Nelson Mandela once said, “You talk to someone in the language they understand, the message goes to their head. You speak to anyone in their language, the message goes to their heart.”
The languages of Jammu and Kashmir are rich in history. Dogri, Kashmiri and Bodhi culture contain centuries of memories, traditions and preserve the heritage of millions. The tragedy of Jammu and Kashmir is that these languages of warriors, poets and kings are slowly dying, even in an age where the world is becoming more inter-connected. The youth of the state have strained links with these languages and are facing a gradual disconnect with the wisdom and culture they offer.
Many point to the education system for the slow decay of these languages, but the curriculums in schools and colleges are small players in the campaign. Punjabi, Marathi, Gujarati and Bengali are regional languages which are not enforced by the education system, yet they are as alive as ever. Children don’t study these languages beyond school, but they are protected, propagated and preserved by a vibrant popular culture which nurtures them and connects them beyond their speakers. These languages have cinema, music, literature and theatre among others, and have active artists, a dynamic fan base and patronage that creates an economic sphere which sustains them for future generations. Unfortunately, J&K’s languages do not have that ecosystem. There is no patronage to weave popular culture around these languages. Coupled with the dominance of Hindi and English, these languages have no space for outreach and are slowly declining.
Protecting these languages has become a mission of the family of celebrated Dogri poet, the late Group Captain Randhir Singh, popularly known in literary circles as Kunwar Viyogi. He is known as the father of Dogri Sonnets and was the recipient of the coveted Sahitya Akademi award for his long poem of 238 couplets titled ‘Ghar’. In his memory, the Kunwar Viyogi Memorial Trust has been formed with the task to revive these languages via popular culture by giving a platform to young artists as well as financially support students who undertake research work in J&K’s regional languages. Since its foundation in September last year, the Trust has held multiple poetry symposiums in Jammu and New Delhi with multi-lingual artists including celebrities like Piyush Mishra, collaborating with Jammu University, the Oxford Bookstores as well as other promoters of the arts. The latest was a grand cultural event at the famed Kingdom of Dreams in the National Capital Region called ‘Cultural Cocktail: Youth for Art’. The Trust gave a platform to distinguished Kathak dancer Sanchita Abrol who created a beautiful dance drama titiled ‘Ghar: Prem Ki Gagar’ about love and loss, inspired by Kunwar Viyogi’s poem ‘Ghar’. The event also showcased Anmol Jamwal, a brilliant jazz dancer who set the stage on fire with his dance production ‘Taboo’. The evening was topped off by a mesmerizing Hindi production of William Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ directed by Aarushi Thakur Rana of Jammu’s very own Natrang theatre group.
“Our mission is to keep pushing, keep innovating, and do whatever we can to promote J&K’s talent and culture. My father was a celebrated poet, but he didn’t have the financial support or patronage to promote his craft beyond Jammu. The rigours of life almost snuffed out his talent. I do not want that to happen to the future Kunwar Viyogis of the world,” says Poonam Singh Jamwal, the Founder-Chairman of the Trust and the daughter of Group Captain Randhir Singh.
Art is a dynamic platform and the youth of today are in an ever-evolving era of communication that presents artists unique opportunities to share their talent with the world, mould and re-mould stories, emotions and narratives through multiple mediums. In order to harness this phenomenon, the KVM Trust confers the annual Prem Jamwal Innovation in Art award, inviting entries from across the country, but most importantly, offering artists the support to hone their craft as well as a stage to enthrall.
India has always been the centre of cultural confluence, its diversity its biggest strength. The KVM Trust wants to do its part to support a ‘Vishwa Kutumb’ of art, provide energy and encouragement to talent and in the process preserve the dying languages of J&K and the culture they protect.