The launch on Friday evening 28 March 2015 of the book Ti Bato Papye in 55 Languages + Mauritian Sign Language + Braille was an event almost as remarkable as the publication itself.
Let’s marvel at the book, itself, first.(But, even before that, a word of caution: I was involved in the idea from its conception to the launch, so forgive me if praise for others and for their contributions also splatters, incidentally, on myself and on me, as member of Ledikasyon pu Travayer, the joint publisher of the book, together with Rama Poonoosamy’s Immedia.)
As the title makes evident the book, taken as a whole, will be able to be read by strictly no-one on earth. But, and this is the marvel of it, part of it can be read by more than any other imaginable ordinary book.
What kind of a book is this, then?
The whimsical one-page poem by Alain Fanchon, original in Kreol, first published after he won the LPT Literary Prize in 1987, is about the almost universal memory of, as a child, folding and launching paper boats. The poem works at the level of a child’s poem but with a strong undertow of physical love between a man and a woman, and also at an existential level, invoking a kind of wonder at life being beyond explanation.
The Mauritian Society for the Welfare of the Deaf produced a wonderful DVD with Josian Zoile signing in MSL, superimposed on footage of paper boats floating on water, and what might have been a clichéd musical background, ends up being brought to life, itself, by the signing and the paper boats.The DVD of the signing slides out of a pocket in the double flap of the back cover.
Then the Lizie dan La Main association for the blind reproduced, by artisanal means,three pages of Braille, which you pull out of the inside back cover for all the 1,500 books published. So, it’s one book for everyone in Mauritius: the Kreol version, the MSL and Braille versions all-in-one.
And then 65 different people, world wide, have translated the poem, using mostly the English version by myself and the French version by Emmanuel Richon, both having been OK’d by the author, into their own language, thus bringing together people from literally every continent. The 55 languages really need to be listed, one under the other to appreciate the scope of the geographical “bringing together” of human voices into one book.
Korean (South Korea)
Each page is a separate bit of artwork, with the poem in its appropriate script (there are 21 versions in a non-Roman script) on a pale cream square. The cover design by Alain Ah-Vee and Gerard Mignonne is nothing less than divine. On a rough pale cardboard, a little paper boat in green sails past on a big wedge of the circular globe in dark blue, with concentric circles of the list of languages printed in white. The original book called “Ti Bato Papye” stands in miniature on the cover, thus recalled to memory by the design. The back cover, too, is a gem. There is a little paper boat superimposed on a green leaf. It’s almost like a dialogue of “leaves”.
Amongst the translators are the wonderful writer Ngugi Wa Thiong’o and the world-renowned linguist Tove Skutnabb Kangas; they are each a hero and heroine of the struggle for the dignity of all the world’s mother-tongues.Sindiwe Magona, the South African novelist blest the book with her Xhosa translation and Stefano Keller, the Esperanto activist both contributed not just the Esperanto version but also helped draw in others world-wide. And, incidentally, two Esperanto publications have already covered the brand new book in articles. The Bhojpuri version was the last creative work of the late Vidya Golam, the author of Voltiz tu.
A couplet each of 10 of the translated versions was read in serial by the relevant translator, present for the book launch, including a Braille reading for one stanza, in a montage that brought tears to the eyes of a port worker present for the launch, he told us; that a poem in Kreol could link up with the whole world like that was something that had never entered his mind.
The launch was touching in other ways. It was scheduled for 5:30 pm by the Fountain (La Fontaine des Amoureux) in Caudan. At 4:30 Port Louis had a downpour, with thunder and lightning, and it was exactly, almost to the day, two years since the 30 March 2013 floods that ended so tragically with people drowning at Caudan itself, and which also caused the book being launched to have been delayed because LPT lost just about everything to the floods. And then, as if by miracle, the sun came out, the clouds parted and the outdoor launch was ready to go. The Caudan staff had made every preparation for the event to run smoothly. And it did. When Rama Poonoosamy came to the mic to begin the formal part, he had some difficulty extricating people from the boat-folding that was the first part of the event. Guests were invited to participate in folding brightly-coloured paper boats, and then to launch them in the pool around the fountain. The activity is, in itself, quite hypnotic, and people just couldn’t stop making different kinds of folded boats.
Rama Poonoosamy gave a history of the whimsical project, and spoke of its place, in turn, in the history of the struggle for the mother-tongue. He included anecdotes about the national anthem, how it came into being, and how it is still now, not used officially in the Independence celebrations in the national language. Alain Ah-Vee, for LPT, gave a witty speech about the co-operation that was so rich in the process of bringing this book and this event to life. He quoted from the “Dedicated to ...” page that referred to those who “finn, pe, pou persiste” (“who have persisted, are persisting and will in future persist”) and said he was not going to make a speech about grammar. But it was people who have, against all the odds, been stubborn enough to write in an unwritten language, who are still now stubborn enough to do so, and who will in the future persist with this glorious labour of love. Until victory.
Alain Fanchon read the original poem, with a ravann background by Alain Muneean and Marousia Bouvery. And then the audience moved to a slightly more indoor space, where Hedley Essoo and his team had prepared two large plasma screens for a viewing of the MSL signing. And then there were snacks and book dedications. People present varied from adult literacy students to artists, pedagogues to poets, from enchanted children to enchanting pensioners. Organizations had delegated two or three members, too, including delegations from LALIT, the MLF, Sant Goomany, the BDS Movement, Lizie dan La Main, Terre de Paix, Playgroups, Abaim.
The book is available in all bookshops for Rs 250. It makes a gorgeous present.