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Model for revival of language and literature

Bishnupriya Manipuri literature, art and culture are facing an existential crisis, thanks to the onslaught of a host of factors like Hindi movies and Western influences. But is there a way out? Certainly, says Ramlal Sinha.

There should be a holy yet profitable tie-up among litterateurs, artists and industrialists of the community so as to evolve a vibrant medium that can convert the literary and cultural ventures into a dividend-paying industry.

The linguistic policy being followed in Assam, mushroom growth of English-medium schools in the state, a section of yuppie generation in the community shying away from speaking the mother tongue and many other factors of their ilk have a cumulative and cascading effect on Bishnupriya Manipuri language, literature and culture. For the survival of a minor language and literature, such a cascading effect is more lethal than what a nuclear weapon is for the hard-earned and highly metamorphosed human civilization.

Senior journalist and critic DN Bezboruah went on record saying at a book release function in Guwahati in 2006: "English is a cannibal language of modern times." If English has 'eaten' thousands of other languages all over the world, one can say that Assamese, the official language of Assam besides English, has eaten many minor languages like Tai, Tiwa, Mising, Rabha, Dimasa, Karbi and Bishnupriya Manipuri  in the state. Based on their degree of vulnerability, these are already in UNESCO's list of endangered languages. Taking a cue, the state should also categorise these as endangered in its language policy.

Now, whose responsibility is the revival of such moribund languages and literature? Let's zero in on the Bishnupriya Manipuri language and literature as a case study. This community has a rich literature, besides a highly-sanctified and age-old culture. That a majority of the modern litterateurs in the community and their predecessors had their education, at least schooling, in Bengali medium is a boon for the Bishnupriya Manipuri literature. This is because most of the Bishnupriya Manipuri litterateurs, right from the beginning even while in Manipur, had benchmark set by Bengali literature which the Bishnupriya Manipuri writers try to attain or maintain even now. But, of course, this is not to say that the limit ends there.

However, Bishnupriya Manipuri language and literature, being a fatal victim of the ongoing literary and cultural onslaught in India, have found few takers in the community itself, especially among the younger generation. Things have taken a turn for the worse as a large number of people belonging to the next generation in the community are ignorant of purbanagari or purbi, the script being followed by  litterateurs. The script barrier, if not tackled with the right approach, may stand as a veritable roadblock for the propagation of Bishnupriya Manipuri language, literature and culture. If the Himalayas stand as a classical model of an impermeable orographic barrier halting the masses of monsoon air and causing aridity in the Tibetan landscapes, the script barrier in the Bishnupriya Manipuri community is strong enough to block dissemination of information and literature, a condition that is lethal enough to cause an aridity in the literary and cultural landscape of the community. Shying away from reading books authored by Bishnupriya Manipuri writers among the community members is yet another barrier that blocks the propagation of the literature, thereby pushing it to towards the jaws of extinction.

The media vacuum in the community is another barrier that has not been broken even though the community has people scripting success story in this field. This situation stands as a roadblock for information dissemination in the community that is sparsely scattered in Assam, Tripura, Manipur, and other states as well as Burma and Bangladesh. The media industry in the community is not a booming one either, in fact, it never was. The few literary magazines being published in Bishnupriya Manipuri are gasping for life.

The community has a precedent set before it by none other than its own alternative media mogul, Gokulananda, fondly called as Gitiswami. A large section of litterateurs of the Bishnupriya Manipuri community, and even the commoners, are familiar with  the verses of the alternative media mogul only because he could successfully break as many as three barriers – the barrier due to illiteracy in the community in early yester century; the barrier put up by penury and the barrier due to media vacuum – with a single weapon, alternative media, which in his case is 'padkirtan'. Before and after the start of any particular discipline of 'padkirtan' like 'manbhanjan', 'noukabilash', 'Subal-milan' and the like, he would sing his reform-oriented verses to create awareness among the community members. His is not a success story of the proverbial 'one stone, two birds' but that of 'one stone, many birds'.

The barrier before litterateurs and cultural exponents, at present, is under no circumstances more complicated than the one Gokulananda and other writers of his time had to confront. However, the cultural onslaught by Hindi movies and the western culture cast a spell on Bishnupriya Manipuri language and culture. These forces can whitewash everything that the community has inherited from its forefathers over the ages.

The idea in such a situation should be a holy yet profitable tie-up between litterateurs/artistes and the few industrialists of the community so as to evolve a vibrant medium that can convert the literary and cultural ventures into a dividend-paying industry which can provide a modern genre of literature, performing arts and culture that is strong enough to bring 'Generation Y' back to their base that has metamorphosed because of testing times, but is still intact in its 'nuclear configuration'.

What is going on over the years is that quality write-ups like stories, poems and songs that keep coming from litterateurs of the community find no place in music albums and films produced by those who can afford to spend huge amounts which such ventures always demand.

