There aren’t many better examples of India’s diverse culture than its linguistic diversity. The country is home to 780 languages with over 120 of them holding the ‘official’ status. But the other side of the story is that India currently heads the list of UNESCO’s world’s languages in danger.
The constitution, in its eighth schedule, lists 22 languages as the official regional languages in the country. This series of articles is an attempt to focus on these 22 languages, their pasts and present, and cherish our linguistic diversity. We start the series today with Assamese.
The official language of the state of Assam, Assamese has more than 13 million native speakers. Apart from Assam, it also finds a considerable number of speakers in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and even Bangladesh and Bhutan. It is widely regarded as the easternmost language of the Indo-Aryan family.
Unlike most other Indian languages, Assamese doesn’t trace its origins to Sanskrit. But due to the migration of people in large numbers from north India to the northeastern parts of the country, the language came under the influence of Sanskrit. The script of the language is very similar to the scripts of Maithili and Bengali languages.
The northeast region boasts of a strong literary history and tradition. Archeologists have recovered a number of copper plates and edicts dating back to the medieval times. In Assam, ancient religious texts were usually written on saanchi tree’s bark. Since then, the language has evolved considerably. A number of spellings in the Assamese language don’t follow the rules of phonetics. Hemkosh, an Assamese dictionary based on the Sanskrit spellings of words, was compiled by Hemchandra Barua in the year 1900. It has come to be known as the standard reference for the language.
Assamese remains one of the few regional languages in the country which has managed to hold its own over the centuries. Just earlier this week, the famous Tezpur University, in collaboration with the century old Asomia Club, decided to teach Assamese language to the students, researchers and officials coming to the state from different parts of the country. It would help break the linguistic barriers between the locals and the outside people residing in the state.
One of the organizers behind the initiative, Hemanta Lahkar, told TOI, “Our aim is to popularize Assamese among the people who are spending time in the state and will go to other parts of the country in the years to come. Learning Assamese will certainly bridge a lot of gaps. We believe this would act as a bond among people in this diverse country.”
Initiatives such as these combined with a sustained pride of the Assamese people in their mother tongue would ensure that Assamese thrives further in the times to come.
Mumbai, November 14: They are not-so-mute witnesses to history, clanging away at intervals of 15 minutes, as if asking us all to grab the moment because time was slipping by.
Perhaps in the daily, mad rush in Maximum City, not many Mumbaikars pay attention to the 16-odd time-keepers of the city, some of them centuries old. But they have seen dramatic changes as Mumbai evolved from a conglomeration of fishing villages into a burgeoning metropolis — a modern, global financial centre accommodating 17 million people that often appears to come asunder at its seams.
“I was once permitted to go up the tower to click Mumbai views, but came across a lot of dirt, pigeon droppings and even dead birds. If people are allowed to visit them regularly, maintenance will be better,” historian and archaeologist Mugdha Karnik told IANS.
He says Mumbai’s clock towers are an important aspect of any city’s history and should be more accessible to the masses, especially in Mumbai.
The most famous of the Mumbai’s Clock Towers is, of course, the Rajabai Clock Tower adorning the entrance of the University of Mumbai, which once played God Save The King and a Handel Symphony with 16 tunes that kept changing four times a day — now limited to chimes every quarter of an hour. But it still makes heads turn with people glancing at their own watches to match the time.
The iconic 280-feet tall structure, once visible from distances of 15 km, entered the 140th year of its existence in November. It has seen the reclamation of land beyond the present Oval Maidan, which pushed back the Arabian Sea by nearly 200 metres. Access to the top, which offered a panoramic view of Bombay, was stopped a few decades ago after it became a suicide point.
Other famous clock towers are at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT), Naval Dockyard, David Sassoon at Byculla Zoo, Crawford Market, St. Thomas Cathedral, BH Wadia in Fort, David Sassoon Library, Life Insurance Building Churchgate, the Khoja Shia Imami Ismaili Jamatkhana gifted by the Moloo Brothers of Zanzibar — all in good working condition.
There is a Time Ball Building clock tower in the Mumbai Port Trust, which is not functional, another at Sasoon Docks Gate in Colaba, Lakshmi Insurance Building in Fort, Fulchand Nivas Building at Chowpatty, Mhatre Pen Building and Vijaynagar Building, both in Dadar to the north, and a few stray ones in other parts of Mumbai.
