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Lost words, found voices: A language revival adventure in rural Gajapati

Feature

By Jahnvi Rathod

11 December 2023

Jahnvi presenting the Lemtum magazine at the Mahendra Tanaya Ashram School, Koinpur. Photograph shared by Jahnvi Rathod

In the heart of Gajapati district lies a remote village named Koinpur, where the majority speak Saura language, which is deeply rooted in their heritage and culture. Amidst the picturesque setting of hills, springs and dense forest, Gram Vikas’ Mahendra Tanaya Ashram (MTA) school stands tall, nurturing the dreams of young minds from Saura speaking villages. Here, in this realm of learning, I embarked on a transformative 13-month rural fellowship that would forever change my life and inspire a project close to my heart.

Throughout my journey of nearly thirteen months as a rural fellow, I have been fortunate to have an incredible guide and mentor by my side. My domain mentor, Sharbani Chhatoraj,  has been an unwavering source of support, encouragement, and wisdom, making this experience truly enriching and rewarding.

From the very beginning, Chhatoraj recognised the significance of the project and offered valuable insights and expertise. Her vast knowledge and understanding of the local context, culture, and language were instrumental in shaping the direction of my efforts.

Coming from the bustling city of Pune, I was initially unaware of the existence of the Saura Adivasis and their unique language. It was only upon reaching MTA school that I realised the pressing need to revive and preserve this invaluable cultural heritage.

Observing the lack of usage of Saura among the students, who predominantly spoke in Odia, deeply moved me. I was driven to make a difference and create a comfortable space where the young generation could cherish and embrace their mother tongue, Saura.

With passion and determination, I started by immersing myself in learning their beautiful language. Struggling to speak in Odia, I dedicated myself to create an environment where students would feel at ease conversing in Saura. The students, seeing my commitment and genuine interest in their culture, gifted me the precious language they held dear to their hearts and hence started to talk to me in Saura. (Rome was sure not built in a day.)

Our project took shape with the goal of developing an audio-visual dictionary, bridging the language barrier and rekindling the love for Saura. Working together with the students, I witnessed their enthusiasm and active participation, as they engaged in creating videos and embracing Saura with newfound excitement.

The dictionary itself became a trilingual masterpiece, featuring English, Odia, and Saura, making it accessible to a broader audience. Saura is devoid of script. Students in MTA school write Saura in Roman script.

Stepping into the shoes of a student again, I found profound joy in being part of MTA school. The students’ unwavering affection and eagerness to communicate in Saura made every interaction a soul-stirring experience. The children’s genuine care, reflected in their joyful “LEMUTUM” (hello), making us realise that Saura is not just a language but an emotion.

As I step out of my room to make my way to the mess for a meal, a heartwarming scene unfolds before my eyes. The radiant faces of the children passing by greet me with their melodious voices, asking, “Gagalingpong?”—a question that transcends language barriers, for it means so much more than just “Did you eat?”. It reflects the bond we share, a connection we built over time that is close to my heart.

The children showing off their Lemtum magazine in hands. Photo shared by Jahnvi Rathod.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Priya Pillai edited the piece.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jahnvi Rathod, was an SBI Youth for India Fellow with Gram Vikas from September 2022 to August 2023. She dedicated her efforts to a project on promoting and preserving the Saura language during her fellowship in Koinpur, in the Gajapati district.

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