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Prospect of Khasi Literature

Posted in Notebook

The Khasi Authors Society has been demanding from time to time that the Sahitya Akademi, the premier apex body in Delhi should extend the long delayed recognition to Khasi Literature which has already matured over the years with substantial contributions to enrich the language to bring it at par with the other developed languages and literatures of the country. There is enough justification in this stand as the language is old with a rich oral literature. When a script was introduced by the great pioneer missionary, Thomas Jones during the yearly forties of the 19th Century, there arose immediately many gifted writers who brought out prose, poetry and other compositions in articulated forms which contributed immensely to the shape of literature for the future. It is worth mentioning that as early as in 1903, the language was recognized in the Entrance Examination of Calcutta University when no other tribal languages were developed to claim for such an honoured acceptance. In less than two decades since then, it made another significant achievement when the same University gave recognition for the language in the Degree Course. Today, it has traveled far to be at par with other advanced languages like Assamese by admitting students for M. Phil and Ph. D courses.
Though there is no two opinions that Khasi literature has built up a strong base on the sustaining power of its language, it is to mention that to built up a powerful literature, the focus should be more on the creative writings delving deep in the present socio-economic realities. It hardly can remain stereotype and only based on fables and legends or harping on past glory. The contemporary situation in the society is more vital as literature is supposed to be the mirror, which reflects reality. This literature should be accessible to many people and should also go out of the confines of the locality through translation to elicit appreciation of others. To build up such a literature requires assimilation of ideas from other literatures of the country and abroad. The trend is visible in many literatures of the world today as there is ever increasing demand for translations. Such an endeavor argues well for the growth of healthy literature. It is except for those who remain within conservative thought that assimilation of ideas would appear as “Corroding influence” on its exclusive growth.
Interestingly, the Khasi language has a history of evolution unlike other tribal languages of the country and possibly of the world. To many, it might appear that the language had a beginning only after Thomas Jones introduced a script for it in 1841. Prior to that, it was least known that the language had already much developed by heavy borrowing of words from outside. Those words were not only from Bengali but surprisingly included many Persian, Urdu words. This shows that the Khasis already had great flexibility and were not at all conservative. No other tribal dialect of the region whether belonging to various groups of Arunachalis, Naga or Mizo has borrowed even a fraction of the words during the contemporary period. This is certainly unique in the history of evolution of Khasi literature.
There is unusual view that the Khasi language owes its growth and development only from the time of the colonial era as earlier it had no script and so the question of literature did not arise. But this is a fallacious view as sufficiently enriched oral literature was already in existence. In the history of literatures, there had been many instances where written scripts came much later. In parts of India, stories and fables or even serious discourses were spread by word of mouth from generation to generation. Even now in certain remote and isolated parts of the country, sacred texts are still not reduced to writing as these are presumed to be divinely ordained!
As already mentioned, to build up a powerful literature, a great deal of flexibility is essentially required. There cannot be rigidity as unfortunately till recently the trend in Hindi literature had shown by divesting its association from a rich language like Urdu and leaning too heavily on borrowing liberally from Sanskrit. To cite an example, the official ‘Rastrabhasa’, is so much overloaded with words from Sanskrit that it becomes ludicrous as hardly any common people in the Hindi-speaking belt communicate in such overloaded language. Ironically despite the overdrive to popularize the ‘Rastrabhasa’, it has not gained the foothold even after several decades precisely because it did not have that realism that language cannot be stereotype and need to be acceptable to all.
It is for the Khasi authors to think anew to incorporate ideas from other literatures. A god deal of translation from other developed languages including English can be much helpful.
When literature is focused more and more on creative writings then it will be only a question of time when others will evince an interest on it. To get a wider readership, the Khasi authors must develop a broader perspective i.e. the works of Khasi literature have good materials for translation to other languages. Mere recognition by Sahitya Akademi will not suffice. It can at best fulfill an aspiration but the goal should be set aside to popularize the literature outside its own arena.
Creative literature is explicit in its meaning that it is concerned with social realities. Much talked of corruption, unemployment and collateral maladies, which afflict the function of a civil society, should arouse the consciousness of the people. Literature and society are not independent of each other rather they are correlated. The aim of literature is to create an ideal society and society too should endeavour to develop healthy existence influenced by the thought process. The end result is social awareness.
Literature encompasses also arts and culture. So far, there has been no worthwhile contribution in making art films. It will depend on powerful story lines. An art film based on a powerful story line and with appropriate direction and technical backup will be immensely popular after dubbing in English and possible in regional languages. One need not follow common gimmickry of trash Hindi films, which are after all not part of healthy literature.
There is one last word to be said for popularizing Khasi literature. A good glossy tabloid printed in offset printing press, reasonably priced, may be brought out. Initially, it might be a costly affair but a consortium may be formed to generate capital. Later, with the gain of circulation and advertisements, the cost can be recovered. The tabloid can be in the similar pattern of mass circulated regional magazines, which features short stories, serialized novels, poems, miscellany topics like sports, science etc. Undoubtedly, such a magazine will be much popular in Khasi houses.


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