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BUBBLE 12 – THE ‘FOREIGN-NESS’ OF MY MOTHER TONGUE

Bismillah Hir Rahman ir Raheem

It’s been a long time since I have written a blog. I hope you all are doing well. In today’s update, I want to talk about a strange dilemma that I experience, as does the generation of teenagers and other youngsters in my country, Pakistan.

Our mother-tongue or native language is Urdu. It has existed years before Pakistan was formed in 1947 from the time of the Mughal Empire. It is a combination of many languages such as Arabic, Hindi & Persian so that everyone from different parts of the Empire were able to communicate effectively.

But what I’ve found is that the importance of this beautiful language is starting to diminish as generations go by. My grandparents would often speak clear Urdu with a great vocabulary, would read Urdu newspapers, novels and poetry (and there is a lot of rich poetry in Urdu) . And not just in Urdu but also in our regional languages such as Punjabi and Sindhi. But my parents are comfortable with both. They know Urdu and Punjabi well but they don’t read Urdu novels and newspapers and don’t have as great vocabulary as my grandparents, such as we tend to use English words when we’re conversing in Urdu. They listen to Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, etc. songs, enjoy them and understand them well.

But as you reach my generation, even though we are bi-lingual, I’m noticing that Urdu is starting to become a ‘foreign’ language to us. We speak in both languages but we do not have as much pride in our own language as our predecessors had, and the ease in conversing in English and the importance of this language in communicating with foreigners has become so high that it is starting to diminish the importance of Urdu. Especially when majority of the educational institutions are English-medium.

In school, we are taught to understand, describe and analyse Urdu poetry and stories from around 3rd grade onwards. Either the poetry would be difficult to understand, the teacher was unable to explain the intricacy of it or we just wouldn’t really care about it. And this goes on till high school. We were not taught to admire the beauty of how a larger meaning can be conveyed from a few words, but to pass with a good grade. Along with this, we were supposed to memorise similes (or ‘Mahawarey’ in Urdu) from around 9th grade onwards which were soooo hard! Mama would spend hours making us understand them, memorise their meanings and not taking their meanings literally. I even memorised sentence examples of the similes because I was unable to construct proper sentences. In Urdu, when you make a sentence, it tends to have either a masculine or feminine tone, and either singular or plural tone. I used to mess up these tones so much. And I still do, which is sad considering this is my mother-tongue. My parents would be so annoyed at my siblings and I for this. But I can’t really blame them since there was more use of English in our house.

You’re supposed to study Urdu as a subject till O-levels, after which it is up to you whether you want to pursue it in A-levels or aim for a degree in it or not. Many people, atleast as many as I know, don’t pursue it further. Some take it in A-levels just to get some grade. But whenever there is a mention of studying Urdu, doing Urdu comprehensions or writing essays in Urdu, people would laugh at how hard it was. I barely passed O-level Urdu with an A and I still make grammar mistakes.

But as I’ve grown, I’ve come to realise that if we continue on our current irresponsible path, this beautiful language will diminish and we will be a nation of only English-speaking people. I’ve only recently come to appreciate this language. I’ve started moving away from listening to English songs and more of Urdu, Persian and different folk songs, even when I often don’t understand them. There is a special kind of grace to the language. Coke Studio has been the major link between modern music and traditional folk songs and they are so wonderful to listen to. The stories these songs tell, the ideas and opinions they share, how the writers contemplate themselves and the people around them in these songs are almost magical. And poems are even more wonderful than these. Baba listens to these songs a lot and he often translates difficult terms and explains the meaning of these songs. The philosophy in them are so scholarly like, such as Allama Iqbal, Ghalib, Altaf Hussain Hali, Bahadur Shah Zafar,etc. I’ve started listening to vocals of Iqbal’s poetry and the use of Urdu in the poetry is so refined. And his incorporation of Quranic teachings in his poetry makes it even more better. I realized I am missing out on so much of my history. The way the poets talk in their songs and poetry…no one talks like that anymore.

I’ll show you some examples. Here is one song written by Faiz Ahmed Faiz called ‘Mujh Se Pehli Si Mohabbat’. It is a beautiful song which has been sung by many popular singers such as Nur Jahan. But the one I really liked was the one sung by Humera Channa and Nabeel Shaukat in Coke Studio Season 10.

