#DesiLitBiz: Rajasthani Bhasha Academy with Vishes Kothari

About Rajasthani Bhasha Academy:

The Rajasthani Bhasha Academy presents Seekho Rajasthani/सीखो राजस्थानी, the first formal Rajasthani language learning course online to facilitate the learning and teaching of the Rajasthani language. It is a long overdue response to the absence of the Rajasthani language from educational institutions such as schools, colleges, and universities, owing to its exclusion from the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India. Even the 2011 Census estimates that there are nearly five crore speakers of the language in Rajasthan. Until now, the only way to learn it has been as one’s mother tongue.

The team, including Vishes Kothari, comprises of people from various walks of life—academics, researchers, writers, and students—all united by a common purpose to preserve and propagate the Rajasthani language.

About Vishes Kothari:

A financial consultant by profession, Vishes Kothari has a keen interest in the oral and musical traditions of Rajasthan. He completed his masters in mathematics from the University of Cambridge, prior to which he studied at St Stephen’s College, Delhi, and King’s College, London. He has been associated with UNESCO-Sahapedia on projects focussed on the musical traditions of women in Rajasthan, and as a language expert with the Jaipur Virasat Foundation. His book-length translation of Vijaydan Detha’s stories from Rajasthani into English was recently published as Timeless Tales of Marwar. Read a brief Q&A about the book here.

The Rajasthani Bhasha Academy presents Seekho Rajasthani/सीखो राजस्थानी, the first formal Rajasthani language learning course online to facilitate the learning and teaching of the Rajasthani language. ~#DesiLitBiz with Vishes Kothari .@DesiBooks


Desi Books: First, let’s discuss the Rajasthani language. I only know what I’ve read on Wikipedia about its literary traditions and history going back 1500 years. I also know that, at one point, it was almost the same as old Gujarati. So tell us a bit about the history of how this language has evolved to where we are today.

Vishes Kothari: I’m no scholar on this subject, but from what I do know: indeed, Rajasthani and Gujarati evolved from the same ancestor—what Tessitori referred to as the Maru-Gurjari language—which was in use until the 15th century or so. From the 15th century on, Rajasthani and Gujarati took different trajectories.

Rajasthani today has many forms. Even within a geographical region which speaks a certain dialect, there are local and often hyperlocal variations. There is, however, an underlying similarity between all of them.

And, of course, there is a vast amount of written literature to be found in Rajasthani and an even richer oral storytelling tradition.

Desi Books: What are some of the main concerns that led to the creation of this organization? What will “preserve and propagate the Rajasthani language” lead to ideally? You’ve said in other interviews how the language doesn’t have constitutional recognition, isn’t taught in schools, isn’t the language of the urban elites or even the gram panchayats (local governing organizations), and isn’t even used in popular media like movies.

Vishes Kothari: Our main and immediate goal with the organization was to embark on the Seekho Rajasthani/सीखो राजस्थानी Project.

By “preserve and propagate”, we hope to accomplish the following:

a) Make working in the language and in related contexts accessible for scholars, researchers, social workers etc. Our current course uses one of the most widely spoken dialects as its base: Marwari. It is prevalent in vast swathes of Rajasthan—nearly 64% of the population speak this language (or one of its sub-dialects) as per the 2011 Census. Moreover, learning one dialect allows a reasonably easy transition to any of the other forms of Rajasthani.

b) Institutionalize the language and its learning such that the speakers of the language in Rajasthan and the bureaucracy will also take it more seriously—as a legitimate language which people teach and learn and are interested to learn and need to learn. Rather than just wishing it away as a non-issue, which is the status quo, unfortunately.

Desi Books: Let’s talk about the nuts and bolts. How exactly did this organization begin? Whose brainchild was it and why? How did the team come together?

Vishes Kothari: I had been thinking of such an organization for a while. During sessions and discussions about my book, I noticed a sense of regret and loss among so many about losing touch with the language. Moreover, every time on Mother Tongue Day or on Rajasthan Diwas, there would be programs where we’d encourage people to speak the language but there seemed to be no accessible way for someone to learn the language if they had not already learned it as their mother tongue or did not at least have direct access to a ‘native’ speaker. 

It all started to fall into place once Professor Devy agreed to be an advisor and Professor Rajpurohit started to get actively involved with the Academy. We were able to put together a very good team—some through personal networks and some by open application processes that we announced.

“During talks about my book [Timeless Tales from Marwar], I noticed a sense of regret and loss among so many about losing touch with the [Rajasthani] language.” ~Vishes Kothari on the Rajasthani Bhasha Academy’s origins #DesiLitBiz .@desibooks

Desi Books: What are some of the roadblocks or hurdles that crossed your path during the early phases? And how did you all deal with them?

Vishes Kothari: When we started, the main task at hand was the what, how, and where of the course itself. There had been no such course before. So we had no precedents. However, Professor Rajpurohit has a lot of experience with teaching language in the US and we leveraged templates from American universities, particularly those used to teach Hindi as a foreign language. Of course, the templates also needed modification but they certainly gave our thought processes more structure.

Desi Books: Tell us about the top one or two accomplishments that have taken place already.

Vishes Kothari: First, the course is up and running—that is quite an accomplishment when I look back at where we were seven or eight months back.

Second, our first cohort is fully subscribed! Other than from Rajasthan and the obvious diaspora hubs in India, we have people from Poland, Switzerland, Belgium, the UK, and the US signed up. We are very grateful for the response we have received.

Desi Books: What are one or two main projects or initiatives in the near future that you’re most excited about?

Vishes Kothari: First and foremost, we want to scale up the Seekho Rajasthani project. We want to reach out and train a hundred students in our first year and then scale up from there in the second year. For this, we are looking at more institutional partners—schools, universities, museums, diaspora organizations. We already have our first partners and they proved to be instrumental in our outreach, so we want to work with more institutions.

Another project the Academy might take on is a translation program or residency. We haven’t yet gotten to the stage where we can discuss specifics so this is currently more an idea in my head.

Desi Books: How can readers, writers, and translators best support the Rajasthani Bhasha Academy?

Vishes Kothari: Dissemination and outreach would be the biggest help for now. Of course, if the said readers, writers, and translators are from Rajasthan, we hope they will want to join our team at the Academy.

“. . . more institutional partners—schools, universities, museums, diaspora organizations. [. . .] Dissemination and outreach would be the biggest help for now. ~Vishes Kothari on how readers and writers can support the Rajasthani Bhasha Academy .@DesiBooks

Desi Books: Thank you, Vishes. And the usual closing question now: What’s your favorite desi book and why?

Vishes Kothari: A set of books I’ve spent a lot of time with over the past few years is the 14-volume Bata ri Phulwari by Vijaydan Detha. So it’s the first that comes to mind. The collection is based on oral storytelling traditions and focuses on common folks versus the usual royal heroic tales from that time. Detha was driven to write them by way of preservation. Also, he wrote them in Rajasthani versus the more prevalent Hindi language in the literary culture of his time—it was his assertion against that imposition. And he was also translating or transforming these oral stories into a written form. These are stories I’ve grown up with and enjoyed translating some in Timeless Tales from Marwar. A second translation is on the way.

“. . . the 14-volume Bata ri Phulwari by Vijaydan Detha. […] stories I’ve grown up with and enjoyed translating some in Timeless Tales from Marwar. A second translation is on the way.” ~Vishes Kothari’s fave desi book #DesiLitBiz .@DesiBooks


Learn more about the Rajasthani Bhasha Academy and Vishes Kothari.


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