Mozhi is an initiative that aims to bring together literatures from various Indian languages and provide a platform for critical discourse.
Mozhi was founded by two literary translators who translate between Tamil and English: Priyamvada Ramkumar (@priyamvada_ram on Twitter) and Suchitra Ramachandran (@artisuch on Twitter).
THE WORD MOZHI
Mozhi – pronounced ‘mo’ as in ‘moment’, ‘zhi’ as in prince with an American accent.
Mozhi is a Tamil word meaning language or tongue. It is also used to refer to a dialect, slang or patois. Any spoken or even unspoken word is a mozhi. While mozhi is a Tamil word, the idea suggested by the word mozhi is a universal language that transcends any particular one. It is in this sense that we are calling this initiative Mozhi. Mozhi is a transcendental space between and beyond languages, a space of pure meaning.
The -zhi/ழி in Mozhi/மொழி is derived from the sound zha/ழ, the retroflex consonant, produced by folding the tongue back into the mouth. The pronunciation is something like the ‘r’ in prince with an American accent. In English this sound is represented by the letter ‘l’ (as in the final /l/ in the name of the language ‘Tamil’), or more commonly by ‘zh’ (as in ‘Mozhi’/’Tamizh’). While the sound exists in multiple languages, Tamil and Malayalam are unique in that they have a consonant letter denoting this specific sound.
As far as sounds go, the retroflex consonant is unique. When enunciating other sounds, the tongue touches different parts of the mouth, or doesn’t move at all. In enunciating the retroflex consonant zha/ழ, there is perfect freedom. The tongue folds and moves in the space of the mouth but touches nothing. It is the space of perfect linguistic freedom that Mozhi envisions.
Mozhi will act as a multilingual space between languages where new insights, discoveries and collaborations can happen. It will bring together people passionate about creating dialogue between various Indian literatures. It will function as an independent forum that engages deeply with Indian literature. It will provide space for cultivating a new generation of readers, writers, critics and translators to talk about Indian literature.
- Enhance dialogue between writers, readers, translators and critics working in different tongues
- Form a loose collective of such like-minded people
- Discover new translations and give space to translation as a literary activity in its own right. While translation is not the end goal of our organisation, it will be a prominent means through which this space is reached.
- Provide a platform for writers from different languages and make space for readers to discover them cutting across linguistic boundaries
Mozhi is a space between languages, where discussion and discourse about literary works in all Indian languages can take place. We feel that there is an acute need for such a space today in the Indian literary landscape. Even though ‘Mozhi’ is a Tamil word, we envision it as a space where all languages are equal.
While India has many regional languages, each with a rich literary heritage and significant modern output, we hardly have any media for continuous and engaged conversation between writers, readers and critics operating in different languages. We often don’t know of it when a significant new voice or a new literary movement emerges in an Indian language, simply because such dialogue is minimal.
The only way these conversations can happen is through translations and discourse about the translated works. However, translators rarely speak – and one reason is because they don’t have a space to speak, and their work and contributions are seldom recognised and written about. This particularly applies to translators who work between two Indian languages – a Kannada-Tamil translator, for example, or an Assamese-Malayali translator. English could be a link language, but even there, only a few people translate consistently into English from Indian languages. Even the works that are translated into English (and therefore somehow ‘noticed’ within India and abroad) are very few. Often, what is translated and what is not ends up being a political decision. Therefore while some voices are centred, others are left out of the discourse.
Further, there is a real need for critical discourse that encompasses all contemporary Indian literatures. We hardly talk about what we like and what we don’t like in contemporary Indian writing; what is ‘good’, what appeals to our taste, and what does not.
Further, it is the case that when one talks about Indian literature in the West, more often than not, the conversations are about works written in English. While there are many reasons for this, an important one is that we don’t have sensitive readers, critics and translators talking about works from various Indian languages on a common platform.
We envision Mozhi as a space where we can provide a platform for such critical discourse. We envision being a loose collective of like-minded people working in and out of different Indian languages, talking about books, writers and ideas. We hope to cultivate a new generation of readers, writers, critics, reviewers and translators who can talk about Indian literature in all its various manifestations.