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VITASTA ANNUAL NUMBER: Volume XXXIV (2000-2001)

The Kashmiri Language Class at Kashmir Bhavan, Kolkata

Sunita Mulla and Jolly Mohan Kaul

The start of the Kashmiri Language class at the Kashmir Bhavan in Kolkata marks an important milestone in the history of the Kashmiri Pandit community in this city. Indeed we would go further and say it is a significant event in the cultural history of Kolkata. The city has rightly been referred to as the cultural capital of the country. It has been the centre for the development of the Bengali language and literature. It is here that English education first started; it is here that there is a rich tradition of Hindi as well as Urdu culture. It is therefore in the fitness of things that there is now also a centre for the teaching of Kashmiri language in Kolkata.

Kashmiri Pandits have been in Calcutta for quite a long time. Both our families have had links with this city for over half a century. Like many other families of the Kashmiri diaspora our families too migrated from Kashmir a long time ago. We produced many scholars in different languages, in Urdu, Persian, in Hindi and in English but unfortunately we forgot our own Kashmiri language. In the process we have become rootless citizens of the country and got isolated from our own community, our language and to a large extent from our own culture. Whenever we have been meeting Kashmiri speaking Kashmiri families we feel embarassed and somewhat ashamed that we cannot converse with our own kith and kin in what is called the mother tongue of our community. This feeling has always been there but we felt even more concerned after the recent events that have forced our brethren to become refugees in their own country. Since the medium of instruction in Kashmir is mostly Urdu, there is a real danger that the Kashmiri language might in course of time become extinct. The original script of the language, the Sharda script has already become extinct. There is so much concern all over the world for some of the endangered species of wild animals but sadly one does not see the same concern for the endangered Kashmiri Pandit language and culture.

So we felt that we should make our own contribution to the survival of the language and what better way to do this than to try to learn the language. Young or old we think that all of us in different parts of the country should try to go back to our roots and learn the language of our ancestors, a language that has a rich tradition and a rich literature. It was in this background that both of us, one more than seventy years old and the other in her thirties decided that we should learn the language. The opportunity came when Dr. B. K. Moza took the initiative to start the Kashmiri language class in Kashmir Bhavan in Salt Lake city, north east of Kolkata, about two years back.

We started with nearly thirty men and women of different age groups. The classes are held once a week on Saturday afternoon. Along with Dr. Moza, Mrs Niva Kaul has also been helping when Dr. Moza has had to go out of the city. Some of the original thirty have dropped out but others are carrying on with interest and dedication. One cannot blame them, they have their priorities, their offices or their business to manage, their studies and exams, their families and children to look after. Learning a language is not easy and needs a lot of patience and hard work besides the aptitude. Under the circumstances anyone else might have felt discouraged but Dr. Moza is such a dedicated person that difficulties only spur him on. He is continuing undaunted and so is the small band of students that are regularly attending his classes.

When we started we had no books. Our teacher's strategy was to get us accustomed to the peculiar sounds and accents of the Kashmiri language which are not to be found in the English or Hindi languages. By constant repetition of the words that are in common use and of phrases and sentences relating to situations which we are likely to encounter routinely, he helped us to mould our tongue and train our ears so that it may be able to reproduce the sounds as close to the correct as possible. The first twenty five classes were devoted to conversations only using audio-visual technique. Gradually we began to tape the lectures and three casettes are already full. It was suggested that we use the English Reader that is used in schools to teach English at the primary stage and so we began to take up one by one the lessons in the book and translated them into the Kashmiri language. Using the pictures in the Reader Dr Moza asked us to describe what was in the pictures in Kashmiri. We made considerable progress this way. Then one of the students discovered an old book written a long time ago for the express purpose of teaching the anguage. Both vocabulary and sentences in English and Hindi are given along with their Kashmiri version both in the Devnagri and the Roman script. This has been a great help and we have finished more than half of this book. However Dr. Moza tells us that this is rather outdated and now the script has been standardised and the symbols for the sounds that are not to be found in Hindi have been developed. Soon we will practice writing Kashmiri in this streamlined and computer friendly Devnagri script.

We have also been encouraged by the information given to us by Dr. Moza that considerable research on the subject is going on both in India and abroad. In the United States, Kashmiri scholars have even developed web sites which can be accessed by all interested in the latest developments in this field. In India too the Institute of Linguistics at Patiala has already produced books and casettes on the teaching of the Kashmiri language for those whose mother tongue is not Kashmiri.

In this connection it may be mentioned that our Mumbai Sabha has brought out a primer for learning the Kashmiri language and this has been recently made available to all of us. Soon we shall go through this course also. We have also already gone through the Roman Primer developed by Bharat Wakhlo. However, there are a number of problems that we are currently facing. Kashmir Bhavan in Salt Lake is rather far away from where many of us live. But we are convinced that Kashmir Bhawan is our dear Institution of Kashmiri Culture in Kolkata. So, this is the right place for holding Kashmiri language classes. There has so far been a shortage of books though there is, we are told, now a possibility that course materials and casettes may be available from the Institute of Languages. Apart from that the main problem is that there is no scope for practising. After all the only way to speak is to practise conversing with people who can speak the language. Unfortunately opportunities to do this are not easily available though we have, almost every month a get-together at Kashmir Bhawan but for these there is a specific agenda. Still, we would request Kashmiri speaking people living in different localities to come forward and spare some time to talk to us for even half an hour once a week or even once a fortnight.

A great asset that we have is the Library that has been built up in the Kashmir Bhavan in Calcutta. It is unique in the sense that it has a very comprehensive collection of rare books on the Kashmiri language and literature and on the history and culture of Kashmiri Pandits. The collection includes rare books such as Grierson's grammar prepared long ago. This was the first Kashmiri grammar in English published. Then there are a number of editions of the Rajatarangini, Nilamat Purana, Katha Sarit Sagar, Kashmiri Ramayana, Kashmiri Shaivism, Lal Ded etc., prepared by various Indian and foreign scholars. We have also the latest books and casettes prepared in the United States; such as the books by the well known scholar, Prof. B. B. Kachru. There are more than three hundred books on Kashmiri Pandit history, culture, language, religion and present political turnoil Besides, there are books on tourism in Kashmir. Despite the obstacles we are trying our best to carry on untill we derive some proficiency in speaking the language. With an able and dedicated teacher like Dr. B. K. Moza there is no reason why we should not succeed. We would however like to add that an indication of the progress that we have already made is the welcome address delivered by one of the students, Mrs. Prabha Tankha at the Navreh function held recently. No one felt that a learner was speaking. The whole gathering was proud of this achievement.

We appeal to non-Kashmiri speaking Kashmiris and children to come forward in larger numbers to take advantage of this opportunity to learn the language and we would also like to appeal to Kashmiri speaking Kashmiris to volunteer their help to the learners. We are confident that the movement will spread and that more and more persons young and not so young will come forward in the near future. This is the need of the hour and we must not be found wanting. No wonder, our this experience may prove a role model globally for other Sabhas and Samitis of Kashmiri Pandit diaspora.

[Mailing address : 12/2 Ballygunge Park Road, Flat 2C, Ballygunge Court, Kolkata-700019 and
G-7, Government Housing Estate, 98, Karaya Road, Kolkata-700019]
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Views expressed by authors in Vitasta Annual Number are not necessarily of Kashmir Sabha, Kolkata.

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