There are certain inevitabilities to the arc of development: Villagers emigrate. Life's pace quickens. Languages sputter and die. Years later, a foundation raises money, curators are retained and visitors explore a museum wondering what life then was like.
But what, Devy wondered, if there were a pre-emption doctrine for cultural preservation? His Adivasi Academy, where the dictionary-making was unfolding on a recent afternoon, is based on such a doctrine.
In the academy's museum, adivasi culture is depicted as if it no longer existed. The exhibits feature kitchen implements, jars of adivasi foods, hand-tossed pottery, jugs for homemade liquor. If the idea were to explain adivasis to outsiders, New Delhi would be a better place. The goal is, instead, to impress upon adivasis that their culture is worthy of a museum, worthy of protection.
"If a community has a strong sense of identity and a sense of pride in that identity, it wants to survive and thrive," Devy said. "The new economy is important. The old culture is equally important. We should not throw the baby with the bath water."
Seems like a jolly good work!