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Celebrating the Language of the Margin

Mithila, the geographical space which spills across the messy border between Nepal and North India in Bihar, witnessed intense political churnings from mid 2015 to early 2016. On the Nepali side of the border, people of the plains in the small country sprung up in protest against the longstanding hegemony of hill elites in the government and the political structure for the third time. In the wake of the promulgation of a new constitution in Nepal, the people from the southern plains demanded that the state recognize and make amends to the laws that put their status as citizens in a precarious position.

On the Indian side, the majority-wielding Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership battled against the longstanding political stalwarts of the region in the state legislative elections. The election campaign—a huge social media gimmick—threw open questions about belonging, religion and faith, community identity, and violence in a region with a long history of continued intercommunal harmony, ruptured by communal strife time and again.

The continued struggle in the Nepali plains against the government’s stern heavy handedness and the BJP’s failed attempts to bring the region into its realm of control, made us understand the immense power of the border, the margin, the periphery. While we did see a sense of defiance against the centralizing tendencies in the political developments, we also witnessed another kind of power mongering within the leadership of the region. As we followed the movement in Nepal and the elections in India, we realized that the language of representative politics and electoral democracy was inadequate.

The simple dichotomies, binaries and polarizations in polemical politics of the kind we witnessed in the Madhesh/Bihar were insufficient to speak about the interstitial spaces where people live their lives. We felt a deep craving, a yearning for a different kind of language, a language that slips, that dances off the words and the pages, language of the kind we may not even understand but only feel, only respond to with emotional reflexes: a chuckle, a gasp, a sigh, anything. This was the language of the margin.

We had long been thinking of a literary magazine and the need for it became even more urgent. ‘Mithila’ came to mean the margin, it evoked plurality of tongues and the notion of language as fluid, as slipping, mixing, changing with the course of time. From the late 1800s, there have been attempts to control and order language in Mithila. From the Darbhanga king’s attempts to superimpose Hindi (India’s major language) on the region and relegate other tongues to the household, to the attempt of language activists to classify the tongues of the region into proper and improper speech, from the Nepali government’s attempts to impose Nepali as the language of education, all efforts to subsume plurality in the region have slipped through. The languages still live such varied lives in the margins.  They share different levels of proximity and intercourse with each other, that it shows us possibilities about how we can live with difference.

Mithila is a referent. It is a symbol. It can speak to the times when we have felt that we don’t quite belong. It can speak of the times when we have felt the urge to lurk away and disappear or the times we’ve felt the need to stay. It can speak to the time when we liberated our anger and pain in ways that have only fed the creative river within us. Mithila Review is space for our collective celebration and playful engagement with language. We hope that it can speak in all kinds of ways.

– Ajapa

Photograph: Hargraves Crater, Mars / NASA

Mithila Review: Fund Drive

Ajapa Sharma
Ajapa Sharma is the co-founding editor of Mithila Review. Her poetry and nonfiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Strange Horizons, These Fine Lines, The Kathmandu Post and Studies in Nepali History and Society, among other publications. You can find her at Twitter: @Ajapa_Sharma Website: http://ajapasharma.com