Avid clock tower lover, conservationist and historian Aadil Desai said the ones at CSMT, St. Thomas Cathedral built in 1718, David Sassoon at Byculla Zoo, David Sassoon Library, Naval Dockyard, BH Wadia and some others are very well-maintained and continue to grab attention.
“Several conservation activists regularly keep in touch with the owners of these premises on the status of the clock towers and they are very cooperative as it is a part of the city’s rich heritage and history. The Mumbai Port Trust is even considering setting up a museum at the site,” Desai said.
Every clock tower is unique, each having its own history and importance for the city, he said.
For instance, Rajabai Tower was financed by “Cotton King” Premchand Roychand, one of the original founders of the modern-day Bombay Stock Exchange Ltd. It was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott on the lines of London’s Big Ben and built in nine years for what was then a staggering amount of Rs 550,000.
It is named after Roychand’s blind mother, Rajabai, who was a staunch Jain and needed to have her meals before dusk, and the clock chimes helped her do that without needing to depend on anyone.
The massive Mumbai’s clock towers above the CSMT — which was one of the sites targeted during the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks — was built in 1888 by Sir Frederick William Stevens, inspired by the Victorian Gothic architecture of London’s St Pancras Railway station.
It’s now a UNESCO world heritage site and the imposing clock sees millions of commuters hurrying past daily or tourists gaping and photographing it. Recently, the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has built a “selfie point” off the CST and the BMC headquarters to help people click pictures of the heritage precincts.
It was in the 1860s that Albert Abdul Sassoon, son of a Baghdadi Jewish philanthropist, came upon the idea of settng up a good library in the heart of the city. It materialised in 1870 as the David Sassoon Library at Kala Ghoda, near the Jehangir Art Gallery.
It is built with yellow Malad stone, like the nearby Army & Navy Building, Elphinstone College and Watson’s Hotel, with a proud white stone bust of David Sassoon adorning the library entrance.
The Sassoon Docks, with a large clock tower, is one of the oldest fishing docks of Mumbai built on reclaimed lands in Colaba and constructed in 1875 by Albert Abdul Sassoon as a prime fish unloading and trading spot, which remains operational till date.
The Crawford Market, renamed Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Market, is a stone’s throw from the CSMT and opposite the Mumbai Police Headquarters.
Blending the Norman and Flemish architectural styles, the freizes at the entrance depict Indian farmers and fountains made of Kurla stone, designed by Lockwood Kipling, the father of the legendary novelist Rudyard Kipling.
The Time Ball Building clock tower at Mumbai Port Trust is just one of the two surviving — the second being in Kolkata — and among the handful in the world, like at Greenwich, UK. Desai says it is an important piece of historical heritage and must be protected.
Perhaps it’s time to step in and preserve the Mumbai’s Clock towers which may otherwise become the victims of, well, time. (IANS)
United Nations, October 14: A day after the US and Israel announced they were withdrawing from the Unesco alleging anti-Israel bias in the organization, it elected Audrey Azoulay, a French-Jewish woman of Moroccan descent, as its next Director-General.
In the final round of voting by Unesco’s Executive Board on Friday at its headquarters in Paris, Azoulay defeated Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari of Qatar, winning 30 votes to his 28.
Audrey Azoulay will succeed Irina Bokova, a Bulgarian who ran unsuccessfully for Secretary-General of the UN last year.
In her vision statement or manifesto, while campaigning for the post, Azoulay wrote, “Unesco must assert itself with ambition as the conscience of the United Nations.”
Through “the defense of humanist values” the Unesco can bring new life to the UN’s “universalist project of peace and democracy,” she said.
Unesco is the science, education and culture arm of the UN family.
Audrey Azoulay has had a long career in arts and culture administration before becoming Culture Minister last year and leaving the job after the national elections last May.
She has been the deputy Director-General of the French National Centre of Cinematography and a legal expert on culture and communication for the European Commission.
When she takes over the helm of Unesco she must grapple with the fallout of the US leaving the organization.
US membership in the Unesco will formally end in 2018 but already in 2013 Washington had lost its voting rights because Congress stopped paying the dues to the organization starting in 2011 because it had admitted Palestine as a full member.
