Preserving culture through literature… academies in Delhi

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With a view to promote and revive consciousness about different languages, culture and literature, various academies were set up in Delhi and they all are doing commendable job. Here Smita Dwivedi brings a brief about Punjabi Academy, Urdu Academy, Sindhi Academy, Sanskrit Academy, Hindi Academy, and not to forget Sahitya Akademi. India is a country of diverse culture and languages. The People’s Linguistic Survey of India, says that though the official languages in India is 22, this is far lower than the 780 that it has counted and another 100 that its authors suspect exist. The survey also says that 220 Indian languages have disappeared in the last 50 years, and that another 150 could vanish in the next half century as speakers die and their children fail to learn their ancestral tongues.

The central and state governments are taking initiatives to promote and preserve these languages. A few academies established in Delhi, with this propaganda, include:

“We promote Indian literature; profitability is not the prime concern”
–says Dr K Sreenivasarao, secretary, Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi

Dr K SreenivasaraoSahitya Akademi has recently completed its 60 years of literary journey. In its dynamic existence, it has ceaselessly endeavored to promote good taste and healthy reading habits; to keep alive the intimate dialogue among the various linguistic and literary zones and groups through various activities; to increase the pace of mutual translations through workshops and individual assignments and to develop a serious literary culture through various publications.

The Sahitya Akademi was formally inaugurated by the Government of India on March 12, 1954. The Government of India Resolution, which set forth the constitution of the Akademi, described it as a national organisation to work actively for the development of Indian letters and to set high literary standards, to foster and co-ordinate literary activities in all the Indian languages and to promote through them all the cultural unity of the country.

Considering books as the most important aspect for preserving culture, Rao adds, “At Akademi, we publish 400 books every year. Out of which half are reprints of our existing books and other half are new and original books. As per our data, we are producing one book in every 22 hours.” The print run of the books depend on demand, they generally produce 1,100-2,000 copies for known languages and for smaller languages they print 300 to 600 copies. “It’s a technology era, we always keep final print format of book in CD and whenever demand is there, we can get more books anytime,” he adds.

Being a government organisation, the main objective of this institution is to promote literature, so profitability is not the prime concern, which is the reason most of their books are priced between Rs 30-100. “Sahitya Akademi publishes literary works of various authors of 24 Indian languages. Our books belong to niche segment; we don’t have to promote our books. People wait for them to come out. And we are always present at every book fair and we organise many book fairs as well,” he adds.

Its library is one of the most important and unique multi-lingual libraries in India with a rich collection of books on literature and allied subjects in the 24 languages recognised by the Sahitya Akademi.

The Library is well-known for its huge collection of books on criticism, of works of translation’ and reference books including dictionaries. Sahitya Akademi award is a literary honour, annually conferred on writers of the most outstanding books of literary merit published in any of the major Indian languages recognized by the Sahitya Akademi.

“Books educate and enrich our culture. Indian literature is a great example of national integration. Let’s take example of Gitanjali; there are innumerable translations available in all regional languages and include 37 translations in Hindi and more than 10 in Tamil & Telugu,” he concludes.

“Sanskrit survived all odds….so it will be there till eternity!
–says Dr Jeet Ram Bhatt, dy secretary, Sanskrit Academy and director, Dr Goswami Giridhari Lal Shastri Prachya Vidya Pratishthanam, Delhi

Dr Jeet Ram BhattVedas, Puranas, Upnishads…and almost all religious data of ancient history and mythology is preserved in Sanskrit language. Today, besides India, Sanskrit is being taught in 39 other countries. So, keeping in view the importance of Sanskrit language and realizing citizens responsibility towards preservation and promotion of the nation’s culture, civilization, language and literature, Sanskrit Academy was formed. Delhi Sanskrit Academy was set up in the year 1987 and since then it has been doing remarkable works. To start with, Dr Bhatt shares the importance of Sanskrit language, “Sanskrit has played a vital role in the development of all Indian languages and in the preservation of the cultural heritage of India. No Indian language can flourish without the help of Sanskrit. Sanskrit also provides the theoretical foundation of ancient sciences. Hence, it becomes essential to preserve and propagate Sanskrit for all-round development of India. And Delhi Sanskrit Academy is an autonomous organization of the Government of Delhi for the same purpose.”

Sanskrit schools and colleges established by academy are showing excellent test results and student numbers. “Academy has school, where we give education from Prathama (primary) to Archarya (Post Graduate) level. Our main intention is to save Gurukul way of learning and create job opportunities for the youngsters,” he adds.

