In another tongue

In another tongue

Chethana Dinesh learns of the unifying force of literature and language at the Tagore Literature Awards ceremony held at Kochi recently, an event that honours Indian contributions in both regional languages and English.

In the initial days of my introduction to television, I always watched all the programmes aired on Doordarshan, the only channel available then, with much interest.

It was literally my window to the world as life beyond Chikmagalore, my tiny little home town, fascinated me to no end. Hour-long episodes based on short stories penned by writers from different parts of the country never failed to hold my attention.

One such Hindi translation of a Manipuri story, titled The Taste of Hilsa, moved me so much that I’m still able to recall both the dialogues and the visuals of the episode vividly, even after all these years.

When I had a chance meeting with the author of the original story in Manipuri, Nongthombam Kunjamohan Singh, I just couldn’t believe my stars. The event was the presentation of the Tagore Literature Awards being instituted by Samsung India and the Central Sahitya Akademi in Kochi, recently.

The award ceremony took, not just me, but even veteran Malayalam poet Akkitham Achuthan Nambudiri, one of the awardees this year, on a trip down memory lane. “As an 11-year-old, when I wrote my first poem and named it Tagore, little did I know that I would some day receive a prestigious award instituted in the name of Rabindranath Tagore himself,”  he fondly recalled.

So did Indramani Darnal, another awardee, who reminisced how she grew up on a diet of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore’s literary works in her home town, Darjeeling, where the Nobel laureate’s works were held in high esteem. “It was Gurudev’s works that ignited the creative spirit in me,” she said.

It sure was a celebration of the written word, as seven literary luminaries, including Nongthombam Kunjamohan Singh, Akkitham Achuthan Nambudiri and Indramani Darnal, shared their joy in their own fashion at having received recognition for their works in regional languages.

Instituted in 2009, the sole objective of these awards is to promote the vibrant nature of Indian language literature by recognising the best literary contributions of writers in eight Indian languages every year, in genres as varied and novels, poetry, short stories, biographies and drama.

Now in its third edition, these awards honoured Amitav Ghosh for his novel Sea of Poppies in English, Nongthombam Kunjamohan Singh for his short story collection, Eina Kenge Kenba Natte, in Manipuri, Sheela Kolambkar for her collection of short stories, Guerra, in Konkani, Jagdish Prasad Mandal for his collection of short stories, Gaamak Jingi, in Maithili, Akkitham Achyuthan Nambudiri for his collection of poetry, Anthimahakaalam, in Malayalam, Indramani Darnal for her drama, Krishna Krishna, in Nepali, and Arjan Hasid for his collection of poems, Na Ien Na, in Sindhi.

At a time when regional languages are not receiving the attention that is due to them, it was heartwarming to have good writers from such languages being felicitated for their works. “While each of us, awardees, is a well-known literary figure in his/her own language, the rest of the country hardly knows us. For that matter, how many of us knew that there could be good writers in little-known languages such as Maithili or Nepali or Konkani?” asks Sheela Kolambkar, whose writings are an eloquent display of the agonies faced by women in a male-dominated society.

Reflections

A valid point. These awards not only introduced us to good writing from little-known pockets of India, but also served as a mirror to the society we live in, but fail to acknowledge.

While Sheela Kolambkar presents us with a woman’s perspective of the universe we call home, Jagdish Prasad Mandal’s short stories introduce us to the various facets of village life, Akkitham Achhyuthuan Nambudiri’s poetry speaks for the human in him, and Arjan Hasid’s poems reflect the realities of life post-partition.

Little wonder then that most of us at the award ceremony were struck by the spectrum of emotions these literary luminaries evoked in us by their writings. As 83-year-old Arjan Hasid recited memorable lines from a few of his poems, I just couldn’t help but marvel at the power of literature to convey truths that we are blind to, in the world around us.

And also wonder at the rich literary heritage our country is home to. For, the Tagore Awards have, over the last two years, recognised literary works in Bengali, Bodo, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Punjabi, Telugu, Assamese, Dogri, Marathi, Odia, Rajasthani, Santali, Tamil and Urdu, apart from the literary works in seven languages that they chose to honour this year.
Agrahara Krishna Murthy, secretary, Sahitya Akademi, was right in saying, “The promotion of Indian literature strengthens our cultural fabric and enriches our
community.”
Especially at a time when conscious efforts to save our languages are imperative.
Though elated that one of my favourite authors, Amitav Ghosh, was also an awardee this year, I was a bit perplexed by the fact that English was included in the list of ‘Indian regional languages’. However, the organisers were quick to quell my doubts — “The intention was to honour the work of a local writer who has attempted to write in a foreign language and achieved international acclaim.”

Well, all is well that ends well, I suppose. As B D Park of Samsung Electronics said, literature sure unifies people across religions, regions and cultures. And, I have no authority to refute this universal truth.

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