The Funeral

Ramzan has arrived with the usual prescription in the English blogosphere of Pakistan that we should thwart efforts to Arabicize Urdu by pronouncing the month as Ramzan instead of the new found enthusiasm for pronouncing it Ramadan. Personally I don’t care how you pronounce it because I have learnt the hard way you can’t define the direction a language takes. What I have an objection to is that the same bloggers feel differently about “Amreeka” always surrounding it in inverted commas. Why the double standards? Anyway, evolution of language as well as culture is a separate topic on which I can write paragraphs and paragraphs. The above debate reminded me of an essay I wrote about death of Urdu which I am reproducing below.

Around ten years ago I was proud of the fact that I can carry a whole conversation in Urdu without using a word of English. Now it seems like wishful thinking.

I don’t belong to an “educated” family_there are no writers, thinkers, engineers or doctors among our parents or earlier generation. We traced our roots to Haryana and Saharanpur in India but unlike people from Aligarh, Lucknow, Delhi or even Hyderabad, we were people of modest education and did not boast a culture or history. Despite such humble roots, it was our false pride that our family including parents, uncles, aunts, and cousins can speak flawless Urdu. We mainly spoke in simple Urdu occasionally dabbling into high Urdu but were nonetheless proud of it. We used to criticize each other when English words crept into our conversations.

In mid eighties, our close knit family started expanding rapidly as the new generation reached marriageable age. From early nineties onwards, their kids reached school going age. To get ahead in this world, they needed to be educated in the best schools. The world had changed since we went to school. In our time, at least in the schools that we went to, best education meant that you studied in English medium following the same curriculum as Urdu medium kids with the difference that our books were in English. There were people who sent their kids to O and A levels but they were few and not everyone could afford it. We did meet convent educated kids in high school and university but they had not forgotten their roots and could talk in Urdu.

Now English medium meant that the kids had to be taught to speak in English from early age. Urdu medium is dead anyway or might be available in poorer areas. Though as a family we use Urdu at home when communicating with our little cousins and nephews/nieces, but now there are a lot of English words in our conversation. Thankfully our cousins/nephews/nieces also criticize each other when someone has to resort to English but only if he/she has to speak a whole sentence in English to convey his or her message. At least, they still have some sense of their mother tongue. However, I think we are holding them back by asking them to still love and talk in Urdu.

Ten years ago, I joined the corporate world and despite my best efforts, English started creeping into my sentences. After ten years of speaking in English/Urdu, now I am more comfortable carrying out a whole conversation in English. It is rare that I am lost for words in English in a conversation but it happens more frequently when I talk in Urdu.

When I was getting married around two years ago, I asked my mother that my wedding invitation card should be printed in Urdu. She granted my wish happily. The invitation on the card was from my parents inviting everyone to the wedding of their Noor-e-Nazar (light of their eyes). I was shocked. I said that though the word is fine but my friends would make fun of me and they did. The addressed me as Noor-e-Nazar Sahab or Mr. Noor-e-Nazar from then on for a while. I asked my mother that you should have referred to me as noor-e-chashm (means the same) as most of my friends would not have comprehended it considering it some form of Urdu salutation. But my mom had reserved this word for saluting the bride-to-be and no one made fun of her (my wife) as I had predicted because no one understood the word (not that it was very sophisticated Urdu).

But the worst part was yet to come. My younger sister who had studied under Cambridge system and can speak flawless Urdu had 20 cards printed in English for inviting her friends because she was ashamed of sending out Urdu cards. My friends, all claiming to be Mohajirs and ‘Urdu speaking’ (some would not even know the meaning of Ahl-e-Zaban) were also surprised (and not pleasantly) to receive wedding invitations in Urdu. But most of all, except my father-in-law who appreciated the gesture, my soon-to-be wife and her family were shocked to receive the cards considering us some backward and un-educated people (but it was too late to call of the marriage 🙂 )

A few months ago, there was ruckus in NWFP/Pukhtunkhwa assembly over the status of Urdu. When the ‘Ahl-e-zabaan’ are not proud of speaking it (when talking to their kids and family) except when making a political statement or appear on TV, I don’t know why we have that brouhaha in NWFP/pukhtunkhwa assembly over this issue. The sole purpose appears to gain political mileage.

Slight digression: I am surprised that all those assholes and dickheads (please excuse my French) that cry their voices hoarse on TV, Magazines and blogs when it comes to dearth of such cultural events as dancing(aka mujras), singing, kite flying and what goes in the name of sufism at Urs(s) could never find even a word of support for the rich heritage that is dying right in front of their eyes otherwise known as URDU.

John Ailya had said

urdu ka janaza hai, zara dhoom se nikley

However, even that seems like too much to ask.

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4 thoughts on “The Funeral

  1. last night my wife and i were reading a Manzar Hasan story translated in English, and bemoaning how we are such idiots to have found his amazing works through translations.

    that said, there is a double game with urdu itself. as much as it has come under fire, it has gone a long way towards cannibalizing smaller languages, which have paid their own sacrifices to urdu. one of the great ironies of our times is that the literary center for urdu for at least the past six decades has been the Punjab.

    i agree with your concerns, but i feel that it should also be extended to all the other languages. this is the problem i feel with urdu-dans, who sometimes continue to look down upon the regional languages. if we can’t redress this imbalance, it would affect our efforts for urdu too, at least thats how i feel.

    • Agree with you on marginalization of regional languages by Urdu. You are also right about the fact that Punjab is the literary center for Urdu.

      Since I come from Urdu speaking ( “ahle zubaan” if you will) it hurts me more when Urdu is discarded for being backward and holding people back. Other regional languages might also have gone through the same phase.

      The surprising aspect is that in corporate world, and I have seen it a lot, when two sindhis or punjabis meet, they would resort back to their mother tongue (sindhis for the whole conversation, punjabis using phrases here and there) but the rest of us would try our best to stay in English as if somehow using Urdu is tantamount to stooping.

      Your mention of tranlated works reminded me of Tagore’s translated works that I read. There was a story about Afghan sweet seller who hawks his stuff through the streets. I wish I had time to learn other languages and read their literature in the original.

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