Several literary seminars / conferences and pratiyogitaa (competitions) are regularly being organized by the Academy along with drama festivals and workshops. “To encourage writing by original Sanskrit poets / writers, we provide cooperation and financial assistance.”

Out of many measures that are being taken, the most interesting one is ‘Sanskrit Conversing Course.’ According to Dr Bhatt, anyone can proficiently converse in Sanskrit within few weeks time. “There are many students, who are enrolling in this course and even foreign students are also there,” he concludes.

“Urdu is not a language of Hindu or Muslim…it is a language of love, which will remain forever!”
–says Anis Azmi, secretary, Urdu Academy, Delhi

Anis AzmiThe name Urdu is of Turkish origin, meaning an army or a tent. It is a language of love and had inspired millions to make sacrifices in the long drawn freedom struggle and remained most popular language for centuries together. As Anis Azmi puts it, “There are over 100 Urdu medium MCD schools; 15 NDMC schools and around 15 private schools in Delhi and three universities – Delhi University, Jamia Milia Islamia and JNU offering higher studies in this language. And Urdu literate population is present everywhere in India, except North-East. So, there is always a demand for Urdu Publications. Moreover, Delhi being the cradle of this language, Legislative Assembly has passed Delhi Official Language Bill 2000 giving Urdu language as the status of second official language of Delhi.”

On asking about the inception tale he shared, “There was a long felt need to have an apex body to preserve and nurture the rich heritage of Urdu language. With these objectives in view, the then Delhi Administration established Urdu Academy in May 1981 under the chairmanship of lt governor of Delhi for the promotion, propagation and development of Urdu language and culture as an integral part of Delhi. With the passage of time, the Academy has made its identity as a premier Urdu literary, cultural and educational institution in Delhi. Ever since its inception, it has been playing a catalytic role in the promotion of the lingual, literary and cultural activities in Urdu world.”

Books and literature are integral part of any culture, so is there influence of Urdu. To which he explained, “Urdu has a strong influence on Muslim culture. And when we talk about most published book…it’s the Holy Quran, which is always in demand. It is the only book, which is available in 114 languages of the world. There are innumerable publishers of Quran in India who keep minimum profit margins, still it is a profitable venture. And Muslims remain attached to this language as they relate to it more.”

The Urdu Academy brings out two monthly periodicals titled Aiwan-e-Urdu and Bachchon Ka Mahanama Umang. Publication of these magazines was started in 1987. Now, about 25,000 copies of both magazines are circulated every month. “Academy has printed over 200 titles till now and every year, they publish 10-15 new writers’ books as well. We provide financial assistance to publish creative writing for the needy Urdu writers. Our books are always in demand in various universities and libraries. Scholars and researchers await our books,” Anis added.

Urdu Academy’s Dara Shikoh Library is a must visit place, especially for the research scholars. Academy purchases about 300 books every year. At present, this library has a precious collection of 45,000 books. The Academy intends to converts it into a National Urdu Library. “The PhDs in Urdu language is never completed without thanking our library as a source centre,” he shared proudly.

“We are proud of Punjabi literature…it’s larger than life”
–says J Dhawan, dy secretary, Punjabi Academy, Delhi

J Dhawan and Harpreet KaurPunjabi Academy, which was formulated with a view to promote and revive consciousness about Punjabi culture and literature, has been doing some great work since its existence in 1981. To boost and motivate culture in the form of literary work, which reaches the masses not only in India but world across, Punjabi Academy efforts are commendable. Punjabi region in India has its distinctive art and culture and seen a great deal of modernization in its culture during the last two centuries. The glow of freedom has further added luster to the social and cultural life of the Punjabis. To preserve this great tradition, Punjabi Academy has been taking some great initiatives through various publications activities. On asking more about the importance of books, Dhawan added, “We are taking all the required measures to save Punjabi, we are translating books in Punjabi for children. It is one of the objectives of the establishment that Academy would undertake translation of standard children books from Hindi, Urdu and other regional and foreign languages. We feel that to save any language, it’s very important to help the coming generation learn and understand it.”

Moreover, academy has taken special initiative to publish at least 10-15 Punjabi books every year. “The Academy also organises seminars and symposia on important literary, social and national themes with the participation of scholars and intellectuals of wide experience and great renown. These papers, after proper editing in book form, often become an epitome of information and knowledge on a particular subject. Apart from these, books of short stories and anthologies of poems are also published,” informed Harpreet Kaur, research and publication officer, Punjabi Academy.

