By Ammara Ahmad

Tribuneindia : Apr 29, 2018

Are we losing the case for Punjabi and Punjabiyat on both sides of the border?

    • Description: Saving a language
    • Description: Saving a language
    • Description: Saving a language
    • Description: Saving a language

    Ammara Ahmad

    Punjabi language activists in Pakistani Punjab have placed their bets on making it compulsory in primary schools. This seems to be the most important step in their battle to save Punjabi from complete extinction.

    A week before International Mother Language Day on February 21, a conference was held at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, a prestigious private institute of Pakistan. The conference was in Punjabi and on Punjab’s literature, linguistic history and modern-day challenges. This was first of its kind and the organisers vowed to hold it every year, start Punjabi courses and other extra-curricular activities in the varsity. Punjabi authors and poets were brought together from across the diaspora. These included Mazhar Tirmazi, Amarjit Chandan, Gurmeet Kaur, Mahmood Awan and Manzur Ejaz. Some like Qazi Javed and Mushtaq Soofi joined from Lahore. These people attended other such events later.

    Many of them, who gradually befriended me over these few weeks, shared that the response is much more intense and vocal outside of Lahore. Students and youngsters contribute to the debate confidently, unlike LUMS, where almost no student from the university itself was present and even professors were reluctant to speak in Punjabi. In Lahore, the house would often open for comments and questions but the students would remain silent. There was sufficient audience in Government College, Lahore. They have an entire department dedicated to Punjabi. However, the students there too didn’t ask questions. There is little doubt that gradually, particularly in the last one decade, Punjabi has seeped out of urban Lahore.

    Written Punjabi has been nearly extinct for many decades, and now spoken Punjabi is also going. The street vendors have given up on it too. They now shout chants in Urdu. The Pakistani mass media, which has seen a revolution since the early 2000s, thanks to private channels, has snubbed Punjabi. There are few Punjabi channels that are local. Though the allure of Punjab has remained intact, romantic plays and films based in Punjab are in Urdu, while most actors in it fake a village accent. This is partly because the entertainment industry and news channels are mostly based in Karachi.

    Identifying oneself as Punjabi is also becoming rare. In the recent census, many Punjabis declared Urdu as their first language.

    Recently, a Nowrouz ceremony was organised in Lahore. Pushto, Hazara, Sindhi, Balochi and Pahari dances were presented. The only group that didn’t have any dance to present was us, Punjabis. We tried to groove to an Indian pop song, but to no use.

    Punjabi as a language and culture is alive in the smaller towns and far-off areas that too are swiftly becoming modern. The middle and lower classes prefer speaking Urdu due to mass culture and English to get better jobs. Punjabis in cities like Gujranwala and Sialkot speak Urdu to their children and desperately seek English tuitions for education purposes.

    Implementing Punjabi at school level will create more demand for Punjabi as a subject and turn its degrees into something moderately bankable. Thousands of new jobs can be created. This is how English remains a significant subject in Pakistan. Every school, private and government, needs several English teachers.

    During a celebration of Mother Language Day, a senior journalist was asked how much does he write in Punjabi. He complained that there are no alphabets to write Punjabi in. This, of course, is an exaggeration. However, most Punjabis are unsure of their mother language, are reluctant to learn it and almost embarrassed to speak it. A noteworthy scholar like Anne Murphy can be convinced to learn Punjabi, but not Punjabis themselves, because they have succumbed to the pressures of colonial powers. 

    Most of my aunts and uncles, who didn’t shift to Lahore, speak Punjabi eloquently. Their diction and expression are delightfully pure. While we, in Lahore, live in complete indifference to our loss of Punjabi, these relatives of mine are acutely aware of their inability to speak English. Both the scenarios seem tragic.