Kamakabai, the oldest woman literate in the community, has taught her son and granddaughter the language

Atram Kamalabai, the Gond from Gunjala village in Narnoor mandal of Adilabad district, has a good reason to feel elated as she has been receiving unexpected attention from her compatriots as well as people from ‘outside’ even at the ripe age of 95 years. She is perhaps the oldest woman literate, functional literate to be precise, in the adivasi community having learnt Gondi alphabet and numerals some nine decades ago.

A chance discovery of some manuscripts written in the almost-extinct Gondi script in this sleepy village in 2011 brought her all the attention needed from language aficionados. She has now become a role model as well as a driving force for those who have taken up the task of propagating the ancient script especially within Gondi community.

“My father taught me Gondi at the age of five which helped me assess correctly the quantum of produce in our farm and any transaction thereof. I used Gondi in day-to-day life,” recalls Kamalabai.

“It’s a matter of pride to know your own language,” she observes, as an afterthought. “That’s why I taught Gondi to my son Mohpat Rao and granddaughter Annapurna,” she adds.

“This is a rare occasion in adivasi ethos in the country that three generations in the same family are able to read Gondi script. Kamalabai has stuck to tradition by passing on her knowledge to the future generations,” points out Professor Jayadheer Tirumal Rao, retired Director of the A.P. Government Oriental Manuscripts Library and Research Centre and visiting Professor at the Centre for Dalit and Adivasi Studies and Translation (CDAST), University of Hyderabad, who called on the nonagenarian at her home on Saturday. He, along with CDAST coordinator Professor V. Krishna and Dr. G. Manoja of Palamuru University are currently involved in translation of the Gondi manuscripts found in Gunjala. “Research on Gondi script could lead to deciphering of proto-Dravidian languages,” Professor Jayadheer Tirumal Rao opines.