“We also bring out two bi-monthly magazines titled Samdarshi and Sikhia Sandesh (kids), in which high quality literature is published for intellectual enrichment of Punjabi readers. Samdarshi is prestigious magazine catering to the needs of literature and the intelligentsia,” she further added.

Punjab has produced some of the greatest writers and poets like Khushwant Singh and Amrita Pritam and in a wish to nurture fresh talent to take Punjabi art to greater heights, they are also reviving old Punjabi literature. “The Punjabi short stories and poems of well known authors are propagated through the medium of English, Hindi and other modern Indian languages. It is also envisaged to publish Punjabi translations of renowned titles in English and modern Indian languages for the benefit of Punjabi masses,” she added.

There is also a well-stocked library. The books in Punjabi language, books written by Punjabi authors and books on Punjab are collected to make an impressive library for reference. Special efforts are also made to collect rare books, encyclopedia and ancient and modern documents including translation. “We are not just focused on updating our library; we have taken an initiative to develop libraries in the slum areas as well. Right now we have 42 operational libraries in slums. We keep newspapers, magazines and other reference books there as well,” he added

“Let’s keep on pride and glory of Hindi intact”
–says Dr Harisuman Bisht, secretary, Hindi Academy, Delhi

Dr Harisuman BishtHindi is the language of our ancestors; most of the great Indian literature by Surdas, Tulsidas and Kabir has been in Hindi. And it is our national language as well. To keep the pride and glory of this language intact, Hindi Academy was established in 1981 and has been one of the very first language Academies to be established in Delhi. Hindi Academy is involved in promotion and creation of classic, old and rare Hindi literature. It was established as an autonomous institution for linguistic, literary and cultural activities and since inception playing a constructive role in the spread of Hindi. “We are promoting our language in terms of literary and cultural development and also taking initiatives for preservation and promotion through our literary magazine and other publications,” shares Dr Bisht.

Under the guidance of Dr Bisht, the Academy has taken some wonderful initiative for the language promotion. According to him, the best way to preserve culture or language is by passing it to its future…i.e. the upcoming generations. “We are doing several theater workshops, where we do stage plays on the Premchand’s stories by young kids. In this way, we have brought Premchand closer to modern kids, who are just not much aware of Premchand’s greatness,’ he shares.

Moreover, they have a special forum, where young writers are given full support, “We support young and upcoming authors.

We provide them financial assistance and a free writing workshop facility as well,” he adds. The Library at the Academy is the main attraction, which has over 40,000 books, including rare work of literature. “Books have preserved wisdom, so read books and read Hindi books, to get closer to our great culture,” conveys Dr Bisht.

“We are on a mission to save Sindhu Heritage, world’s earliest civilization”
–says Sindhu Bhagia Mishra, secretary, Sindhi Academy, Delhi

Sindhu Bhagia MishraSindh heritage is very rich but not very well-known. The Sindhi Academy was established in the year 1994 for propagation, promotion and development of Sindhi language, literature and culture as an integral part of composite culture of Union Territory of Delhi. Ever since its inception, it has been playing a catalytic role in the proliferation of the Sindhi literary and cultural activities in the sphere of music, folk dances, seminars, symposia, short story, poetry, novel, literary criticism, drama, etc. “Our goal is to achieve all-round development of Sindhi language, literature and culture. During the last few years, the Academy has assumed a significant role and status of premier organisation in the same field,” shares Sindhu proudly.

“Books are important part of our mandate. Sindhi script is written like Urdu and it has 54 alphabets, which is the highest number of alphabets in any language. So, it is a difficult language to read and write for young upcoming Sindhis. We are publishing our magazines Sindhu Jyot and Jhir Miri in both Devnagari and Arabic script. Which is helping a lot in reviving this language,” she adds.

Taking another initiative to revive language, they have recently published Sindhi-Hindi-Sindhi Dictionary, “This was one of our efforts to make younger Sindhis aware of their language,” she says.

Access to digital media and declining readership amongst youngsters is a prime concern for Sindhi literature as well, “There has been a tremendous decline in the Sindhi readers; we have made marathon efforts to save it in every possible method and we are proud to say that it has revived. We also know that to survive, we need to go digital. Hence, e-publishing and e-learning are our main projects for coming days,” she shares.

On a concluding note, she wants to convey just one message, “Love books, there is no bigger and closer friend than books. They will guide and entertain you…”

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