The result is status quo in the community's development. This does nobody a good. The mental needs of the literati are not met and the producers, too, lose money. This is a sheer example of 'misplaced priority'. Unless the 'intellectual property' of writers and exponents of creative arts is encashed in a fair and judicious manner, literary and cultural development in the community will continue to remain elusive. The songs and stories of writers like poet Brojendra Kumar Sinha ('Elar Khuttal', 'Dhruvapad'), poet Senarup Sinha, poet Madan Mohan Mukhopadhyay, Kali Prasad Sinha (Elar Mala), Champalal Sinha, short story writer Smriti Kumar Sinha, poet Dils Lakshmindra Sinha ('Dikmilanar Ela', 'Kotohan Ela Kotohan Kabita'), Indra Kumar Sinha, Kalasena Sinha, Anukul Sinha, Shyamananda Sinha, Samarjit Sinha  and others have found few takers. Cassettes, albums and films are bereft of real content. The irony is that with this newborn cinema, album and cassette venture exploring only the 'shallow creative writings', we have set a very low benchmark for our literature and culture before other communities. Aren't we out to belittle, albeit unknowingly, the heights scaled by our writers and cultural exponents over the years? This is an irreparable damage being done to the community. When quality write-ups of writers and works by artistes will be captured with state-of-the-art technology and cinematography, the present generation that is going astray will be forced to look back. What they actually seek is quality,

The few industrialists in the community need not invest their money in unprofitable ventures. Generosity is still a luxury that they cannot or should not afford. A rupee saved is a rupee earned. The community cannot afford any slip up. Profitability has always been the mantra for any industry. They should continue to focus on training skilled manpower for the future, especially in the media, art and culture. This is a virgin industry sans competition. If trodden with the right skill in the right path, this is a sure-success route for the revival of the endangered language and literature, and tackling the acute joblessness in the community to a great extent. Since the market for performing arts is not at all being tapped, a treasure of culturally-enriched literature is getting piled up for years now. The treasure is awaiting industrialists for its encashment in various ways and forms. They are on the wait for explorers who understand their subtlety, fragility and tenderness; and ready to treat them accordingly.

As far as revival of the language and literature is concerned, it should be the prime duty of every parent to make their wards able to read the purbanagari so that they can appreciate the glory and richness of their own literature and culture.

On media vacuum, the situation demands a professional approach in which a quality product, quality packaging, an agile network of circulation, marketing and advertisement are a must. The Bishnupriya Manipuris' is a virgin market that, if tapped in the right way, can pay a huge dividend. While taking such a venture, one needs to keep in mind that his product (say a newspaper or a magazine) should not be targeted at only the few in a family who are inclined towards literature. All in a community aren't literati, regardless of educational qualification. Over the years, we trod the same old beaten track to serve stuff only for the literati that may not comprise even one per cent of population in the community, forgetting the over 99 per cent. We need to take extra care to produce a product (newspaper or magazine) that can offer a stuff or two even for the housewives, their kids, teens, those interested in fashion and designing, youth (career options and job-related information), students, beauty package for girls, simple remedy for minor ailments, and the like. Those in newspaper industry need to engage experienced teachers who can provide solutions to critical mathematical problems, at least up to Class X standard. A magazine with an inclusive coverage is bound to have takers in the market provided it is backed by a well-knit circulation network. Those of the community who are already in this industry shouldn't forget to lay the required emphasis on advertising that can help the industry thrive.

Bishnupriya Manipuri Development Council

All right-thinking people in the community, including the laymen, will term the formation of this council a milestone achieved, as far as the development of the community is concerned. This can be an oasis in a desert, if run in the right way. The Bishnupriya Manipuris, who have been have-nots over the centuries, have got a perennial canal that can, if handled properly, keep them giving their share of the pie. This is indeed a milestone achieved for a community that had to agitate for about 60 years after independence to get a democratic right – implementation of Bishnupriya Manipuri language at the primary stage of education in Assam – fulfilled, and that too, not without bloodbath.

The development of literature and culture in the community is one of the most important duties of the council that has a whole lot of work lined up in other spheres. In its about two-year time since inception, it has shown a positive gesture towards the development of Bishnupriya Manipuri language and literature, besides other fields. Of course, two years is too brief a period for one to judge the motive of those manning a government setup. So far, so good; and one needs to keep his/her hope alive, but remain ever vigilant.

Towards the development of literature and culture, the role to be played by the council is august. Among other stakeholders in the community, it is the BMDC that needs to develop the very infrastructure for educational and literary development. The litterateurs and exponents of performing arts in the community badly need a launch-pad from where they can take a lift so as to scale new heights. Can they hope the council to do enough towards that end? Will other fields in the community that need immediate attention get due importance? Time is the best teacher. I'm too young to make inroads into its core.

Courtesy: Seven Sisters Post


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