Avik Gangopadhyay, an Indian author and columnist of repute, has 22 Published Books and 9 Edited Titles in English and Bengali to his credits. His uncommon treatment and interdisciplinary approach to Aesthetics and Theories of Literature, Language and Criticism, not-so-discussed historical issues, Philosophical and religious ‘ISMS,’ Indological studies, Editorial endeavour in 6 books of poems and short stories – received wide and unique critical attention in India and abroad. His works on Language Death, Diaspora and Trauma Literature, The Transcreative Psyche, Demystifying the Aryan Invasion Myth have earned him appreciation from Scotland, UK, Germany, France, Canada, Singapore, USA, Bangladesh and India.
Akhila Saroha: I would like to begin by congratulating you on the publication of “Glimpses of Indian Languages”. How has the response to the book been so far?
Avik Gangopadhyay: Thank you so much. Very positive. Readers who shared their views have praised most my balanced handling of such a vast treasure trove and my relating the spots of time with regard to Indian Languages and Culture.
The sheer beauty of the world of unseen languages and having a glimpse of culture through languages have tempted some to propose for a sequel volume. Some of the readers see the book to be a combination of success marked by respect, not only as an author, but also having elements to teach would-be writers. It is encouraging. With humility I accept all words of accolades.
Akhila Saroha: What led to the idea of writing of “Glimpses of Indian Languages”? Were there any events that inspired the work?
Avik Gangopadhyay: The first stimulus has been straightforward. There is no such title. There are 11 Encyclopedic Volumes with around Rs. 4000/- each, available in selected libraries in India and abroad, but I felt the need to create something that would make an easy entry into the unique world of Indian Languages.
The second stimulus relates to another book of mine, The Death of Language, a book with both Bangla & English editions, critics call it my “magnum opus”, a subject with which I have been associated for more than 30 years. In the book there is a chapter on Indian languages under threat, that later instigated me to broaden the perspective and made this book a reality.
My extensive travel through India, imitating and picking up accents and the fact that my father, who knew 8 languages also have had their respective contributions in shaping the book.
Akhila Saroha: “Glimpses of Indian Languages” is a product of your hard work of 27 years. How easy or difficult was it for you to study the facts as they may have altered over time?
Avik Gangopadhyay: So true, it’s really been a tough journey. Whenever you look or attempt something for the first time, I mean, with no predecessor as writers in the arena, research based works become too difficult. Relevant, dependable and up-to-date sources in this field are extremely scanty. I have also travelled extensively for collection of data across the length and breadth of India and also used my leisure-travels to pursue such research-oriented endeavor.
Factual details have changed with passage of time, for example, some languages that I have traced in Himachal in 1997 cannot be found physically in 2012 among the inhabitants and in the new generations.
Akhila Saroha: What are your views about present-day writing? Do you think enough is being written to make people aware of the changing systems of language?
Avik Gangopadhyay: I don’t think so. Language study and preservation of cultures through languages have still not been a study or discipline of interest among the academics. Projects in colleges and universities are more theoretical and often, I am sorry to say, practical field studies are conducted without even visiting the locales. Independent researchers are seldom encouraged as the facilitators or guides themselves are not aware of the canvas of the topic. Monitoring changes in systems of language is also a neglected aspect as students are not urged to indulge in such research-oriented studies.
Akhila Saroha: Are there any authors that you enjoy reading or any books which are your favorites?
Avik Gangopadhyay: There are several authors in various fields whom I love to interact through their books. Presently I am reading the books of novels and poems of the last five Nobel Laureates in Literature, namely, Svetlana Alexievich (2015), Kazuo Ishiguro (2017), Olga Tokarczuk (2018), Peter Handke (2019), Louise Glück (2020). Also I browse every week David Crystal’s magnum opus Language. I usually never stay away too from the writings of my father, Late Prof. Manab Gangopadhyay, Author and Academic, who introduced the “Idiom of Mind” in Bengali literary scenario.
Akhila Saroha: How would you categorize “Glimpses of Indian Languages” as its appeal seems to be to a broad audience?
Avik Gangopadhyay: Well, the 252-page edition has been globally released in both soft and print versions. Glimpses of Indian Languages is a broad yet critical survey of Indian languages, primarily aimed for the popular audience. It is primarily a reference, rather, a volume designed for dipping into and browsing. Individual articles are written so they can stand by themselves. Real depth of treatment of an Encyclopedia is of course impossible with such a format, but one can hardly get such a title browsing the internet. It is not surprising, therefore, that the work is strongest in the more applied areas. Many curious and intriguing pieces of information are presented. The volume is visually not just appealing but positively enticing. Maps and tables, scripts and graphs are used effectively, not decoratively. The illustrations are useful and informative as well as attractive. Thankfully, Glimpses of Indian Languages is widely appreciated, and is intended to do much to improve popular understanding of Indian cultural psyche through languages and linguistics.
