This paper examines performances of translatability, practices of interlinguistic intimacy, and an apocalyptic language ideology among Pentecostal converts in Dharavi, Mumbai. State policy and public discourses in India construe subnational ethnic divisions in linguistic terms. The polyglot character of Mumbai is celebrated as the embodiment of India’s unity-in-diversity, the nation writ small. This image takes ethnolinguistic difference for granted, and reinscribes a public/private dichotomy; translinguistic sociality is construed as a practical consequence of overlapping lives and labour, while domains of kinship and intimacy remain defined by notions of “mother tongue.” At the same time, Christianity is widely understood as “foreign,” and as socially divisive by virtue of its commitment to evangelism. Enacting novel conceptions of language, meaning and their relation to man and God, Pentecostals unsettle these naturalized (and methodologically nationalist) assumptions. Standing apart from other religious traditions (Hinduism and Islam to be sure, but also mainstream Christianity) as well as the national imaginaire, Pentecostal translational practices perform the universalizability of the Christian message and undermine linguistically distinct selves.
Rupa Viswanath has been Professor of Indian Religions at the Centre for Modern Indian Studies (CeMIS) at the University of Goettingen since January 2011. Viswanath's research and writings address the practices of secular regimes, histories of slavery in colonial South Asia, the political economy of caste, and the problems of authority and translation in Christian missions. Her book, " 'The Pariah Problem': Religion, Caste and Welfare in Modern India," addresses many of these topics and is forthcoming from Columbia University Press.