In celebration of diversity
KNIT INDIA THROUGH LITERATURE, Volume III - The West: Sivasankari; EastWest Books Pvt. Ltd., 571, Poonamalle High Road, Aminjikarai, Chennai-600029. Rs. 800.
A MULTILINGUAL nation has to know its diversity before arriving at any sense of unity. Surely, literature is the best means of fostering this understanding. But in India, few bridges are built across the regional tongues. The media spotlights Indians writing in English, while regional literary fraternities are mostly locked within their own languages.
In this milieu, Tamil writer Sivasankari stands out for sustained, long-term, and formidable efforts in her Knit India Through Literature project. Ambitiously conceived and executed, the venture had its first two volumes introducing the literatures of South and East Indian languages. This volume revels in the harvests of Konkani, Marathi, Gujarati and Sindhi.
Sind has been lost to India after the Partition, but Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat are explored in chatty, introductory travelogues. Each section has Sivasankari interviewing writers, followed by translations from their works, rounded off with an analysis of modern literature in the chosen language by scholars in the field.
Konkani and Sindhi
The sections on little known Konkani and Sindhi fascinate. Despite historical, geographical and cultural divergences, Sindhi and Konkani writers are preyed by the same fears. "I fear that Goa will soon change its appearance and characteristics. Nature is being destroyed and concrete jungles are emerging,'' says senior writer Manohar Rai Sardessai. Others wonder: will mindless tourism and industrialisation kill their harmonious lifestyle and progressive outlook?
Caste conflicts and oppressions had been minimal in Goa, Dalit literature did not emerge because there was no need for it, Hindu-Christian harmony prevailed, female foeticide, dowry, bride burning and widow harassment were unknown. Are we then surprised to hear the Konkani writers' plea, "let the new settlers not bring with them hatred and communal tensions?"
"I don't think any other language in the world has suffered this sort of oppression,'' sighs writer Chandrakant Keni. The ban on Konkani (1684 A.D.) by the Portuguese could neither kill the language nor the spirit of the people, any more than the domination of Marathi. But at home and in the diaspora, survival required four scripts Devanagari, Roman, Kannada and Malayalam. Yet, despite increased awareness and conscious efforts to preserve the language, the modern world threatens to smother it out of existence.
Loss of country, community, property, torture and genocide the Sindhis have seen it all. The systematic destruction of their culture began with Arab invasion (712 A.D.) which thrust Persian upon the populace. It also fostered a blend of Iranian Sufism and Vedanta, making mysticism vital to both Hindu and Muslim Sindhi thought. The Partition spelt unimaginable trauma. "We have no home state. We are homeless and rootless,'' says poet Popati Hiranandani.
Sindhis knew no caste divisions, no untouchability; women had enjoyed considerable freedom. In merging with the cultures of the nations where they resettled themselves, will the migrants lose their progressive values? "If the Sindhi culture had been strong, its language would have been healthy too,'' reflects Hiranandani. "It is a tragedy that Sindhi festivals, language and traditions are slowly fading away.''
Gujarati and Marathi
It is no surprise to find writers in Gujarat influenced by the Gandhian ideals. Dalit writer Joseph Macwan explains that even "the Dalits here thought the Mahatma alone would lead them to deliverance'' and protested against Ambedkar with black flags. But the entire section becomes somewhat unreal in the post-Godhra era.
It is obvious that the literary world represented in this book had no premonition of the tides of hatred. The volcanic burst of communal violence that rocked the Mahatma's land comes as a shock to them. In this context, novelist-publisher Dhiruben Patel's recollection of her first meeting with the Mahatma assumes a haziness, unconnected with reality.
The Marathi segment does its best to bring a range of voices and trends. Bhalchandra Nemade and Dilip Chitre are spartan in outlook, make no exaggerated claims and refuse to take refuge in generalities. The translations too are better in quality than in the rest of the book. Surprisingly, Marathi theatre and playwriting get scant attention.
This volume offers more than a bird's-eye view of the chosen regions. Understandably, it concentrates on established, elder voices, missing somewhat the pulse of youth. The style is uneven. The interviews often accommodate chunks of history, clogging the flow of interchange. Sharper editing could have taken the dialogues closer to actual speech than to writing.
The translations take you on a bumpy ride. The literary analyses are dry and academic, without the spirit of adventure that vivifies Sivasankari's introductory travel accounts. But the bumps and jolts are overlooked in a journey guided by an exploring mind, charged with dedication and commitment.
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