English-speaking elites of Pakistan & the “masses” they govern: Tongue tied – by Haroon Khalid

by admin

Source: TFT
Title: Adapted from a Tweep

Gurmukhi (Punjabi) script in Guru Granth Sahib

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Farsi script in Baburnama
Farsi script in Baburnama
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There was a law in our primary school. Anyone who spoke in Urdu was fined Rs 5. Teacher’s pets would sniff around the entire day smelling for potential culprits. We were expected to speak only in English; we were enrolled, after all, at an English-medium school. Our administration didn’t have to worry much about students speaking in Punjabi. The one out of a hundred who would dare to do this was immediately ridiculed by all the students and he would never dare to speak that language in school. We adopted that attitude and even in our O and A Level exams we considered Urdu a secondary subject which didn’t require serious attention as much as English or Physics. The result today is that most of us have adopted English as our first language, in which we feel most comfortable conversing, verbally and in writing. For most of us trained at such institutions, even recalling the complete alphabet of Urdu is a marvelous feat. Most of us can’t speak Punjabi. Today we dominate the political, social, economic, and business circles of Pakistan. We are “the cream”, as we were told again and again at school (in English).

We are “the cream”, as we were told again and again at school (in English)

And yet, despite my access to these avenues of privilege, all related to my knowledge of this language, I am an alien in my own land, estranged from what I am suppose to represent internally and externally.

17th century poet Sultan Bahu was adept in Persian, the English of that time, and wrote over 100 books in the language. But today his name is alive because of a poem he wrote in Punjabi

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Native speakers - Guru NanakNative speakers – Guru Nanak
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Today if I happen to sit in a public transport vehicle or at a truck dhaba I fail to communicate with the people around me. These are the people we refer to (in English) as “the masses” or, as a lot of people now like to say, the real Pakistan. I fail to appreciate their jokes, their music, their movies, etc. and they mine. Most of these people have never read the articles I have written. The only thing that we have in common is the green Pakistani national identity card. It makes me wonder about the futility of representing them and documenting for them the various aspects of our society in a medium which evades them.

This introspection began a few days ago while I was talking to a friend of mine, Iqbal Qaiser, the author of Historical Sikh Shrines of Pakistan. He told me that the famous 17th century Punjabi poet, Sultan Bahu, was adept in Persian, the English of that time, and wrote over 100 books in the language. However, today if his name is alive it is basically because of a poem that he wrote in Punjabi, Se Harfi. The reason for that is the language used in it. It came from the people, talked about them, and in a language that they understood. The people in turn rewarded him by keeping him alive forever. The same can be said about Baba Farid Shakar Ganj, Guru Nanak, Bulleh Shah, and many more. All of these Sufi saints were learned in the Englishes of their time, which were Persian and Arabic, but they adopted Punjabi because they realized that if they were to connect with the struggles of the people they would have to take up their language. Persian at the time was the official language of India. The struggles of the masses were against the Persian-speaking state functionaries. It would therefore have been ironical to use Persian, which was one of the mediums of oppression.

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Native speakers - Waris Shah
Native speakers – Waris Shah
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Native speakers - Bulleh ShahNative speakers – Bulleh Shah
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English today in Pakistan has acquired the status of what Persian did for centuries. It was brought by imperialist rulers and was used as a medium of subjugation. Being well-versed in English meant material progress, whereas knowledge of Persian, Arabic, or any other language receded to the status of unimportant ‘vernacluars’. In present-day Pakistan one notices a similar trend. Writers in English newspapers are paid better than their Urdu counterpart (Writers in Punjabi newspapers don’t get anything.) Knowledge in English opens all avenues, which cannot be said about the other languages. The problem here is not learning English, but embracing English at the cost of all the other languages, especially the mother tongue. This repudiation of a particular language is just not jettisoning a language but an entire culture and an entire section of the population that comes with it. For someone to understand the Punjabi culture it is important to read Waris Shah, Guru Nanak and Baba Bulleh Shah’s poetry. However, for the elite of this province, which finds it difficult to communicate in this language, pleading for a case for them to understand these is a far cry.

