Suman K Sharma
Mithi Mithi Dogri Bolde n Dogre…goes a popular Dogri song. But meet any tiny-tot or her elders in Jammu and chances are that they will respond to your Dogri in Hindi or English. The borrowed languages are not always spoken correctly, as Himmat – my host’s three year old daughter – demonstrated when pointing out to the new 40-inch TV her father had purchased, ‘Yeh TV hum ka hai.’ That the child did not know when not to use the possessive adjunct ka did not seem to bother her parents who stood smiling proudly beside her. Their daughter was speaking Hindi after all.
Strange too is the penchant of the Matador drivers for mindlessly drumming Punjabi songs into the ears of already harried passengers. If drivers indeed wished to share their taste for music with their passengers, what is the wrong with Dogri songs? But perhaps Dogri music CDs are not as freely available in the market as are Punjabi or Bollywood songs. It is a Catch-22 situation. Matador drivers can’t play Dogri songs because there are only so few Dogri CDs to be had; Dogri music CDs are scarce since there are hardly any takers for them.
Or take Dogri books. Prof Lalit Magotra, Convenor of Dogri at the Sahitya Akademy, New Delhi, who is himself an author of over a dozen books in Dogri, asserts, not without a touch of pride, ‘Prior to 1940s, you could literally count the number of Dogri books published on the fingers of your hand ….’ Seventy years later, we see ‘an exponential increase in the number of books being published in the language.’ There is abundant truth in what Prof Magotra claims. To cite just one instance, we have Inderjeet Kesar, 75, who has been publishing a Dogri book almost every year, ever since he retired from Kashmir Administrative Service in 1998. Today he has six novels (including one in press), one collection each of short stories and essays and eleven anthologies of poetry to his credit. Keser says publication of each book costs some thirty thousand rupees. The flip side of the story however, in the words of Janak Khajuria, a theatre personality and activist of Jammu, is that the authors and poets themselves have to bear the cost of publication of their books, and then – which is the most aggravating part – expend some more money and energy to organise a public function, only to distribute their works free of cost to the audience.
Films do better, but only that much. Shiv Dutt’s Lakeer set a record of sorts by remaining in circulation well over a year. But perhaps citing Lakeer in the present context won’t be apt. First, it was a Pothowari film rather than a Dogri one. Second, being digitalised, it did not require the paraphernalia of a big cinema hall to be screened. Last, but not the least, the film could never have reached the remotest places where it did, but for Shiv Dutt’s own commitment, market tactics, resourcefulness and E-N-E-R-G-Y (all in capital letters!). In contrast, recent Dogri films such as Maan Nayeen Mildi proved damp squibs. Kunwar Ishan Singh, 27, post-production creative head, tele-serial Begu Sarai asks pointedly: ‘In Jammu, the highest ticket to a cinema show goes for Rs 120. With such returns, what financier or producer would think of sinking the kind of big money into production of a Dogri film to match a glitzy Bollywood film?’ No wonder that even Shiv Dutt has yet to show the courage to produce a full length Dogri feature film.
Nevertheless, it seems Dogri is going places. On 28 November, 2015, as a part of a three-day event held under the auspices of Samanvay Indian Languages Festival and the IGNOU School of Translation Studies, Prof Lalit Magotra recited three of his poems before a select gathering of academics and scholars from all over India. The venue was India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. It was heartening to see Dogri poems being spontaneously translated into Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali, Tamil, Telegu and even French (yes, French!) by young scholars. This writer had also had the privilege to recite his rendition of those poems into English and engage in a discussion with Prof Magotra on them.
Later that day, the lilting tones of Dogri music held everyone spell-bound when young and unassuming Promila Manhas sang snippets from a variety of folksongs while reading her comprehensive paper on Dogri Folk Music. What gave her exhilarating presentation a particular significance is that Jammu-based Manhas is primarily a school lecturer in Botany in direct contact with Jammu’s Gen X.
Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages is also exerting itself to promote Dogri, particularly to conserve the aspects of the folklore which face extinction. Dr Arvinder Singh Amn, Academy’s suave Additional Secretary, said that on the literary side, the bi-monthly Shiraza is brought out regularly and the Academy is also bringing out books on the lives of illustrious personalities. For propagation of culture, Jammu province has been divided into four zones. With colleges as the focal points, mushairas and ‘folk-melas’ are regularly organised to give voice to young talent. Performances of Phumaniyan, Masaade and Jadiyan et cetera are regularly organised. The Academy video-graphed 650 such events which were later televised by DD’s Kashir channel in seven episodes. Dr Amn narrated how Academy went an extra mile to curate Bhagtiyan, a dying theatrical form of Dogras. Today, there is just one Bhagtiyan talib around. The 84-year old doyen and his 80 year old brother were reluctant to give a public performance. Girdhar, the talib’s 40-something son, however allowed himself to be persuaded on their behalf with an incontrovertible argument. ‘A drunkard,’ Dr Amn said to the publicity-shy artistes, ‘falls in a gutter because of his overindulgence. He has no shame at all to go to the nearest theka the very next day for a pouch of hooch. You in contrast would be doing your ancestors proud by rendering an invaluable service to the coming generations in preserving your heritage.’ Happily, the Academy went on to organise a Bhagtiyan performance in the talib’s mohalla itself.
The Academy’s high point of propagation of Dogra culture was CM’s inauguration of Abhinvav Theatre at Jammu on 6 December. At a glittering ceremony attended by the State finance minister, MOS, Culture and hoi polloi of Jammu, Mufti Mahammed Sayeed declared his commitment to give wholehearted support to cultural activities in the State, while Finance Minister Drabu assured the audience that there would be no dearth of funds for the purpose.
Radio Kashmir, Jammu is doing its own bit to promote Dogri at national level. January, the coming year, Prof Magotra has been invited to Nagpur to recite a few of his Dogri poems, to be broadcast at the All India Radio. Hindi rendition of his poems by eminent Dogri/Hindi writer Chhattrapal will also be read alongside, as will be their English version, which this writer has attempted.
Of no less significance are the endeavours of Dogri Sanstha and similar organisations to bring Dogri language and culture to the fore. On the Basant Panchami day of the year 1944, in the parikrama of Dawana da Mandar, Dinubhai Pant read his poem Utth Mereya Desa/Hun Lo Hoi Gai (Rise, My Country/It Is Already Dawn). Present on the scene were his friends Prof Ramnath Shastri, N.D. Mishra, Dharamchand Prashant, Bhagwat Prasad Sathe and a few other like-minded Dogras. It was then that the Sanstha was born. Seventy-one years on, the non-profit organisation has stood by its four-fold manifesto: to develop Dogri language, build up Dogri literature embodying all aspects of Dogra life, conduct and publish research work into the history of Dogras and most important of all, forge links among the disparate sections of Dogra community and secure for them a place of respect among other Indian communities.
There is also Duggar Manch, founded in 1976 by an accomplished poet and theatre personality Mohan Singh and his friends Pritam Katoch, Parveen Kesar and Sham Raina. Duggar Manch was purely a literary organisation to start with, but it has since branched out to theatre. Mention may also be made of Dogri Research Institute established by the renowned linguist and research scholar Dr Siddheshwar Verma, Dinu Bhai Pant’s Dogra Mandal, Bandralta Sahitya Sabha of Ramnagar and Dattu Sahitya Sabha of Paddu Billawar. Most of these organisations have now been wound up for one reason or the other, but they also have contributed their mite to the furtherance of the Dogri cause. Dr Siddheshwar Verma established in his seminal article, The Place of Dogri in the Languages of India, that Dogri is a distinct language in its own right and not a Punjabi dialect as was mistakenly believed. Today, Dogri finds a place in the VIII Schedule of the Constitution. It is an elective subject at the secondary-school level and taught at post-graduate level in the University of Jammu. Dogri is an optional subject in the Civil Services Exam. Dogra Art Gallery is a lasting testimony to the efforts of the Sanstha’s members, Sansar Chand Baru, Vidya Rattan Khajuria and others – who diligently collected, restored and displayed old paintings, sculptures and manuscripts for public viewing. Prof Lalit Magotra, former president of Dogri Sanstha, recalls how Baru, Khajuria and Prof Shastri saved priceless paintings and door panels of the Poonchh House – Raja Moti Singh’s palace – from oblivion. Salvaging the irreplaceable pieces of art from the palace, they installed them in the Dogra Art Gallery for permanent display.
