Bhojpuri Gets Its Lettre de Noblesse

Mauritius Ke Bhojpuri Kavita Sangrah

By Sarita Boodhoo

With the launching of an anthology of Bhopuri poems of Mauritius on Monday 4th last at the Subramanian Bharati Hall, the Mahatma Gandhi Institute stands as a proud institution worthy of the noble task with which it has been entrusted: to preserve and promote Indian culture and ancestral languages and traditions. Bhojpuri hit new horizons with the launch of “Mauritius ke Bhojpuri Kavita Sangrah”. This is a major input in the domain of Bhojpuri literary publications, especially creative writing.

For sure, there have been quite a few remarkable and commendable attempts at writing poetry by some daring stalwarts such as Dr Brajendra Kumar Bhagat “Madhukar”, Dr Mooneshwarlal Chintamunee and others. Mr Madhukar Bhagat’s poetry in roman script regularly appeared in the columns of the Mauritius Times. No doubt, the Bhojpuri oral literature of Mauritius is a testimony to the richness of the language which was taken for granted since its implantation on Mauritian soil 177 years ago, with the arrival of the first girmitia labour from the Bhojpuri belt of the Oudh, Bengal and Orissa Presidency of the British Raj.

The immigrants in dire conditions had not many material belongings, but they had the flow of poetry ingrained in their veins, bones, marrows and sinews. This sense of poetry served to vehicle their soulful emotions, feelings, trials and tribulations. They had also brought along in their collective memory, the thousand-year-old oral traditions of Bhojpuri folk songs of different genres which are but an intense poetic expression of intangible cultural heritage. Coupled with this, the rich panoply of proverbs, idioms, sayings, folktales, puzzles, games, lullabies, songs associated with the seasons, “rites de passage” such as the “solar sanskars”, harvest and work.

Over the years, the “girmitias” and their descendants composed new songs – rich in poetical expressions imbibing their ethos and pathos, their traumatic as well as their joyful experiences over the Mauritian soil, nurtured with the sun, wind and environment of a new clime.

Language of esteem

With the development of Hindi as a language of esteem and its definite introduction in the school cursus, and emergence of Creole as a dominant lingua franca, Bhojpuri was slowly but unfortunately being driven to the backwaters of Mauritian life. But credit goes to the folk singers and tradition bearers such as the women singers of Geet Gawai at wedding ceremonies, birth celebrations (sohar) who have undauntedly from generation to generation, “contre vents et marées” continued to compose and sing Bhojpuri poetry.

The Ministry of Education, Art and Culture of the time introduced Bhojpuri along with Creole and other languages, as a medium of theatrical expression in its Annual Drama Competitions since 1982. This has given hundreds of groups and individuals the possibility to write good scripts for their plays and production in Bhojpuri. The Ministries of Arts and Culture, Education and Human Resources could with the help of the MGI through its dynamic and enterprising Department of Bhojpuri and Oral Traditions and underutilized Printing Press, edit and publish these plays and give them a literary value as a next plank in the Bhojpuri platform.

Some artists like Rudraduth Pokhun, Rishi Dev Rambally have left their imprints by publishing their compositions on  their own initiative. Others like Dimlala Mohit have preserved the sayings and proverbs in their publications again at private initiatives. Mr Preeaduth Mewasingh along with the Gowree brothers gave a new dimension to Bhojpuri in the late sixties. Mrs Seeta Ramyead with her fabulous “Pathar ke Lor” and other writings too has had a great contribution.

The Government of Mauritius set up a Department of Bhojpuri and Oral Traditions in 1981. The aim was to collect, preserve and promote Bhojpuri heritage. As well as to give an academic encadrement to undertake research. Dr Ms Suchita Ramdin, former Head of Department of Bhojpuri and Oral Traditions at the MGI, had along, with the production of the first LP in Bhojpuri songs, also published a rich volume of Bhojpuri oral literature entitled “The Sanskar Manjuri”. The publication of those folk songs gave them a literary lustre and saved them from a sure death.

The literary magazine “Vasant” published from time to time special issues consecrated to Bhojpuri prose, poetry and articles. The Jan Vani Hindi newspaper (2001-2007) also gave regular space to poetry, articles and prose in Bhojpuri.

