Today, once again, the People’s Archive of Rural India celebrates both International Translation Day and our translations team that we believe to be the best anywhere for a journalism website. As far as I can make out – and am happy to be corrected on this – PARI is the most multilingual journalism website in the world. Thanks to a fantastic team of 170 translators, PARI publishes in 14 languages. Sure, there are media houses that produce output in 40. But there is a strong hierarchy within those. Some tongues are far less equal than others.

Also, we publish on the principle that every Indian language is your language . And this implies parity among tongues. If a piece appears in one language, it is our mandate to see it appears in all 14. Chhattisgarhi joined PARI’s family of tongues this year. Bhojpuri is next in a long line.

We believe promoting of Indian languages is a must for society as a whole. The linguistic richness of this country gave rise to the old saying that, over here, if at every three or four kilometres the water tastes different, well, there’s a different tongue to be heard every 12-15.

But we cannot be complacent about that anymore. Not at a time when the People’s Linguistic Survey of India tells us that this country, with close to 800 living languages, has witnessed 225 tongues die in the past 50 years. Not at a time when the United Nations claims that 90-95 per cent of the world’s spoken languages will be extinct or seriously endangered by the end of this century. Not at a time when at least one indigenous language is dying every fortnight across the world.

Watch a reading of this article in Indian Sign Language in this video, which expands our understanding of language, translation and also diversity

When a language dies, so does a part of our society, our culture, our history. With it die memories, music, myths, songs, stories, art, aural universe, oral traditions, and a way of living. It is the loss of a community’s competence and connection with the world, its identity and dignity. It is also a loss for the nation of its overall – and already endangered – diversity. So much of our ecology, livelihoods and democracy are all intricately linked to the future of our languages. The enormous variety they bring has never seemed more precious. Yet, their situation has never been more precarious.

PARI celebrates Indian languages through stories, poems and songs. Through translations of these. Many treasures have come to us from marginalised communities living in remote parts of rural India, each speaking in their own unique tongue. Our team of dedicated translators has been working to carry these – wrapped in new scripts and idioms, across many new landscapes, and far from the place of their origin. These are not one-way translations from Indian languages to English. PARI’s linguistic universe unfolds around a larger vision of diversity.

Today our Translations team, a minuscule representation of the astonishing richness of this country, have come up with one little gem from each of the Indian languages we presently work in: Assamese, Bengali, Chhattisgarhi, Hindi, Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Odia, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu. We hope you will enjoy this unity in heterogeneity, delight in its diversity.

A team of PARI translators celebrates International Translation Day by diving into the diverse world that we inhabit through and beyond our languages

Kabin Phukan’s idea of a nation in his poem ‘ Dekh rakhibo lagibo ’ is all-inclusive. His nation is made of people, geographies, histories, art and biodiversity of its forests. It is peace and pralaya ; it is punishment and forgiveness.

This one from Rabindranath Tagore’s Swadesh songs talks about assimilation, plurality and progress transcending a narrow construction of the idea of nation. The historic cauldron that is India comprises of varied races such as Pre-Aryan, Aryan, Sino-Tibetan and Dravidian, all inter-mixed.

Chhattisgarh’s poet of the people, Shri Koduram ‘Dalit’, in his poem ‘ Dhan Luwai ’, gives voice to the agonies of a farmer’s life and form to his dream village.

In an excerpt from the essay ‘ Muslimsamudayoma bolati ’, poet Sadiq Noor Pathan presents the richness of the Gujarati spoken by many Muslim communities across Gujarat. He shows an interesting mix of Arabic and Persian with the language, in tune with a long historical and literary tradition.

The poem by Kedarnath Singh, ‘ Desh aur ghar ’, presents the ongoing debates around language, identity and resulting dilemmas.

P. Lankesh’s ‘ Avva ’ turns the mother into a symbol not just of sacrifice but also of the courage and struggles of the most ordinary people of this country.

Kunchan Nambiar’s poem ‘ Syamanthakam ’ takes us on a journey across the states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, along with a man and his wife on their journey to find food. The verse offers a treat with a sprinkling of Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Konkani, Kannada and Hindi, interspersed with Malayalam.

Keval majha sahyakada ’ by Vasant Bapat is about a poet’s pride in his land. The not-so-important rivers, mountain ranges and folk songs that make the land his own as opposed to any metanarrative about the nation.

The poem ‘ Sabhytara Suryodaya by Biswanath Nayak questions the conception of a civilisation that leaves out the ideas of harmony and equality.

A voice of protest against the hegemony of a singular powerful language, and a voice of support for the languages of our mothers, can distinctly be heard in this poem by Surjit Patar titled ‘ Jurmana ’.

Subramania Bharathi, in his poem ‘ Murasu ’ sings of unity in diversity through the image of kittens.

Nettuti Prashna ’, a poem from Yendluri Sudhakar’s Chikkanavutunna Paata collection, is a profound assertion of self-respect of the oppressed in society.

The poem ‘ Rotiyaan ’ by Nazeer Akbarabadi illustrates how a mundane object like the daily bread breaks all the barriers of caste, class, religion, nation, gender that often divide us.

P. Sainath is Founder Editor, People's Archive of Rural India. He has been a rural reporter for decades and is the author of 'Everybody Loves a Good Drought'.

Other stories by P. Sainath
Illustration : Labani Jangi

Labani Jangi is a 2020 PARI Fellow, and a self-taught painter based in West Bengal's Nadia district. She is working towards a PhD on labour migrations at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata.

Other stories by Labani Jangi