Wednesday, June 18, 2008

My daily Grouse

For anyone growing up Pashtun in Pakistan nothing that Fasi Zaka raises in his Friday Times column last week is "brand new information" ...well actually not only for Pashtuns trying to speak Pushto in the public space...I have to confess there are an equal number of Pashtuns who also need to be "reminded that we live in a federation" and to calm down re: their paranoia regarding Punjabis (as in rich Punjabis arent just exploiting Pashtuns they exploit poor Punjabis as well)...sadly our relationship with languages in Pakistan is convoluted and reflective of how shizophrenic we all are when it comes to deciding on a "Pakistani identity" in what defines as "holy" (some find it sacriliegous if I recite the "neeyat"for my prayers ín Pushto) ...or that Pakistan's languages do not fit in with the Holy Trinity (English, Urdu et Arabic) therefore they have no place in the class room can one community announce that they will be read as uncivilised if they continue speaking as they did in villages...I remember asking friends why they didnt speak in Punjabi at home and one explained that her family in the village would wonder why they had to move to the city if they could not exhibit all the "trappings" that a saheb culture should promise the family speaks Urdu and a whole generation grows with the stigma that Punjabi= village=forgettable.

So sadly we grow up as others have said "illiterate in more than one language" (kind of ironic considering 2008 is the International Year of Languages) I speak Pushto but cant write it, read and pray in Arabic but will never be able to carry a conversation in it (unless its Oh People, Set Prayers and Give Zakat...really), and the infamous Persian class in BA where we only have to swot one book and answer in Urdu to get good grades..then there is the "foreign" language that all good Convent girls should be taking up (German in my case...but I speak German as I would Pushto) and my Urdu and English requires SERIOUS HELP when it comes to grammar et where does that leave me? What do I know of the languages of Pakistan? In fact what does anyone who is non-Sindhi or non -Balauchi or Seraiki know of the language and people? A "sadkey deeva" from Asghar Nadeem Syed or Sheiki et Alan Faqir singing "Humma Humma" or the ubiquitious Rajhasthani tapestry on our walls does not a language make...
I admit that I did reject Urdu as a "colonizing" language growing up...I hated that PTV dramas would drum in every evening that being "Urdu speaking" and spouting poetry was a sign of being sophisticated with "tehzeeb" and any "pakh pakh" or the "asee tusee" of my Punjabi neighbours was left to the character playing the servant or the comic villager....anywayss.... now when I hear snatches of Mir Taqi Mir or Ghaleb in a film I seriously regret not paying adequate attention to my ghazal course books and promise myself to get back to it one day.
There is something very interesting that Zia Mohyuddin said in an interview ..I think it was carried in Zameen about what language means to him. "I think essentially, language means to me...culture. Language is nothing but culture. When you use language accurately and when you are able to appreciate a language correctly, you become at ease with that culture. Once you feel that youve acquired not just the rudiments of that language but the expression of that language, then its misuse is a travesty". Words to remember and live by..especially in Pakistan with all its trouble of a populace living with a multiplicty of belongings...whether its culture or religion or our diverse is only when we are at ease with difference, learn to appreciate the Other, appreciate the rich tapestry of colours, sounds and languages that our beautiful Land brings to our lives..that any silly digs (pakh pakh, sounds like stones rolling in a box) would be as Mohyuddin identifies a "travesty".


  1. I agree with you, the problem of language and its signifier of social class exists on many fronts, but I wasnt suggesting in my article that the problem was exclusive to one ethnic group. By the way, great post.

    Fasi Zaka

  2. Apologies Fasi for infering that your article was for "Pashtun eyes only"..yes you did raise(very ably)amongst other issues the issue of "non conformity" and being comfortable with diversity...but somehow the incident of the young woman being chided for not speaking to you in English stayed with me while I wrote what I did.


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