In this dictionary, for each Malayalam word, one can find the corresponding words in Kannada, Tamil and Telugu. For words with several meanings, all different meanings are given in the other three languages. This way, there are about 1.25 million words in this unique dictionary.
“Two years ago, I was looking for a dictionary connecting these four languages. Coincidentally, I read about Sreedharan master in a local newspaper and wanted to get the dictionary from him. When I checked, I came to know that the dictionary was never published. I met him and he spoke to me about his journey. I found it really inspiring and thought his story will make a good documentary film. We started shooting Dreaming of Words around the same time,” Nandan tells DT Next.
Njattyela Sreedharan was born in Thalassery, Kerala in 1938. After dropping out of school, he started working at a beedi factory. “While working at a beedi factory in Palakkad, he learned Tamil. Getting a job as a blueprinter in Kerala Public Works Department helped him immensely in his study of languages. During this time, Sreedharan master got acquainted with Dr TP Sukumaran, a professor at Nirmalagiri College. He suggested the idea of compiling a dictionary of colloquial usages of words in Malayalam. Since he was already familiar with Malayalam and Tamil, Sreedharan master thought of learning the other two major Dravidian languages (Kannada and Telugu) and compiling a dictionary connecting all four languages. He learned Kannada from his colleague Govinda Naik and the noted writer C Raghavan master. For further studying Kannada, Sreedharan master went to Karnataka and stayed for several weeks for research. An officer at District Agricultural Farm, Taliparamba, Eashwaraprasad Rao and his wife Seethamma garu helped him in learning Telugu. For research in Telugu, he also travelled to Nellore in Andhra Pradesh several times. Interacting with local people at these places helped him in learning the nuances of these languages,” Nandan says.
In this dictionary, for each Malayalam word, one can find the corresponding words in Kannada, Tamil and Telugu. For words with several meanings, all different meanings are given in the other three languages. This way, there are about 1.25 million words in this unique dictionary. “Due to difficulties in proofreading and lack of experts to evaluate the work, instead of publishing all four languages Kerala Bhasha Institute (State Institute of Languages, Kerala) published Malayalam-Tamil dictionary in 2012. Even then publishing the dictionary with words in all four languages seemed nearly impossible. Now with the collective efforts from a lot of people, the entire dictionary will be published on November 1,” says Nandan.
In the 60-minute documentary, Nandan has focused on Sreedharan’s experiences. “There are many institutions and universities in our country with a lot of resources, money and manpower. But none came forward to do such an initiative. While making the film, I met PK Pokker, former Director of State Institute of Languages Keralabhasha Institute Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala and a few others. I recreated Sreedharan master’s journey and travelled to places he had visited for research,” recalls Nandan.
The film that was completed before the pandemic is now doing the rounds in film festivals and will be made available online soon.