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Language route to roots - 16 sign up for Tai Ahom course in Guwahati school

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MAITRAYEE BORUAH   |   Guwahati   |   Published 10.04.06, 12:00 AM

Guwahati, April 10: They are a motley crowd ? a student, a bureaucrat, a newly married couple and so on ? who meet every Sunday to learn a language.

No, not French or German, but Tai, the language of their forefathers and that of the Ahoms, the race which ruled Assam for 600 years.

Operating from the Tai Language Research Centre at Upper Hengerabari in Guwahati, the school is run by Rajdhani Tai Ahom Kala Sanskriti Vikas Kendra, an NGO committed to save the language from certain death.

?Once spoken by both kings and their subjects, today, the rich language of the Ahoms remains only in the form of few manuscripts and books,? said Bireswar Chetia, secretary of the NGO.

Tai, more of a court language, fizzled out after the Ahom rule ended. Towards the end, Ahom rulers were encouraging and patronising Assamese, as it was the language of the masses.

At present, the language is only used by balungs (priests), mostly in the rural belts of the state, during religious and marriage ceremonies. The organisation is trying its best to collect all the manuscripts to revive the language.

For Bhupen Lahan, the bureaucrat, who doesn?t miss the latest English bestseller, and Christina Chetia, a student of Rajdhani Public School, a regular at the disco and a self-confessed fan of pop diva Britney Spears, the Sunday classes have been a reawakening of sorts.

?It is an effort to learn and know myself. There is nothing sweeter than the mothertongue,? said Lahan, in his forties, who works as a project director in the Assam Fishery Development Corporation.

Unlike Tai, the state?s main language, Assamese, is an offshoot of Sanskrit. The Tai language has its roots in South East Asia, from where the first Ahom ruler ? Sukapha ? started his journey to reach present-day Assam.

The makeshift school-cum-research centre has applied for land from the government to construct its own building to enrol more eager students and develop it as the first full-fledged Tai-Ahom research centre in the country.

The school, with 16 students, now has only one teacher, Shanti Gogoi.

?We are imparting basic grammar and alphabetical knowledge to the students,? said Gogoi. ?The course will help the students read and speak the language fluently. We want Tai to graduate from being a fringe language to that of the masses and revive its past glory.?

The department of historical and antiquarian studies along with Gauhati and Dibrugarh universities is providing the school with reading materials.

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