Who Can Make Knowledge Claims?

We sit together in his small living room. There are no windows, and the little light that comes in is through small apertures where the walls meet the ceiling. There is no furniture either, and we sit on the surprisingly cool, immaculately clean cement floor. One of his children had placed a small cushion against a wall just for me. He sits on the floor, his legs crossed under him, pouring tea into my glass. A small stack of book is placed between us–it is his life’s work; a series on the history and culture of Gwadar, another on the ways of the mahigeer–the fisherfolk of the region of the Makran in South-West Pakistan, and a dictionary of the language of the sea. “It is a language they only speak when on the ocean,” he says to me, his eyes wide with excitement. “Not only do they never use it once on land, but those who do not go to sea cannot even understand it.” He sifts through the handwritten, photocopied pages, held together with staples and a rubber band, and runs his fingers over them. “It is not complete,” he adds. “Many words are contested by others, because they have many different meanings.”  I had heard this from others who had critiqued him for even trying to write a dictionary–the meaning of the words change by context, and even by who uses them, I was told. There seemed to be a healthy skepticism about the search for ‘accuracy,’ when it came to the language of the ocean, and people were ready to debate and discuss the variations and range of meaning of words. Another writer who had put together his own, albeit smaller, dictionary, had faced similar critiques. When I asked about this other dictionary, people enthusiastically engaged me about the many etymological errors, and offered me their understanding of the “correct” meaning of the words.

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