Revive Punjabi, Support Urdu in Pakistani Punjab

پنجابی پھیلاؤ پر اُردوُ نوُں وی بچاؤ

Unfortunately, the start of the year 2021 has witnessed the launch of an extremist social campaign on social media about the future of the Punjabi language in Pakistani Punjab. A group of Pakistani Punjabi writers and scholars wants to revive Punjabi Language in Pakistani Punjab at the expense of kicking out Urdu from this province. These writers and scholars are advocating that Urdu is a foreign language in Pakistani Punjab and should be removed from this province’s government offices, schools, colleges and universities. Urdu should be banished from this province and in its place there should be a revival of the Punjabi language. They contend that Urdu should be kicked out of Pakistani Punjab and Punjabi should be taught as a Compulsary Subject in educational institutions of Pakistani Punjab. The assert that Punjabi language should be adopted as the official language in Pakistani Punjab’s government offices.

These writers and scholar contend that Urdu is not needed in Pakistani Punjab as a means of communicating with non-Punjabi Pakistanis. They are stating that Urdu no longer needs to be taught in the schools, colleges and universities of Pakistani Punjab nor should Urdu be allowed to remain the official language in Punjab Provincial Government offices, courts, provincial assembly et cetera. Instead, they argue that Punjabi should be made a mandatory subject in schools and at the intermediate level in colleges throughout Pakistani Punjab at the expense of Urdu. They believe that Urdu is not needed as “raabtay kee zubaan.” In other words, Urdu is not needed as a means of communication with between the Punjabi people and Sindhi, Balochi, Pushtoon, Kashmiri, Gilgati and Balti people residing in the various other provinces of the Pakistani Republic.

I feel that this is an extremist view and that BOTH Urdu and Punjabi should be taught in schools, colleges and universities of Pakistani Punjab. There could be many solutions possible. One option would be to make the teaching of Punjabi an Optional subject at the school and college level while keeping Urdu a Comnpulsory subject in schools and colleges. Another solution could be to make BOTH Punjabi and Urdu a Compulsory subject in schools and at the intermediate level in colleges.

I am all for an open, transparent debate on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube et cetera on this topic and I urge Pakistani Punjabis to remain polite in these social media debates and refrain from hate speech. This is the minimum that one can ask from a society nowadays.

His first assertion is that everything was fine with Punjabi language in the Punjab of the 18th Century. With the advent of British Colonialism in the 19th Century, Urdu was imposed as a foreign language on the people of the Punjab. This led to a systematic suppression of the Punjabi language throughout Punjab. The Urdu speaking Elite class and the Punjabi speaking Elite class colluded with the British colonialists to repress the Punjabi language and promote this foreign language Urdu in schools and colleges and universities throughout the Punjab. Mushtaq Soofi goes on to state that now the time has come for the citizens of Pakistani Punjab to take back ownership of the Punjabi language. Since Urdu was imposed on the Punjabis, therefore he argues that Urdu should no longer be allowed to be the official language of Pakistani Punjab. Urdu should not be taught in educational institutions of Pakistani Punjab. Instead, in place of Urdu, the Punjabi language should be taught everywhere in Punjab and Punjabi should become the official language in Pakistani Punjab’s government offices.

Mushtaq Soofi saheb is not alone in his views: Mr. Maqsood Saqib has also championed this view and he uploads facebook uploads daily to promote the viewpoint that Urdu should be kicked out of educational and government offices right away and Punjabi should be taught as the only regional language in all Pakistani Punjab schools, colleges, universities. No he says, no more Urdu as provincial “raabtay kee zubaan.” See the image of one of his recent facebook posts below.

Before I offer my critique of this extreme view expressed by Mushtaq Soofi saheb, I would like to present my interpretation briefly and to show the actual wording from Soofi saheb’s article in the Dawn. It is possible that I am interpreting his words incorrectly. I want my readers to judge for themselves:

Talat’s Interpretation of Mushtaq Soofi article in Dawn:

British Imposed Foreign Language Urdu on Punjabis; Adopt Punjabi and Banish Urdu in Pakistani Punjab.

Mushtaq Soofi’s actual words from article in Dawn, 18th January, 2021

(With the arrival of the British in India) a new education system was introduced the crucial component of which was the imposition (on the Punjabi people) of two foreign languages: English and Urdu were imposed as medium of instruction. English was meant for upper classes and Urdu for the lower orders. This proved to be turning point in the literary and cultural history of the Punjab as it started the process of alienating people especially younger generations from their mother language and cultural roots.