English today in Pakistan has acquired the status of what Persian did for centuries

During the days of Persian dominance there was a famous folk proverb in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa that epitomizes the resentment of the masses against the elites:

Rajia didh farsi bole

A satisified stomach speaks in Persian

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Roman script in Pakistani english newspapersRoman script in Pakistani english newspapers
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There is a famous folk story in Punjabi which still a lot of old people from rural areas recall. This is situated in the Gujrat region of present-day Pakistan at some time during the Mughal era. A young boy traveled from his house to get higher education. Naturally all his education was in Persian. Like any other educated boy of today, he repudiated his mother tongue and only conversed in the language of the elites. Once he fell sick and his mother was taking caring of him. In his state he kept saying aab aab. However, the mother being an uneducated woman didn’t know what he was asking for. Saying aab aab, the boy died. Later the mother found out that aab in Persian is water. Wailing over the dead body of her son, she said the following verse:

Aab aab kar moiyon bachra

Farsiyan ghar gale

Je jana pani mangda

Bhar bhar dendi payale

Oh my son you died saying aab aab

This Persian has destroyed houses

If I had known that my son has been asking for water

I would have served vessels of water

The example of Sultan Bahu sent me into a reverie. I could write 100 books in English, and yet after my death no one would remember me because I never belonged to my people. ?

Haroon Khalid is a regular features writer for TFT


Its same here too. May Anna phenomenon is required quite few times to bridge the gap, you have to find your own Anna though. We call it India Vs Bharat, what do you call this social problem.

Posted: Sunday, September 04, 2011 by Manish Joshi from India

I agree with you partially, with what you have written. I will give you an example: Dr Allama Iqbal who wrote more poetry in Persian than in Urdu and still he is one of the most renowned poet of Urdu, where as for Persian people Dr Iqbal is their Persian poet. I hope you understand what I am trying to say here. Well what I think the work (poetry) of Waris Shah, Guru Nanak, Sultan Bahu and Baba Bulleh Shah is so good and pure that it is still alive today, this not solely because of Punjabi language, it is because of the quality of their work. I believe if these saints have written poetry in any other language it would be as popular and soothing, this is because of the purity in their work. As for the regional language (Punjabi), I have strong believed that it is our (parenting) fault that our children don’t speak Punjabi. I belong to a Punjabi family living in Karachi, studied in missionary school (English medium). I remember my father and mother used to converse with us in Punjabi but between us (brothers and sister) we used to converse in Urdu or English, As a consequence to that I could understand and barely manage to speak Punjabi. It is a shame that my kids don’t speak or understand Punjabi because we (me and my wife) didn’t converse with them in Punjabi. This is a very serious matter, as there may be thousands of families who are facing similar dilemma and something has to be done to rectify this serious issue. I am clue less …………… waiting for some guidance and hoping that my kids could be what their fore father were. Rizwan

Posted: Friday, September 02, 2011 by rizwan ahmed from karachi

yes you are absolutely right.. that is why many languages died in past and are dieing. And they will die if we ,the people, and governments don’t take good and hard steps to save mother toungs and our own identity marks. otherwise these will surely becomes the things of history that once existed. for this article main aap kop mubarik baad dena chahta huun aur yeh umeed krta huun k aap ye kaam badastoor jaari rkhenge. allah karam kre…

Posted: Friday, September 02, 2011 by Vikram Brar from Toronto


Posted: Friday, September 02, 2011 by HARJIT SINGH from GREECE

Excellent observation. Same situation is destroying regional languages in India also. I though all Pakistani elite are adept in Urdu, due to its richness and vast amount of poetry.

Posted: Friday, September 02, 2011 by Dushyanth Rereddy from Virginia

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