Cultural Cocktail: How to Preserve a Vulnerable Language

Event: Cultural Cocktail: Youth for Art

Date: 17th June 2017, 5:30 pm onwards

Venue: Kingdom of Dreams Auditorium Complex, Gurgaon

Organizers: Kunwar Viyogi Memorial Trust

Online Partners: Kolkata Bloggers

Do you know anyone who speaks Ayapaneco? What about Warao, Majhi or Nocte? Or, in our own country, Bodo, Khasi, Koch or Tulu?

These are all languages across the world that are in danger of ‘dying out’, or becoming extinct. Sometimes it is due to the natural passage of time, but sometimes it can also be caused by the cultural hegemony of dominant languages. As the number of speakers for these languages reduces, an entire literature, culture and way of living is threatened.

But for every ominous cloud there is a silver lining. Speakers of such threatened languages are fighting back to preserve their heritage. Activists are holding cultural programmes, creating art and encouraging people to speak up about what their language means to them.

One such effort is the Kunwar Viyogi Memorial Trust’s event, ‘Cultural Cocktail’, to be held today at Gurgaon.

The mammoth event of art, poetry, dance and drama features artists taking to the stage in defence of Dogri, the Pahari language from Jammu.

The Trust promotes the legacy of warrior-poet Kunwar Viyogi, who won a Sahitya Akademi award for his poetry in the Dogri language. He invented the art of writing sonnets in Dogri and was actively involved in the promotion of Dogri culture and literature.

Dogri is not one of the threatened languages on the official UNICEF list.

It has about 5 million speakers in the Jammu-Kashmir area and other parts of Northern India. However, as a regional language, it is often overshadowed by languages such as Hindi and Urdu. With the help of artists and activists, the Kunway Viyogi Memorial Trust takes Dogri to its youngest speakers, and reintroduces it to the older generation.

Cultural Cocktail is part of this programme.

It involves artists from the national and international circuit who have come together in celebration of Dogri literature. I interviewed four artists who will take part in the festivities. Here’s what they had to say:

Sanchita Abrol, Dancer

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‘My performance, ‘Ghar: Prem ki Gaagar ‘, is based on Kunwar Viyogi’s award-winning long poem, ‘Ghar’. There is a depth to what he wrote in that book that attracted me to it, and what he wanted to say. The poems have been set to music. The emotional impact of the story of love in the poem is heart-rending. The experience of translating that poem to dance was wonderful.’

An internationally acclaimed dancer who has performed in Australia, Morocco and China among other countries, Sanchita began to learn Dogri at the beginning of this year. ‘Dance has helped me to connect with people across cultures and languages,’ she says. ‘Dance has its own expression, especially ‘Kathak’, which is based on katha kehna (the telling of stories). It’s a universal language that crosses barriers all across the world.’

Anmol Jamwal, Dancer

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‘It is unconventional for a boy to be a dancer in India, but I’ve always been a very sports-oriented kid and at the age of eleven, I started receiving formal training. What drew me to jazz as a genre was the thrill of learning choreography and performance in front of an audience. I’ve been glued ever since.’

Accompanied by his troupe, Anmol will show off some of the dance moves that have made him a Youtube sensation. With his channel, ‘Tried and Refused Productions’, he reaches an audience of more than 86,000 people.

Anmol’s performance is entitled ‘Taboo’ in tribute to Kunwar Viyogi. ‘He was a rebel, he was very comfortable with who he was,’ says Anmol, the poet’s grandson, ‘Even though he was going against the grain. We want to tell people to be who you are through our performance, especially if that means not subjecting yourself to societal norms.’

Aarushi Thakur Rana, Theatre Director

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courtesy: The Logical Indian

‘I’m no stranger to hearing about dying arts, as everyone keeps saying that about theatre. Yet, here we are! It has survived just fine. There is an absorbing aspect to theatre that nothing else can provide. Even when you’re watching movies, all your sense are not engaged. But theatre is a completely immersive experience. It’s a far, far better medium to get to people.

Like me, Aarushi is a huge fan of Shakespeare’s work. ‘I believe in making Shakespeare more available for our own audience, because his stories have universal appeal,’ she said. ‘While reading Macbeth in college, I started wondering why easier translations of Shakespeare were not attempted. Even the Hindi translations are so difficult that they’re nearly impossible to understand!’

For her own production, she chose a comedy so that children could enjoy it as well. After directing a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Hindi, Aarushi adapted Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night in Hindi. This play will be staged at Cultural Cocktail.

Ayushman Jamwal, Poet

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‘Every art can be adapted and moulded to current popular culture, including literature, to mobilize the key message of these forms, whether it is love, rage, darkness, aspiration or other universal human emotions. How do you use contemporary forms of art and make them eternal? That’s what we’re trying to do with the essence of Kunwar Viyogi’s poems, and with Dogri. ‘

Ayushman, poet, journalist and grandson of Kunwar Viyogi, will be the Sutradhar of Sanchita’s performance. ‘Events like Cultural Cocktail are so important because it encourages people to go seek out the literature and culture of Dogras,’ he said. ‘This is something that they can absorb and interact with.’

Ayushman’s  own artistic leanings as a poet are certainly part of Kunwar Viyogi’s legacy as well. They have been expressed in his book, Chameleon Lightsrecently released in India. ‘We need to support artists like the ones at Cultural Cocktail, especially financially,’ he stresses. ‘The exposure that financial support provides for people who do not have someone backing them cannot be understated. Even my grandfather, one of the most celebrated Dogri poets, was not well-known outside Jammu primarily because of this.’ Clearly, he and the Trust plans to change that.

Cultural Cocktail lies at the heart of conservation efforts for languages.

They show the strength and vitality of the culture people seem to have forgotten, through music, dance and a whole lot of love. It is a vital part of the Trust’s ‘Save the Language’ Campaign that aims to bring Dogri back to its roots, in the homes and hearts of Jammu. And who wouldn’t want an evening of art and laughter to enjoy?

If you’re going to be there, I envy you.


How was the programme? Let me know in the comments!

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