Urdu speakers who migrated from India and Punjabi elite were squarely responsible for de-culturation of historically rich people of Punjab in the name of acculturation.

Now the question is how to enculturate people at large, how to bridge the cultural divide? But still we can take the first step. We can make effort to retrieve the situation by owning what legitimately belongs to us; our language.

Let us accept that in the 19th Century, Urdu was a foreign language imposed on the Punjabi people and teaching Urdu in educational institutions but not teaching Punjabi led to suppression of Punjabi. I would like to point out, imploring my readers to keep a cool head and show Bardaasht/Tolerance, that there were some benefits as well when the British Colonials assumed power in the Punjab. At least with the advent of the British, we got the Printing Press and Classical Punjabi Poetry started being published in book form all over the Punjab as noted by the eminent Punjabi Scholar Syed Nazir Ahmad, the former Principal of Government College, Lahore who compiled Kalam e Bullay Shah and Kalam e Shah Hussain with funds from Syed Babar Ali (of Packages and LUMS fame) . . .

However, it is now the year 2021 . . . the British left about three-quarters of a century ago . . . We now live in a Pakistani Republic where Pakistani Punjab is one of many provinces. How can present day Pakistani Punjabis hope to communicate with the people of Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtun Khawa, Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Kashmir? The easiest way would be to continue to nurture Urdu in all provinces of Pakistan. About 160 years have gone by (British rule officially started in 1858 and ended in 1947) since Urdu’s imposition on Punjabis. It is time to move on . . . It is my opinion that Urdu is no longer a foreign language to Punjabis. Many prominent Punjabi writers have created literature in BOTH Punjabi and Urdu. For example consider Munir Niazi, a man of letters who was Pathan by ethnic descent and created avant-garde poetry in both Punjabi (Honee day Heelay) and Urdu. Majeed Amjad wrote in Urdu but also composed one poem in Punjabi (Airport tay; which was about his longing to join his second love, the German tourist Charlotte). Ashfaq Ahmad wrote short stories in Urdu but also wrote Punjabi poetry (Annee mayree tain naa hondee, jay mayray vich main naa hondee, Daadee day kole rhen-daa, ta-tee roti khaandaa, chulhay day kole bhen-daa). The famous poet Ahmad Rahi wrote poetry in Punjabi as well as Urdu ghazals. Similarly, Tanvir Naqvi wrote memorable Urdu songs (Aawaz day kahaan hai) as well as blockbuster hit Punjabi songs (Jadon haulee jaee lay-naa mera naan).

I believe the middle way would be to continue to nurture Urdu but also to make vigorous efforts to revive Punjabi by beginning to teach Punjabi as an optional subject in all private schools and colleges and convince the Pakistani Punjab government to begin teaching Punjabi in government schools and government colleges/universities. Urdu should be allowed to remain one of the two official languages of Pakistani Punjab and as a language of communication with other Pakistani provinces.

Mushtaq Soofi’s second assertion in his Dawn article is that the modern Punjabi writer living in urban Pakistani Punjab feels lonely (the word loneliness appears in the title of his article), isolated and cut off from urban Punjabi readers. Soofi saheb asserts that this loneliness is there because urban Punjabis do not know real Punjabi language and so cannot appreciate and understand the fiction and poetry being created nowadays by urban Punjabi writers. Before I say something about this assertion, I again would like to present to my readers, my brief interpretation of these views side by side with the actual words used by Soofi saheb in his article:

Talat’s Interpretation of Mushtaq Soofi article in Dawn:

Modern Urban Punjab Writer is lonely and isolated because Urban Punjabi readers do not know real Punjabi language.

Mushtaq Soofi’s actual words from article in Dawn, 18th January, 2021

Now in the culture’s barren wilderness created by inertial forces when rupture with the indigenous tradition is complete, modern poet writing in people’s language faces a real dilemma.

He is not understood by people in the cities because they are totally cut off from their mother language.

They are the ones who can appreciate the modern poetic structures but they fail to do so because they don’t know the language and its literary conventions.

