A SECOND-RATE MOTHER TONGUE

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Punjabi - A Second Rate Mother TongueWhen Macaulay was addressing the House of Lords in 1835 proposing such an educational system in India that would alienate Indians’ own systems in their own eyes and glorify those of the Brits; and that Indians be taught of the superiority of the English, people and language, over them; I think we can only clap for his genius rather evil-genius. How perfectly did the British induce slavery in the minds of the people of this part of the world, can be seldom compared with any other.  Even in the reign of Mughals, when there were no civil rights, as proposed by Europeans, no right to information, and no democracy, the ruling elite never treated majority Hindu subjects or any other non-Muslim nation as their slaves. Only Brits enjoy this privilege.

The inferiority complex did not limit itself to the systems only, it penetrated to the languages of the natives as well. Urdu, which was the linking language throughout this vast sub-continent, was replaced by English. So were the culture, heritage, dress-code hence everything ridiculed and the European lifestyle lauded. But what happened after partition or in other words when Britishers left, was more humiliating to the native soil. Stranger it was when brown rulers started disowning to what they really owned. This is the case with the most spoken language of Pakistan.

‘Punjabi is a language of fools!’ ‘Punjabi is a language of illiterates!’ ‘Punjabi is a language of rude-natured people!’ it is understandable when uttered from a non-Punjabi but what if these are the very thoughts of a common ‘educated’ Pakistani whose mother-tongue  is Punjabi? Sadly, the latter is true.

In the British Raj English language was the tool in order to govern the then united-India. But still every locality managed to defend its culture and language. After the Partition, English remained the official language and Urdu was ‘honored’ to be the National Language of Pakistan. Bengalis, Sindhis, Pathans and other never compromised on their nativity except Punjabis who were, and are displeased with their language.

If we look upon Urdu literature in the last century, we find Punjabis at the top, serving Urdu. Above all we see Allama Iqbal, Faiz, Manto, Ashfaq Ahmad, Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi and tens of others who are the stars of the sky of Urdu literature. Once Manto said, who is the most widely read Urdu story-writer, “my mouth hurts when I speak Urdu continuously but still I write Urdu.” Why didn’t he and the other Punjabi giants of Urdu literature try their lucks in Punjabi? Whatever the case may be but one thing is for sure and that is Punjabi language is not very popular among its own native speakers.

Since Alexander the Great Punjab has witnessed only three native legendary or outstanding rulers. The first one is Raja Poras who fought gallantly against Alexander until his own elephants defeated him but he succeeded in defending the honor of his soil. The second legend was Dulla Bhatti who fought Akbar the Great and chose an honorable death over slavery. The last native ruler in Punjab was Ranjeet Singh whose Sikh kingdom did not survive for long after his demise. Other than these , almost every Punjabi ruler bowed before every foreign aggressor. Today, the same is being done in favor of foreign languages.

Presently Punjabi parents discourage their children, that is, next Punjabi generation, to speak Punjabi language. Yes, this is true and how unfortunate is this! Punjabi has become a language only for a slang use. When people have to talk in an adult manner, they tune themselves to Punjabi. If someone has to talk rudely, he reminds himself a Punjabi speaker. On rest of the occasions, he tends to be ‘cultured’.

In case children speak Punjabi at home, they are not allowed to utter any Punjabi word in front of guests. In schools they are encouraged to speak English. If our society finds comfort in hypocrisy, it should not be surprising because our general behavior is based upon dichotomy. If the pace of neglection towards Pakistan’s most spoken language is not broken, the extinction of Punjabi as a spoken language in three to four generations, can easily be foreseen.