ALTHOUGH INFOSYS FOUNDER N.R. Narayana Murthy’s son Rohan spells his last name Murty, and is more interested in research than entrepreneurship, he has clearly inherited his parents’ interest in philanthropy and education. He was recently inspired to create a digital and print library of classical Indian languages—the Murty Classical Library of India (MCLI), to be launched in 2013. He has drawn on the resources of Harvard University Press (HUP), which received a one-time $5.2 million (Rs 25.5 crore) endowment from the Murthy family last year, for this purpose.

Murty, 27, has spent the last six years working on a Ph.D. in wireless network architectures at Harvard. However, a couple of years ago he took a course in Sanskrit philosophy that featured 6th-century debates between Buddhist and Hindu philosophers, and taught in Sanskrit. Murty knew limited Sanskrit, and used translated notes to get through, but the experience ignited an interest in other defunct Indian languages.

Texts in pre-modern forms of Indo-Persian, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Bengali, Punjabi, Sanskrit, and Hindi will be translated into English, using HUP’s popular Loeb Classical Library format, which has the original language on one page and its English translation on the facing page. Works are chosen by a board of scholars who identify the most influential texts in each language, and include Tulsidas’s Shri Ramcharitmanas in Awadhi, Abu’l Fazl ibn Mubarak’s Akbarnama in Persian, Surdas’s Sursagar in Brij Bhasha, and the Mangal Kavyas from pre-modern Bengal. They range in age from a couple of thousand years to a few hundred.

“We want to make such texts mainstream,” says Murty on the phone from Massachusetts. “Few people can read these languages, but the texts are so rich. Our schools should be able to tap into these riches.”

“It is both our blessing and curse that we have so many languages and scripts in India,” says Sharmila Sen, executive editor-at-large of HUP. “With the translations, people across all parts of India will be able to read the classics of other regions. By putting them together, we put them in conversation.” All Loeb books are uniformly priced between $24 and $30, making them accessible to academic and lay readers in the U.S. and Europe. The Murty Series will be similarly priced and be available across India as well, with four to six books being published every year.

The MCLI will be a project that is born digital. “From the beginning, we will be digitising as the works get translated,” says Sen. “The aim is to have it in the digital format from the first stage, and build the corpus before offering the books in electronic formats in addition to print.” She notes that the endowment fund, smart sourcing, and pricing are vital to the success of this venture. “This—like the Loeb—is about a marathon, not a sprint. The books sell in small, steady quantities by being kept in print in perpetuity.”

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