Friday, July 10, 2015

A Wordsmith

Interviewed Swati Raje of Bhaashaa Foundation.

Swati Raje, founder-president of Bhaashaa Foundation, will be awarded for her work in language preservation, in Los Angeles, in July. She talks about her work and the initiatives that she has introduced.

I asked a group of Marathi-speaking youngsters the meaning of this sentence —- Gurakhi pava vajavto. Many of them professed ignorance about the word ‘pava.’ Some thought it to be pao (bread slice), others thought it to be a synonym for clapping. The word actually means flute.

It is the loss of cultural expressions like this, witnessing mediocrity, and the reliance on audio-visual images more than words, in my 15 odd years of journalistic career, that propelled me to start Bhaashaa Foundation — The Centre for Preservation and Enhancement of Regional Languages, in Pune.

We cannot do away with English, nor can we complain about hegemony of other languages, so it makes sense to strengthen and enrich our regional languages. When it comes to Marathi, sadly it is losing its flavour because we are struggling against mediocrity and there are not enough takers for it at the school level. In this regard, the seminar on Marathi Shala (school), organised by Brihan Maharashtra Mandal, in Los Angeles, between July 2-5, is important. A few Marathi-speaking women have started week-end Marathi medium schools and I have been invited to speak on the status and future of these schools in US and

India. I hope to tap into the synergy that comes from working in the same field.

To preserve any language for the generation coming two decades later, the work has to begin now. The process, in this kind of work, is mostly trial and error — it’s not like using a preservative nor is there a specific list of ingredients to follow. So we thought that we should start with the younger generation, introduce them to some fun word games, songs and poems. Language is umbilically linked with stories, dances, songs and books.

The first Bhaashaa Pustak Ghar met in the parking lot of our residential apartment. My daughter Saavani and I connected two pillars with a clothesline on which books were clipped. Then, we started meeting in parks, lanes and grounds where we took books to children.

After two years of such informal meets, we set up Bhaashaa Foundation in 2008, and a plethora of activities followed. So far, we have had three editions of Katha Yatra, a story festival, Yaksha Prashna, a research-based inter-school quiz competition, Chitrangan Film Festival and Jantarleli Mantargani.

The Bhaashaa Foundation also holds international academic conferences on languages and its work is now gaining recognition from the government authorities. It will also be celebrated at international level, where I will be conferred with ‘Achievement award for holistic vision and work for language preservation’ by Nancy Silberkleit, CO-CEO, Archie Comics in New York on July 13. That only serves to reinforce that language is our collective identity and its preservation and enhancement has no barriers.

- E-journal: Bhaashaa — the journal for arts, literature and culture. It’s going to be a bi-annual initiative.
- Marathi Language Olympiad: A quiz where questions will be related to the school curriculum. There will be two levels — Bhaashaa Parichay and Bhaashaa Pravinya. Students who clear the second level, will be groomed to be discerning readers and researchers and erudite writers.
- Majhee Bhaashaa: A special online newsletter for children

- 16 ‘Read while you wait’ book corners at city hospitals and clinics.
- 14 rural libraries.
- 12 reading centres for underprivileged children.
- 9 ‘Bhaashaa in schools’ centres
- 8 language proficiency initiatives.
- 7 performances of Jantarleli Mantargani.
- 5 years of Yaksha Prashna
- 4 international academic conferences
- 3 editions of Katha Yatra

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