A Kannadiga on mission Punjabi

Carrying coal to New Castle

A Kannadiga on mission Punjabi

Pandit Rao Dharennavar teaching Punjabi to school kids in a village near Chandigarh.Thirty-three year old Pandit Rao Dharennavar, who hails from Bijapur district in Karnataka, is a man possessed as he has launched a self-inspired campaign to promote Punjabi language and culture in the land of Punjabi itself!

A lecturer of sociology at Chandigarh’s Government College for girls, in Sector 42, Rao speaks in chaste Punjabi and has turned into a litterateur of sorts in the language penning poems, prose and essays.

More liquor shops than libraries

He recently came out with a book in Punjabi entitled, “Main taan main haan” - an anthology of his Punjabi poems, essays and articles.. “I noticed there is a perceptible lack of enthusiasm among the new generation of Punjabis about their language and literature. My love for the language has inspired me to motivate youngsters to develop love for reading rich Punjabi literature”, Rao says. “There are more liquor shops in Punjab than libraries”, he rues. He correlates this to the fact that there have been nine Jnanpith awardees in Kannada while there were only two in Punjabi so far. Rao has already travelled to villages in eight districts of Punjab.

In his role as an activist, he traverses through Punjab’s rural heartlands, holds street plays, undertakes bicycle marches as he endeavours to spread the message of “Love thy literature” to Punjabi hearts.

“Sometimes people are amused and surprised at a South Indian speaking to them in Punjabi and asking them to develop a love for Punjabi literature. Often they acquaint me with various idioms prevalent in countryside,” he says.

Social messages

In the course of his travels he also delivers social messages as he speaks against the practice of female foeticide, a social problem them has left Punjab with the lowest sex ratio in the country.  He is also against the practice of dowry and propagates this through the medium of street plays. “An interest in literature has the power to discourage farmers from committing suicides,” he says commenting on the increasing peasant suicides in Punjab.

Rao is peeved by the fact that his students and the younger generation know very little of famous Punjabi poets, writers and novelists. “What to speak about reading renowned Punjabi authors and poets, they do not know even their names,” he says. Rao’s journey to Chandigarh and his love for Punjabi is a tale of an eager teacher trying to teach his students through the idiom of English and Hindi. However, he faced roadblocks as a majority of his girl students came from the rural heartland and understood Punjabi only.

“This motivated me to learn the language diligently.  Now, I connect with them better,” he says adding the love of the language made him read Punjabi literature and also the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy scripture.

He listens to the Gurbani – recitation of the scripture in Punjabi — relayed on radio and television to start his day. “It gives me peace and harmony. I want to get the scripture translated into Kannada for the Kannadigas to be informed of the teachings of Sikh gurus,” Rao says. Rao drives to Jhurheri village on the outskirts of Chandigarh everyday to teach English and Punjabi to about 80 students. “Most students study in the Kendriya Vidyalaya where Punjabi is not taught. I promise to help them learn English language if they are ready to study Punjabi”, Rao says.

No Dalit leader

In his book, he has focused on themes like farmer suicides, failure of Punjab politicians to promote Punjabi literature and his grouse about the failure of the Dalit movement in Punjab which has the highest proportion of Dalits in the country (30 per cent) but has failed to throw up a significant leader.

He recently set up the “Punjab Kannada Sahitya Manch” in an attempt to bring together the Punjabi and Kannada culture and literature. His next mission is to translate the literature of Kannada into Punjabi and vice versa. “I want people of the two states to appreciate each other’s rich cultural heritage,” he says.

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