The US contribution was 22 percent of Unesco’s budget and the organization had to cut its programmes with US arrears in excess of 600 million.
The breaking point for the US came in July when Unesco called the Old City of Hebron and a sanctuary considered holy by both Jews and Muslims in the West Bank a part of Palestinian territory while designating them World Heritage Site.
The area is under Israeli control and Israel claims the area. Palestinians call Hebron Al-Khalil and the sanctuary is called the Tomb of the Patriarchs by Jews and Ibrahim Mosque by Muslims.
The campaign for Unesco’s top job started with 10 candidates and the list was whittled down to three this week.
Egyptian Moushira Khattab was the third candidate in Thursday’s fourth round ballot where Azoulay and Al-Kawari led and moved on to the final round.(IANS)
Education should work in the direction of expanding the horizon of knowledge children
There is a need to shift educational learning for school goers from content mastery to competency mastery
To compete with the children worldwide, they need to have an understanding that is beyond books
New Delhi, August 21, 2017: There is a need to look beyond the world of text books and inculcate in children qualities like empathy towards society, humanity, sensitivity towards other human beings and nature.
Baldeo Bhai Sharma, Chairman of National Book Trust (NBT), talked about nurturing creativity, innovation in young minds for nation’s economic and spiritual development.
He was speaking at the FICCI’s first-ever Children’s Publishing Conclave called ‘Scrapbook’. Mr. Sharma said that it is crucial to observe and spot the creativity in children. To not just bound them to the school curriculum. The Supplementary books in school should teach them about the life lessons, that they should be good human beings. Such books will help them in the developing a good and positive personality; it will also strengthen their thinking and imaginative skills.
In the conclave, he talked about how brave soldiers can inspire kids to be like that when they grow up and fight for their country someday. If not, even then such books will inculcate a feeling of patriotism in them. According to ANI reports, Mr. Sharma (pointing towards NBT’s efforts) said, “‘The Veergatha’ series had been introduced by NBT, which talks of the great acts of bravery by Indian soldiers.” The first series has a set of 5 books in English and Hindi, they are written so as to inspire the young minds and evoke feelings of patriotism in children from an early age.
Children are sometimes overburdened with books. UNESCO encourages learning in mother tongue, especially at the early stage. Sharma said that education should work in the direction of expanding the horizon of knowledge in a child and he agrees with UNESCO that teaching a child in mother tongue should be encouraged to retain cultural values.
Dr. Hrushikesh Senapaty, Director of NCERT, said: “There is a need to shift educational learning for school goers from content mastery to competency mastery, where competencies should be classified into character, intellectual and social.” He stressed upon the need to make the classroom environment vibrant where teachers would play the role of a facilitator- will provide them with an opportunity where they can develop and strengthen their competencies as well as communication ability. He added, “The Indian education system is moving from knowledge construction to knowledge processing with the help of technology, enabling children to explore, innovate and create.”
Appreciating FICCI’s initiative, Dr. Senapaty said that the goal of this publishing conclave is to produce content which is rich in quality and is innovative. It will enable them to learn in a collaborative environment. He added, “Indian children have performed well when they follow a prescribed school curriculum but to compete with the children worldwide, they need to have an understanding that is beyond books and focus on skills like building their applied knowledge.”
Ms. Urvashi Butalia, Chairperson, FICCI Publishing Committee and Director, Zubaan, said that the conclave focused on:
promoting book reading amongst young minds
government and children’s publishers- enhance learning outcome in educational space
policy advocacy- nurture collaboration between schools
addressed- gender misrepresentation in children’s books
concerns- children’s content in school books
implementing theory of multiple intelligence on children’s content- enhance learning outcome
changing role of technology in children’s content and its impact on K-12 (kindergarten (K) and the 1st -12th grade) education
Dr. A. Didar Singh, Secretary-General, FICCI, said that this platform will help to explore possible collaboration between children, content creators, offline and online service providers, publishers, technology disruptors, schools, teachers, parents, and policymakers. The conclave focused on the important aspects like learning requirements of an individual child, crucial role publishers can play to address it.
The conclave also had some interesting workshops for school children. The workshops had activities like creative writing, story-telling and received appreciation from the young minds.
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