Akhila Saroha: Your writing has given a powerful introduction to your potential as a writer. Can the readers expect any fiction work from you in the future? Please share about your future projects.
Avik Gangopadhyay: Yes, I am very much into it. After the success of Love in Siesta, my only collection of eight short stories that intend to capture Time framed by the evolution of human instinct with shades of changing socio-psychic rationale where man-woman relation remains in the pivot—be it in the enlightened dawn after primitivism, or eight thousand years before, or in five thousand B.C., or centuries later in 12th century A.D. or even in the run of the life of contemporaneity— presently, I have been working on a period novel set on 4th century B.C.
Akhila Saroha: What is the story behind the title of your work, “Glimpses of Indian Languages”?
Avik Gangopadhyay: I have been working on languages for the last 27 years and the success and academic accolades for my bilingual editions, The Death of Language (in English) and Bhashar Mrityu (in Bengali) have made my motivation dearer to contribute in this genre more with renewed enthusiasm. To me, Language, is the force which defines man’s intellectual nature, and determines his relation to reality.
The number of different languages spoken in India runs into hundreds. All the languages do not have associated writing systems. By and large, the languages of India use a script identified for the language though some languages are known to have utilized two or more scripts.
My intention is to provide a bird’s eye view on the brief history and characteristics of Indian languages, existing languages, their categories, reference to vigorous and developing languages, endangered and extinct languages, and the nature of ongoing studies in time present, with dependable statistical support, available in India and abroad.
My approach is to offer an authentic handy database and not to be encyclopaedic. A book loaded with statistics was not an obvious choice for me in the initial stage, as, in general, it is presumably taken not to be as a good read or at least interesting. But the words of some of my known respected scholars from home and abroad enthused me, when they asserted that, “people need a book before them to write books too” – and this erased my residual dilemma and I continued.
Akhila Saroha: How do you see the changing nature of language as time has progressed?
Avik Gangopadhyay: Language isn’t set in stone. It changes all the time — and in turn, our language changes us. Language is always changing. We’ve seen that language changes across space and across social group. Language also varies across time. Generation by generation, pronunciations evolve, new words are borrowed or invented, the meaning of old words drifts, and morphology develops or decays. As cultures interact, mix and trade, language shifts to accommodate these changes. New words and phrases are also invented to describe things that didn’t exist before for example in the case of Technology and new inventions. As mentioned, old words often acquire new meanings. The same is also true of those parts of vocabulary that are involved in fashionable slangs and jargons, whose raison d’être in promoting group, particularly age-group, solidarity depends on their being always fresh and distinctive.
Every language has a history, and, as in the rest of human culture, changes are constantly taking place in the course of the learned transmission of a language from one generation to another. Languages change in all their aspects, in their pronunciation, word forms, syntax, and word meanings, i.e., semantic change. These changes are mostly very gradual in their operation, becoming noticeable only cumulatively over the course of several generations. But, in some areas of vocabulary, particular words closely related to rapid cultural change are subject to equally rapid and therefore noticeable changes within a generation or even within a decade.
Akhila Saroha: Because of the educational difference in towns and cities, the language divide is slowly creeping in. What according to you, can be done to minimize that?
Avik Gangopadhyay: Well, it has been there from time immemorial. Usually identified as a natural difference in dialect and refined intonation or accentuation, what is significant has been the content of linguistic interaction. Whatever your native language, you’ve probably noticed that city people speak it differently than do country folk. When it comes to differences in accent, grammar and vocabulary, you might expect that region, culture, social class and gender would count for more than the size of your town. The city dialects have a lot in common, but the dialect and contents of rural regions and small towns are significantly different. It is not merely the educational divide, but city-life and country-life are different ways of living that get intertwined to their linguistic psyche. Perhaps this is the spice of diversity and multilingualism.
Akhila Saroha: If you were to describe your book in a few words without giving any spoilers, what would those words be?
Avik Gangopadhyay: Let me try: A 17-year endeavour of mine, involves a glimpse of the languages of India, be they are developing or vigorous, educational or threatened, languages for wider communication, shifting or moribund, nearly extinct, dormant or extinct languages apart from the regular provincial and national languages. Facts and linguistic outline of the scripts, dialects and languages of India, relation between language, culture and the speakers, issues in time past and present with regard to Indian languages, sources and preservation.
Akhila Saroha: What advice would you give to budding writers who may be planning to write in the same genre as “Glimpses of Indian Languages”?
Avik Gangopadhyay: I would only like to say with humility that please don’t stop reading. An informed writer is a phenomenon. Both the writers and the readers have to grow, be mature…they too have a duty to elevate their tastes…that too has a process…both have to undergo this journey. And specifically in this sphere, field study is a must to focus on the contours of languages and cultures.
Akhila Saroha: Thank you very much for sparing your time. I look forward to reading more books from you in the future. All the best.
Avik Gangopadhyay: So nice to talk to you. Thank you too. My pleasure…