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Why we must save one of Mumbai's oldest languages

In May 2011, the East Indian village or Gaothan of Mobai in Manori set up Mobai Bhavan, a museum that documented the culture and life within the community. Conceptualised by the Mobai Gaothan Panchayat (MGP), the initiative is now being carried forward through a range of activities — a revamped East Indian museum, which should be ready in three months, special East Indian stores in each gaothan (there are around 120 gaothans across Mumbai), and the first-ever English and Marathi dictionary documenting the language.


Recreation of an East Indian kitchen at Mobai Bhavan. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

Words for a cause
Explaining the purpose of the East Indian Dictionary Project, project manager Gleason Barretto says, “There is a lack of awareness about our 500 year-old community. Most of the members themselves are not fluent in the language. If it continues this way, within two decades, the language won’t exist anymore.”

Being a dialect of Marathi, the East Indian language doesn’t have a known script. Currently, it is considered to be one of the fastest dwindling languages in Mumbai. To create the dictionary, a cover has been chosen. There will be six teams consisting of four members who will focus on themes such as weddings, celebrations, grammar, religion and caste, occupation and food. For research, they will visit elders from the community and document the terminology.


The cover of The East Indian Dictionary has a design of the lugna or the traditional sari worn by the East Indian women

For young and old
After the dictionary gets released by May 2013, a soft copy will be available on their website. Barretto adds that the dictionary’s aim is to fetch recognition for the community. They hope to price it moderately and sell it through their stores during their festivals.

“Language goes hand in hand with culture, so by documenting the language we are recording our traditions for posterity,” he concludes.

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