At 29, language ‘happens’ to Chinmay Vijay Dharurkar, the way poetry ‘comes’ to poets; he knows nine languages.

He has translated Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault and Ferdinand de Saussure into his mother tongue Marathi. If you ask him how many languages he knows, he will say nine – he can read, write and converse in Marathi, Hindi, English, Sanskrit, Telugu, Bangla, Gujarati, Urdu and Persian. After which he will add that besides these, he has an elementary knowledge of Kannada, Arabic, Konkani and German.

At 29, language ‘happens’ to Chinmay Vijay Dharurkar, the way poetry ‘comes’ to poets. “It was pretty late in Class 9 I realised that I have a flair for languages,” he says. Living in Aurangabad, where Urdu was commonly sighted on bill boards, prompted him to learn the Urdu script. Meanwhile, he realised that to understand Urdu better one needs to understand the meanings of Perso-Arabic words and he started learning Persian. As he went deeper into Persian, he realised that it was full of Arabic words and got introduced to elementary Arabic word-formation rules.

The trajectory of learning Urdu, Persian and Arabic that began when Chinmay was in Class 9, lasted until his Bachelor of Arts days.

While pursuing a BA in Sanskrit at Fergusson College, Pune, Chinmay enrolled for classes in Avesta, which subsequently triggered his interest in modern Persian. Behind the synagogue at Camp in Pune, there was an Imambara where the Iran Government conducted courses in Persian. Chinmay found a tutor for Arabic who used to teach in Poona College.

Chinmay’s interest in languages is primarily linguistic and structural in the sense that he is interested in the structure and grammar of the languages, the way languages differ and resemble. “It is not to say that I am not interested in literary and cultural aspects of language,” he adds.

Though his ear was trained to listen to Kannada as a child, he learnt the script out of self-interest when in Class 11 and 12. He followed this up by learning the scripts of Bangla, Gujarati, Tamil and Telugu, hoping to learn the languages some time later.

He got a good exposure to learn Telugu while doing his Masters in Linguistics in Hyderabad, where his roommates were Telugu and the atmosphere per say was conducive to picking up the language.

Bangla was learnt in 2009 with the help of teach-yourself courses and friends in IIT Bombay.

Meanwhile, picking up Gujarati was effortless with his background in language studies in Mumbai where one could hear it being spoken everywhere.

For Konkani, Chinmay enrolled for a course in Thomas Stephen’s Konkani Kendra, Porwarim, Goa. “It was fun learning Konkani in roman script.”

On the verge of submitting his PhD thesis in IIT Bombay, Chinmay says his work is a bridge, which is important as there is a dearth of Sanskritists who are linguists and linguists who are Sanskritists. “Trend in Sanskrit studies in India is about claiming whatever happens in the West to be already present here in Sanskrit. In some way I am working against that. But it isn’t only that. While in a way it is obvious that things of modernity cannot be present in the remote past, the engagement with language along with object and objective of language analysis are bound to differ, my work has two major aspects: (a) to come with a mutual critique of two ways of language analysis, the way Comparative Philosophy works. In larger domain this may be called Comparative Intellectual History. (b) It fairly introduces a Sanskritist with aim and objectives and engagements of Modern Linguistics and the other way around.”

Besides writing a sort of anti-narrative called na-kathaa in Marathi and poetry in Marathi and Urdu, Chinmay is interested in Philosophy, Literary Criticism, Translation Studies and Comparative Literature and has translated a couple of essays of Philosophy into Marathi. But what he would really like to do is to receive training to become a Masseur. “I am a free masseur for my friends and family!” he says.