Thirty years ago, the Department of Bhojpuri and Oral Traditions of the MGI had also undertaken a commendable and minute research in Mauritian Bhojpuri lexicon in view of compiling a Bhojpuri-English-Hindi dictionary. Tremendous inputs had been made by the research assistants of the Department. It is sad this masterpiece has not seen the light of the day yet. Did the project collapse? If so, why? This is a mystery. This monumental and gigantic work of immense academic value has cost the MGI a huge budget in terms of personnel, transport, equipment and other services. More than that, the loss of the rich legacy of Bhojpuri terminologies, linguistic expressions of a gone-by age.

More than 30 years have elapsed. It can be classified as history. This is a breach of contract and faith with the history of Bhojpuri language. Who will unearth now all those rich terms and vocabulary? I am sure that the new Director of the MGI Mr Bijaye Madhou with his vision, farsightedness and determination to make things flow can use his position and goodwill to reactivate the project or retrieve the manuscripts and original audiotapes of the work undertaken in those days. Otherwise it is the loss of a rich segment of our linguistic inheritance, but also “love’s labour lost”.

Mother tongue recognition and identity

Given the growing inferiorization of Bhojpuri with the passing of time, creating the feeling that it was not “proper” to use it in terms of language, with the social mobility of those whose mother language it has been, the Mauritius Bhojpuri Institute a voluntary NGO was set up in May 1981. To give Bhojpuri a grassroots uplift, place of pride and recognition. Several literary publications, cultural and social activities and festivals have been held. And work is ongoing. This is not the forum for me to elucidate its numerous achievements. It is an open book which all can read locally and internationally.

In the wake of mother tongue recognition and identity, there have been some negative and malignant campaigns by some to drive Bhojpuri under the carpet using statistics and so on as a pretext. If not wishing publicly for its certain demise! Despite the UNESCO’S decree to give even the least spoken language and dialect of the world a validity and visibility. It is in this context that the Government took the decision to introduce Bhojpuri in the school curriculum.

Tremendous campaigns of awareness had to be undertaken. We have here in mind the contribution of Mr Jugdish Goburdhun, President of the Indian Diaspora Centre, and the Soobarah brothers of the Linguistic Genocide and Bhojpuri Watch Group among others. All has not been obtained on a golden platter for sure. The rest is now history. Thus, the MGI was asked to prepare the curriculum materials for the introduction of Bhojpuri at Standard I as from January 2012. Coming to think of it, when will the Bhojpuri Speaking Union passed as an Act of Parliament, in May 2011 start operating?

Now that Bhojpuri has entered the school curriculum and is part of the language policy of the Government, there is a new wind blowing towards the rehabilitation and parity of Bhojpuri in the comity of languages in Mauritius.

It is therefore to the credit, drive and initiative of Mr Arvind Bissessur, young Lecturer at the Department of Bhojpuri and Oral Traditions along with the Acting Head of Department Mr Jay Ganesh Dowaking to have collected and compiled some 69 poems, all unseen, within a dramatic record of time! 54 “poets” including established veteran Hindi writers as well as young college students from the Prof Basdeo Bissoondoyal College have dared make a breakthrough in Bhojpuri poetry!

Mr Arvind Bissessur invested a lot of time, energy and effort towards the materialization of this project. He and his dynamic colleagues of the Indian Studies Unit deserve to be encouraged to have given this new fillip to Bhojpuri written literature. The Department of Bhojpuri needs to be empowered, equipped with more human resources. The sooner the better.

It is, as a matter of fact, a happy coincidence that Prof Ravi Kant Dubey, Chairman of the Bhojpuri Academy of Bihar, who was here in November last for a collaborative workshop between the MGI and the Mauritius Bhojpuri Institute on “the status of Bhojpuri language and its literature”, was here also for the launch of the “Bhojpuri Kavita Sangrah” of Mauritius. Were also present Mr CP Singh, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Jharkhand, and Bhai Ji Bhojpuria, Mr BN Tiwari from India. The MOU signed between the MGI and Professor Dubey last year can be thus given concrete form.

* Published in print edition on 8 June 2012

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