Like so many other Pakistanis, I am Punjabi. But for some reason my parents never spoke Punjabi with me. They always spoke Urdu. At first, when I was young, I never really distinguished between the two. I understood both launguages, though I could only speak Urdu. But as I started to become mature and aware of my surroundings and who I was, I started to explore this “unknown” part of my identity. The first step I took was to learn how to speak the actual language. That took a while, but I will come back to that in a second. The second part then, was to investigate the origin of the language. I accomplished this to a certain extent but not to my full satisfaction. The third step was to research Punjabi poets and literature. It was after all of that, that I was then able to discover the true Punjabi culture and finally realize who I am.
After going through these various steps, I fell in love with the language. Not to the extent that I have become nationalist. Its a love that comes straight from the heart. I came to a point where I realized that at the end of the day, I would not be who I am, I would not be worshipping the God that I do if it weren’t for this language. To me, that is something profound. Now, having this love of Punjabi in my heart for a while, I began to reason why Punjabi is never spoken to children in Punjab (with the odd exception here and there). I had never really found the answer to that although it was right under my nose. I knew that, sadly, Punjabi wasn’t a recognized language in the Province of Punjab. It has no official status in Pakistan at all. I was sitting with a friend of mine in his car a few days ago, having a du Marier. He was on the phone with his wife. And I was very happy to hear that he was speaking Punjabi with her, as opposed to Urdu or English. After he was done speaking to her, I complimented on the fact that he spoke Punjabi with her. This lead to a discussion about the language. He mentioned that he had made the same painful observation I had, that Punjabi parents don’t speak Punjabi with their children. I asked him why that was. His theory intrigued me. His idea is essentially this:
The rule of the English in British India contributed to the development of an inferiority complex among the people. Urdu was seen as a “white collar” language whereas Punjabi was seen as a “blue collar” language. This inferority complex lead to the perpetuation of the Urdu language as a means of pleasing the English during the time of their rule. This inferiority complex is inherant in the Pakistani psyche to this day, especially among the Punjabi people in Pakistan. Evidence of this inferiority complex lies in the fact that in a household of Punjabi speaking people in Pakistan, Urdu is spoken at home despite the fact that Urdu is taught in Schools. Pashtoon people speak Pashto at home, Sindhi people speak Sindhi at home but for some reason, Punjabi people do not speak Punjabi at home. Having said this, if the language isn’t passed down from the parent to the child, the language risks the chance of dying.
And that is exactlywhat is happening to the Punjabi language in Pakistan. More and more people are starting to pick up Urdu as their mother tongue, rather than Punjabi. Less and less punjabi is being taught in homes and schools. The cornerstone of culture is its language. If the language is at risk, so is the culture. It seems that in Pakistan today, the Punjabi culture is slowly dying off as well, though not as fast as the language. Urdu is a language that will always be a part of Pakistan. It has Constitutional recognition as being the national language of the country, as Jinnah had chosen some 50 odd years ago. It is taught in schools all across the country, as it should be. Its poetry is read and appriciated by millions. Seeing the continuation of the domination of the Urdu language in Pakistan, it doesn’t seem that the language is under threat. Punjabi on the other hand seems to be on the losing end. For some reason, people do not see this indigenous language (Urdu isn’t indigenous to Pakistan) as being important enough to make a concerted effort to save.
Credit should go where credit is due. On the other side of the boarder, in the Indian State of Punjab (East Punjab), the prevailing language is Punjabi. Efforts have been made to resist the Hindi influence that the rest of the country is currently experiencing. Punjabi is the offical language of the state and it taught in schools and spoken in millions of homes. In fact, due to the large populaton of Punjabi people in Surrey, British Columbia, Punjabi is now being taught as part of the curriculum in publish schools. On average, more younsters of East Punjabi parents speak the indigenous language than do youngsters of West Punjabi origin. Moreover, this push of language has further led to the eventual preservation of their culture and traditions until the end of time.
Pakistan is in danger of losing one of the oldest languages in the world. And it is happening faster than we all think. People of Pakistani Punjabi origin need to take immediate steps to preserve our language so that future generations can appriciate where they came from and who they are.
This topic of interest developed a few months ago and was going nowhere up until a few days ago with my friend. I am sure that not all of my facts in this entry may be correct and so I plan to investigate more and conduct a through research of this idea so look forward to that in the near or far future. In the meantime, please enjoy one of Punjab’s cultual icons: The Great Arif Lohar, son of The Great Alam Lohar.