|Dr. Balwant Jani|
Gujarati is my language of birth. I speak and read the language fluently and write it with extreme difficulty.
I haven’t tried translating Gujarati into English so far, but I’m confident I’d be good at that.
Although my understanding of Gujarati literature may seem updated and contemporary, it is secondary and derived from my occasional conversations with my mother and my sister.
I’ve read a few short stories in Gujarati, but most of my reading was limited to newspapers and magazines.
After my father’s death 14 years ago, my link with the language and its literature has all but extinguished because I didn’t even speak the language at home.
To those who know my family, this may sound – well, blasphemous, if you will.
Then, something strange happened to me upon my immigration to Toronto.
I suddenly became acutely conscious of my Gujarati roots – not in a jingoistic way, but merely from an identity perspective; something I didn’t want to lose or give up on without an adequate appreciation and understanding.
It was with all this heavy emotional baggage from the past firmly strapped to my back that I decided to attend my first Gujarati literary event on May 7 in Toronto.
The event was organised jointly by the Mehfil Group of Toronto and Gujarati Sahitya Sabha of Ahmedabad.
Dr. Balwant Jani, a Gujarati litterateur of eminence, is on a tour of North America on a Delhi University-entrusted project of compiling information of Gujarati writers and poets in North America.
He has compiled a list of Gujarati writers in the United Kingdom. Dr. Jani has studied the Diaspora Gujarati literature and authored many scholarly works on the subject.
Dr. Jani, in his short but evocative speech, gave a glimpse of his scholarship, lauding the Diaspora writer for her commitment to continue writing despite remaining unknown and unacknowledged in India.
The event didn’t attract Gujaratis in any great numbers. With more than 100,000 Gujaratis, Toronto has probably the largest Gujarati Diaspora population than for any city in North America. There were just about 30 people in the meeting room and almost everyone above the age of 40.
But it was good to see both Hindu and Muslim Gujaratis at the event, and even a Gujarati from Karachi, who now lives in Toronto.
There were several literary and social luminaries including the eminent Jai Gajjar.
Several speakers at the meeting lamented the decline in the Gujarati language and decried the apathy of the local Gujaratis towards their language.
My views on this issue are different.
I believe that language is a living entity and it constantly evolves and changes. It may die, too, especially if it ceases to be the language that open doors to a better life.
In Toronto, I’ve met many second or third generation Indo-Canadians who don’t speak the language and barely understand it.
Indians are pragmatic and adaptable. They take to any language that will make them prosperous – which is why they learnt Persian, and have mastered English in a world where the stakes are global.
Appreciating a language and especially its literature is ultimately an individual’s choice.