Prasar Bharati is on record having mooted a proposal to meet a long standing demand of Jammu’s Doordarshan Approved Drama Artistes Association (DAADA) to convert DDK Jammu on satellite mode with a 24×7 hours channel. An official letter dated 1 January, 2015, issued by Baiju Chandran, Deputy Director Programme, Dte General Doordarshan, New Delhi indicates that the proposal was submitted for the budget requirement well before the issue of the letter. Intriguingly, however, nothing appears to have happened on ground even after the lapse of a year.
Now to the issue at hand: when everyone – from Chief Minister of the State to the region’s opinion makers – seems to be so keen on promoting Dogri art, culture and language, why don’t we hear much Dogri in Jammu? Doordarshan’s dilly-dally approach to the implementation of its own decision is one clue. One may also cite the faux pax committed by overzealous functionaries at the inauguration ceremony of 6 December attended by CM and other dignitaries. As the guests started pouring in at nine in the morning, it was heartening to see that the first half a dozen rows of Abhinav Theatre were occupied by boys – dressed up in their school uniforms – beaming with anticipatory joy. But as the time approached for the ceremony to begin, the boys were unceremoniously asked to vacate their seats for some important looking personages who started pouring in. The truth came out bit by bit. The boys had been brought all the way from Miran Sahib Higher Secondary School to keep the seats occupied till the VIP invitees arrived. The young faces looked embarrassed as they quietly walked away, perhaps to the gallery. Where was the need to use adolescent boys as disposable fillers when plain paper inscribed ‘RESERVED’ could have served the purpose? To the boys, the insensitive action conveyed that they were incidental to the function which was actually meant for people in high positions; to the ordinary people present inside the theatre it said the authorities did not trust them to be cultured enough to let the reserved seats lie for special invitees. In both the instances involving Prasar Bharati at New Delhi and the State Cultural Department/Cutural Academy, there is a fatal hiatus between the declared intent and its implementation.
Government alone is not responsible for this sort of affairs. Says Aditya Samnotra, 25, an engineering graduate and a Civil Services aspirant, ‘Our parents force us to learn English in preference to the mother tongue. I think it is a hangover from the British Raj days. Have not countries like Germany, China and Russia done without English? The utility of learning provincial languages such as Dogri is itself questionable. And then the material in Dogri is so scarce on the internet.’ Samnotra has a point. We live in a Utilitarian world and Dogri ranks at the bottom of the four-tier hierarchy of languages, the other three being Punjabi, Hindi and English in the order of ascendance.
Dogri Sanstha has taken an important step to outreach children. With the patronage of Governor N.N. Vohra and financial help of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, the Sanstha has brought out a series of Dogri literary works translated into Hindi and English. Of special mention are the seven comic books in Dogri which Sanstha has published for children. While six of these comic books have been published in collaboration with Amar Chitra Katha, one, Baba Jitto is the first original Dogri comics brought out by the joint efforts of Board and Dogri Sanstha – a historical event in that it connects Dogra children directly with a rousing tale of a son of soil.
Language connects. When a mother coos joyously to her new-born in her own tongue and the infant smiles back at her, a lasting bond is created between the two, a bond that transcends all worldly considerations of utility. But mothers today begin addressing their children in the borrowed languages like English or Hindi from day one, weakening the first link of the bond. Later in life, the children would blame them for not inculcating in them the love for their mother tongue. But little do the parents care.
A couple of generations ago, the Dogri-speaking men were called ‘pandi’ (men who carry loads on their heads) and ‘mundu’ (menials) behind their backs. Perhaps, there is still a trace of shame in speaking the language in the sub conscious of Dogras. It is time for the parents consciously to rid ourselves of that shame and take pride in Dogri. Not for nothing did Indira Gandhi strictly follow a rule in her immediate family – inside the house the members shall speak in Hindi and nothing but Hindi. Could not we emulate that resolute woman who despite her flaws contributed to make India what it is today? As Padma Sachdev puts it evocatively –
Nikke phangdu, uchchi udaan
Jaiye thammna kiyan shaman
Chananiyan galein kiyan laaniyan…
Tiny are the wings, flight is high
How shall I sore to the sky
How shall I hug the moon.
A tall order it is for the Dogras. But they have to strive to achieve it.
Suman K Sharma