From the cold Arctic, stories to warm your heart

Daniel Chartier, Professor, University of Quebec in Montreal, in Mumbai.   | Photo Credit: Prashant Waydande

The need to frame his culture in the context of a new one, brought Daniel Chartier, a professor at the University of Quebec in Montreal, in touch with the Inuit, a lesser-known population of Nunavik, up north from Quebec.

Once he began to understand the points of view of the people – only 15,000 in number -- he realised that the group had limited means to make their voices heard. Moved by this, he decided to devote himself to the cause of telling their stories in different languages and garnering visibility for their literature.

Last week, Mr. Chartier was in Mumbai to unveil the autobiography of Taamusi Qumaq, an Inuit elder known for preserving the Inuktitut language and culture, at the Asiatic Society Library in Fort. A project jointly undertaken by the University of Quebec in Montreal and Centre for European Studies of Mumbai University, the book was translated from French to Marathi by Jayant Shivram Dhupkar. Qumaq finished writing his autobiography in 1993, just before he died. It was published in French in 2010, before being translated to Marathi in 2019.

Qumaq’s was the second book in Inuktitut, that Mr. Chartier brought out this year. In 2011, he was instrumental in bringing out the translated version of the first published Inuktitut language novel, ‘Harpoon of the Hunter’ by Markoosie Patsauq. While the book was initially translated in French, a Marathi and Hindi version was released in2016.

According to Mr. Chartier, the Inuit are the symbol of human survival in the cold environment of the Arctic. Coming from a minority culture in the North America, he says, he is more sensitive to the issues of the Inuit. “They live among ice and animals, with no trees or plantation, and in a very cold climate. Interestingly, it makes them modest about life and the world around them,” he said.

However, despite being empathetic towards the Inuit, it took Mr. Chartier several years before he could communicate with them freely. For one, he did not know their language. Besides, the Inuit are circumspect in nature. “I was probably innocent and used my culture to bridge the gap. I thought the fact that I had an interest in them would be interesting to them. But they are an independent people,” he said.

The French culture that Mr. Chartier grew up in, is “very conceptual and abstract.” In contrast, the Inuit's life revolved around stories: “Knowledge is always translated through stories.”

So, the Inuit will size you up through your family and your story: where do you come from, what do you do? Finding out things for for themselves is an important part of this process. “It is said that in every Inuit family, there is at least one researcher,” said Mr. Chartier.

At the same time, asking them questions means you do not have the capability to intuit, to understand. “They find that people from the 'outside world' talk too much. Theirs is a culture of silence.” Surviving in harsh conditions becomes a priority, and talking is often a luxury.

While some Inuits have written, not many of their works have been published. Mr. Chartier did several rounds of libraries and launched a colossal hunt for texts and magazines that carried their writings. Qumaq’s writings, for example, were published as a journal in a magazine, before Mr. Chartier decided to translate it.

The first Inuit version of the book will be released this year. Around 20 literature books have been published from Nunavik. “There is no official account, but from among the Inuit settled outside Nunavik, there must be some 200 literature books,” said Mr. Chartier.

One of the reasons for bringing the Inuit literature to Maharashtra is the Quebec-Maharashtra agreement, while the other is “open-minded Marathi readers,” said Vidya Vencatesan, in-charge director, Centre for European Studies, Mumbai University.

“Translation is a way to open the ferry service between different shores. The Inuit cannot come to Maharashtra to meet the farmer, but their stories can talk,” she said, in the context of bringing the Arctic literature to Maharashtra and taking local Adivasi literature to the Arctic. “Both are the first inhabitants (of their respective lands) and given their relationship to nature and their strategies for survival, both these cultures will speak to each other,” Ms. Vencatesan said.

She herself was moved when she read Qumaq's autobiography for the first time. “He is exceptional. He did not go to a school, and yet he has written a dictionary. There was no other writer around then, and yet he has such enthralling writings,” she said.

Mr. Chartier said the translation will help to reverse stereotypes and create a diversity of voices and languages. “Each culture is essential to maintain the diversity of humanity. It is not by their numbers that the people are important, but by their language, points of view and literature.”

While Qumaq’s book will come out in the Inuktitut language for the first time this year, Mr. Chartier said another project to research all Inuit texts and write a new timeline with dates important to them is being planned.

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Printable version | Sep 15, 2021 11:59:25 AM |

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