission, but to keep the irregularities which were probably present in the author’s original text, even when they lead to sentences such as kathitaṃ sarvam eteṣāṃ [karmaṇāṃ] kramo hariharātmajaḥ. I remember Camillo Formigatti discussed similar cases in the context of “Newari Hybrid Sanskrit” at the 6th Coffee Break Conference. What do you prefer to do? Correct the text to make it understandable? Do a diplomatic edition? Add a chāyā?
However, Shilpa is also an interesting role model because of different reasons. First of all, she had to struggle to achieve a well-deserved tenured position. She taught at different institutes in Pune Sanskrit, Marathī and Hindī and engaged lectures of Sanskrit for undergraduate classes in a well-known college in Pune at negligible remuneration hoping to get a permanent position there. Nonetheless, when a position was advertised, someone else was preferred, although since the beginning, she had been teaching each sort of Sanskrit expected from her by the assigning authority by preparing for that topic.
Since Shilpa is an optimist, she told me about that result with the following comment:
It was a good chance to learn that every thing is for the best —had I got that position, I would have had to focus on undergraduate teaching.
Now, she works as a subeditor of the Dictionary, as an Assistant Professor at the Deccan College (where she has to teach up to three hours per day and mentor some PhD students) and manages to keep on with her research and with her collaborative projects. And, she is still an easy-going human being, who is not resentful and enjoys life. (I wish readers can get some hope for their own future.)