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Comics in Mother Tongue: Catching them young

Comics in Mother Tongue: Catching them young

Lalit Gupta

In a novel and subtle venture to draw children to their mother tongue, the recently published Dogri comics have also joined the bandwagon where Amar Chitra Katha (ACK), Diamond Comics, Raj Comics and Chandamama. Champak, Tintin, and Chacha Chaudhary (with Rocket, the dog, and Sabu, the giant) are already filling up the imagination of children.
Comics have been found world over to be a better way for children to retain information as compared to the class room teaching. Especially as for mythology and folktales, many of us can trace their first mythological story back to a comic and they remain as relevant today. Containing the elements of storytelling and fantasy mythology and legends as subject has been found perfect for comics.
Comics in Dogri have come at a time when underlying the euphoria of Dogri finally getting its due place as one of the national languages, there is a serious challenge facing the future of language of Dogras as the younger generations are hardly speaking their mother tongue.
The reasons for this disconnect between the children and their native language cited by sociologists and cultural scientists include how English is increasingly seen as the elevator to a brave new upwardly mobile world and promoted by parents and teachers alike. Another explanation is that any language holds relevance if it has economic importance. In that sense, in English, we have a father tongue, the language that helps us earn a living and people as rule gravitate towards that, and many a times it can be at the expense of the mother tongue.
English becoming the language of aspiration for the middle class and even lower classes and its promotion due to burgeoning number of ‘English medium academies’ even in remote pockets of State is relegating the mother tongue to secondary status in everyday life.
The impact of the social media where English is the preferred language, the emergence of the world-wide-web and other major information sources that are mostly in English, the difficulty of finding employment with deficient English language skills, the social vanity associated with speaking and writing in English- all these have contributed to the decline of Dogri amongst youth and children.
In this scenario of growing distance of children from mother tongue emerging as major challenge to future of Dogri language and traditional knowledge it encompasses, the recent publication of Two Comics Books in Dogri, surely a acquires a historic significance.
Published by Dogri Sanstha Jammu with financial support from Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, the comic books in Dogri language have been translated and published on format of Amar Chitra Katha Publications. Titled, ‘Pukhrooain Diyan Kahaniya’ translated by Shashi Pathania and ‘Dukhi Sher’ translated by Narinder Bhasin, the comics illustrated in bright colours and set to bold fonts, are first of its kind effort to engage the children with their native world of idioms, proverbs and similes through images and thereby indirectly introducing the cultural continuum enshrined in the mother tongue.
Talking about the publication of comic books in Dogri, Prof Lalit Magotra, president, Dogri Sanstha said that genesis of the project is linked with the Governor N N Vohra’s address during the conference on ‘Dogri Language: Challenges and Opportunities’ and offering to support through Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board to Dogri Sanstha to come forward with project aimed at popularizing Dogri among the masses especially the younger generation.
During the subsequent meeting of office bearers of Dogri Sanstha with the Governor and after his approval, we undertook three projects such as translation of representative Dogri literary works in English, Dogri Web site and publication of Comics in Dogri.
Initially we tried to find local talent of illustrators with idea of publishing the comics ourselves. But looking at very high cost factor, we approached well known comic publishing house of Amar Citra Katha.
For this purpose a committee comprising of S S Beloreia, Prof Lalit Magotra, Balwant Thakur, Jatinder Udhampuri and Prof Ved Ghai was formed with Prof Shashi Pathania as a co-opted member. After holding several meetings and taking view of the policies of Amar Citra Katha, it was decided to publish in Dogri the already published best and popular works.
After finalizing the titles, ‘Pukharooian Di Kahaniya’ and ‘Dukhi Sher’, Prof Shashi Pathania and Narinder Bhasin undertook the translation of the stories in Dogri language. At time of printing there was problem of fonts to get correct Dogri sounds for proper rendering of typical tonal structure of Dogri language in Devnagari script which was addressed by providing the publishers right fonts, and 2000 copies were asked to be printed.
Then there was question of pricing the comics. As the upward range prices of Amar Chitra Katha books was not considered suitable for our very first venture. With the result as compared to the upward price of rupees 50 and above each for Amar Chitra Katha comic books, we decided to price the Dogri comics at low and subsidized rate of rupees 20 for each book.
Quite excited about the overall response to the comics, Prof Lalit Magotra said that already 300 to 400 copies of comics in Dogri have been sold. He said that Dogri Sanstha has yet to tap rural pockets. Encouraged by the response, Dogri Sanstha has shortlisted two more topics like Rani Jhansi and Sant Kabir for forthcoming comic books in Dogri with print order of 4000.
Regarding possibility of having the Dogri comic books printed locally, he said keeping in view the fact that big printing houses with their pan-Indian market have their own policies about selection of stories and their content, we have to finally make efforts to create a pool of technical human resource such as illustrators, story board writers, editors, and printers etc so as to come out with comic books based on folk tales, and lives of local heroes etc.
Our intention is to introduce to the children especially those between the age of 8 to 14, Dogra geography, ethos, dress and other cultural references in form of comics for everlasting impact. For said purpose we have sought help and guidance of artists like T S Batra and as illustrators trained by him. The ex-students of the Department of Applied Arts, Institute of Music and Visual Arts like Subahsh Anand have been already approached. But it will take some more time to set up a mechanism for printing the comics locally, he said.
It is hoped that along with growing up with the images of Lord Hanuman lifting the mountain, or the Bhagavad Gita’s divine form of Krishna, or the bhakti-inspiring stories of India’s saints and sages, Birbal’s subtle wit in coaxing some sense into his master, Emperor Akbar, the heroic tales of Shivaji, Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad, the riveting stories from the Panchatantra and the Jataka Tales-which have left an indelible impressions on our psyche. The young children of Jammu region through the fantastic world of comics in their mother tongue would learn about the lives of local folk heroes and shaheeds like Baba Jitto, Data Ranpat, Bua Bhagaan, Veer Nari Naraatu, Pir Mattha, Vasuki Naag, Baba Surgal, Baba Phed, Kali Veer, Hazrat Syed Farid ud-din Qadri, Mian Dido, Zorawar Singh, Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah, Banda Bahadur, Mian Mohammad Baksh along with Brig Rajendra Singh, Comrade Dhanvanrtri, Malli Gujari, and many other heroes and personalities of times bygone and of our own times. Comics in Dogri would not only help children to make these immortal characters as sources of inspiration but also help in realizing their own identity as a proud Dogras; bouquet of myriad communities living in the region of Jammu.


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