Two Words that Changed a Man’s Life

Ganesh N. Devy,  a boy from Kolhapur did his schooling in Marathi medium. Within a few months of his getting into college, he had to drop out as the medium of instruction was in English which he found hard to comprehend.

He chanced upon to read The Good Earth by Nobel winner  Pearl S Buck; read it literally with the help of a dictionary and he figured out he could read and understand English. He gives one more try for college but with a new mindset.  Apart from his academic studies, he used to read 10-12 hours a day completing a quota of 200-300 pages a day which he did for the next 25 years. He converted his weakness into strength. His passion for literature led him to a B.A. in literature, two degrees in MA and a Ph. D. He was the professor of English literature at MS University Baroda.

His book After Amnesia fetched him a Sahitya Academy award. Then  he decided not to indulge in general reading. His passion of teaching helped him teach in schools for technical students and tribals as well. Having taught students from diverse backgrounds like  urban, rural, the technologically challenged as well as the gifted, he figured out that the beauty is not to segregate life from knowledge. He realized that  not teaching was the best way to teach. His approach to knowledge dissemination was based on the following:

  1. What he thought he knew.
  2. What he thought his students needed to know.
  3. What he thought the students knew and he needed to know.

As a research scholar,  he was going through the 1961 census which listed 1652 mother tongues whereas the 1971 census listed only 108. The 109th entry listed All Others and that changed Ganesh’s life forever and helped him find a purpose. He figured out that the number of dialects which were spoken by small groups, were from  tribal areas of Central India. In 1995 he started the Bhasha Research and Publication Centre. For 10 years he went on putting the healthcare scheme, microcredit schemes, establishing schools in the remote areas of Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh etc.

In 2005 he started a Newsletter called Dhol which was published in 11 tribal languages. He could sell 700 copies at Rs. 10 each. In the absence of wallets, the tribals kept the soiled, folded and crumpled notes either in their turbans, or tied them to their dhoti or the loin cloth. They were delighted to see the first printed sample of their language. For Ganesh it was a more profound revelation than knowing Socrates, Aristotle or Gandhi.  That time he decided that he should spend the rest of his life in recording these languages. Till that time the quest was intellectual now it was an emotional journey.

Economic development of a community is hampered if the languages are  not given official recognition. His project, The People’s Linguistic Survey of India shall consist of 92 books, 35,000 pages and 50 volumes; the project is expected to be ready by 2020.

A school boy intimidated by English language has come a long way who  is now  carrying out a pioneering and a Herculean task on compilation of Indian languages. Two words, ALL OTHERS, in a deadpan page of a census document helped Ganesh Devy find a purpose in life.

Interested readers can watch The Purpose of Life, an award winning speech delivered by this blog writer for Toastmasters International in 1997 on similar lines.

Rajan Parulekar|rajan@paradigm-info.com

Source: All Others -Two Words that Changed my Life, The Hindu Magazine, Sunday March 17, 2018. By Peter Griffin

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