I always thought that Poetry was soliloquy overheard and that expressing oneself via Poetry was its own reward. Same thing with fiction. Poets and writers are hit with the creative urge (in Urdu it is termed Aamad) and away they go, carried on the waves of their imagination and this creative urge . . . So, in my opinion the Punjabi writer feeling lonely is at best a minor issue in his/her creative life. That is like all Pakistani poets and writers of fiction feeling sad that no one reads any literary books anymore, that there are no book clubs, no neighborhood public libraries and that no one buys books any longer in Pakistan. When the urban Punjabi poet/writer gets the creative urge, he/she could care less about whether the urban Punjabi reader would be able to understand his modern Punjabi creation. That is how Literature works: you write and forget about your readers and what they would think and whether they would be able to “get it.”

In the final analysis, the present day modern, urban Punjabi writer’s main concern is not that he/she is cut off from urban Punjabi readers because these readers don’t know “real” Punjabi whatever that term means. Punjabi is Punjabi . . . yes, Punjabi maybe a bit different if you live in a village or small town from what is spoken in the big cities of Pakistani Punjab. However, in my opinion, believing that not many urban Punjabi readers can appreciate a well written modern Punjabi poem or modern Punjabi short story appears to be an extremist view. So, to start a whole social media campaign on this one point that urban Punjabi readers don’t know “real” Punjabi and the urban Punjabi writer is feeling loneliness because of this is ludicrous, laughable and a bit of daydreaming on the part of the otherwise learned Mushtaq Soofi saheb. I ask my readers: Do you really believe that the millions of people living in Lahore, Faisalabad, Multan, Gujranwala, Sialkot et cetera do not know “real” Punjabi and cannot understand and appreciate a modern urban Punjabi poem, song, short story or play?

Mushtaq Soofi saheb’s final assertion in his Dawn article is that rural Punjabis living in villages and small towns all over Pakistani Punjab do not know modern city life and cannot understand the poetic structures employed in modern Punjabi writing. Before commenting on this, I would again like to show my brief interpretation of this view of Soofi saheb side by side with Soofi jee’s own exact words:

Talat’s Interpretation of Mushtaq Soofi article in Dawn:

Rural Punjabis don’t understand modern city life, complex poetic expressions and modern poetic structures

Mushtaq Soofi’s actual words from article in Dawn, 18th January, 2021

And those who know the language, mostly in country side and towns are unable to make sense of complex expression which is in their language but beyond their comprehension due to lack of exposure to modern life.

I want to say in response that Mushtaq Soofi saheb is implying that all rural Punjabi citizens stay put in their villages and small towns like a Curfew or Section 144 (prohibiting gathering of 5 or more citizens outside their homes) has been in force from 1947 to 2021 in rural Punjab . . . small towns all over Pakistani Punjab have Book Shops and books, magazine, newspapers arrive in these small towns. The internet and cheap mobile phones have enabled villagers and small town inhabitants to know about modern city life through YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok and numerous web sites. Moreover, rural Pakistani Punjabis have been emigrating to various countries worldwide since the 1940s and 1950s. They have come back to their rural relatives and told them about the modern city experience. Also, do not forget that many urban Punjabis still have blood relations living in rural Punjab whom they talk to on the phone and whom they visit many times throughout the year. The world became a global village a long time ago Soofi saheb. Rest assured that rural Punjabis know a lot about modern city life.

Also, there is the phenomenon of many modern Punjabi poets having been born in villages and small towns: Munir Niazi in the small town of Khanpur, Shiv Kumar Batalvi in village Bara Pind Lohtian, Paash (Avtar Singh Sandhu) in village Talwandi Salem, Ahmad Rahi in Amritsar and Hazeen Qadri in village Raja Tamoli who went on to create modern Punjabi poetry which was accessible to, understood/appreciated by BOTH rural and urban Punjabi readers . . . To me, this proves that rural Punjabi readers can appreciate modern urban Punjabi writings.

About Dr. Talat Afroze, PhD (University of Alabama at Birmingham, USA, Molecular Biology, 1992) who is the author of this Blog post:

Writer A. Hameed (ڈربے ناول، منزل منزل افسانے، بارش میں جُدائی، نوائے وقت کالم امرتسر کی یادیں، بچوں کا ادب عینک والا جن پی ٹی وی ڈرامہ سیریز) was my Maamoon jaan.
Modern Poet Ahmed Mushtaq (close friend of Nasir Kazmi) is my relative, being the elder brother of my Phoophaa jaan Ahmed Ashfaq.