(Picture of Faiz Ahmed Faiz)

Here are the lyrics:

مجھ سے پہلی سی محبّت مرے محبوب نہ مانگ
mujh se pahli si muhabbat mire mahboob na maang
Beloved, don’t ask me to love you as I loved you before

مجھ سے پہلی سی محبّت مرے محبوب نہ مانگ
mujh se pahli si muhabbat mire mahboob na maang
Beloved, don’t ask me to love you as I loved you before

مجھ سے پہلی سی محبّت مرے محبوب نہ مانگ
mujh se pahli si muhabbat mire mahboob na maang
Beloved, don’t ask me to love you as I loved you before

مجھ سے پہلی سی محبّت مرے محبوب نہ مانگ
mujh se pahli si muhabbat mire mahboob na maang
Beloved, don’t ask me to love you as I loved you before

میں نے سمجھا تھا کہ تو ہے تو درخشاں ہے حیات
main ne samjha tha kih tu hai to darakhshaan hai hayaat
I had assumed that as long as I have you, life is radiant

تیرا غم ہے تو غمِ دہر کا جھگڑا کیا ہے
tera gham hai to gham-i dahr ka jhagṛa kya hai
What anguish in the world could possibly rival the anguish of being without you

تیری صورت سے ہے عالم میں بہاروں کو ثبات
teri soorat se hai ‘aalam men bahaaron ko sabaat
Your face is what lends permanence to springtime in this world

تیری آنکھوں کے سوا دنیا میں رکھا کیا ہے
teri aankhon ke siwa dunya men rakkha kya hai
What is there in the world except for the beauty of your eyes

تیری آنکھوں کے سوا دنیا میں رکھا کیا ہے
teri aankhon ke siwa dunya men rakkha kya hai
What is there in the world except for the beauty of your eyes

تو جو مل جائے تو تقدیر نگوں ہو جائے
tu jo mil jaae to taqdeer nigoon ho jaae
If I gain you, destiny would bow down before me

یوں نہ تھا، میں نے فقط چاہا تھا یوں ہو جائے
yoon na tha main ne faqat chaaha tha yoon ho jaae
It wasn’t so, I had merely wanted it to be so

مجھ سے پہلی سی محبّت مرے محبوب نہ مانگ
mujh se pahli si muhabbat mire mahboob na maang
Beloved, don’t ask me to love you as I loved you before

مجھ سے پہلی سی محبّت مرے محبوب نہ مانگ
mujh se pahli si muhabbat mire mahboob na maang
Beloved, don’t ask me to love you as I loved you before

اَن گنت صدیوں کے تاریک بہیمانہ طلسم
an-ginat sadiyon ke taareek baheemaanah talism
The dark and savage enchantment of countless centuries

اَن گنت صدیوں کے تاریک بہیمانہ طلسم
an-ginat sadiyon ke taareek baheemaanah talism
The dark and savage enchantment of countless centuries

ریشم و اطلس و کمخواب میں بُنوائے ہوئے
resham-o atlas-o kam-khaab men bunwaae hooe
Woven into silk and satin and brocade

جا بجا بکتے ہوئے کوچہ و بازار میں جسم
ja-ba-ja bikte hooe koocha-o baazaar men jism
Bodies everywhere being sold in lanes and marketplaces

خاک میں لتھڑے ہوئے خون میں نہلائے ہوئے
khaak men lithṛe hooe khoon men nahlaae hooe
Caked with dirt and bathed in blood

لوٹ جاتی ہے اِدھر کو بھی نظر کیا کیجے
lauṭ jaati hai idhar ko bhi nazar kya keeje
My gaze returns here as well, what can I do?

اب بھی دلکش ہے ترا حسن، مگر کیا کیجے
ab bhi dil-kash hai tira husn magar kya keeje
Your beauty is still enchanting, but what can I do?

اب بھی دلکش ہے ترا حسن، مگر کیا کیجے
ab bhi dil-kash hai tira husn magar kya keeje
Your beauty is still enchanting, but what can I do?

اور بھی دکھ ہیں زمانے میں محبّت کے سوا
aur bhi dukh hain zamaane men muhabbat ke siwa
There are many other sorrows in this world besides the sorrow of love

راحتیں اور بھی ہیں وصل کی راحت کے سوا
raahaten aur bhi hain wasl ki raahat ke siwa
There are many other delights besides the delight of union

مجھ سے پہلی سی محبّت مرے محبوب نہ مانگ
mujh se pahli si muhabbat mire mahboob na maang
Beloved, don’t ask me to love you as I loved you before

مجھ سے پہلی سی محبّت مرے محبوب نہ مانگ
mujh se pahli si muhabbat mire mahboob na maang
Beloved, don’t ask me to love you as I loved you before

مجھ سے پہلی سی محبّت مرے محبوب نہ مانگ
mujh se pahli si muhabbat mire mahboob na maang
Beloved, don’t ask me to love you as I loved you before

مجھ سے پہلی سی محبّت مرے محبوب نہ مانگ
mujh se pahli si muhabbat mire mahboob na maang
Beloved, don’t ask me to love you as I loved you before

مجھ سے پہلی سی محبّت مرے محبوب نہ مانگ
mujh se pahli si muhabbat mire mahboob na maang
Beloved, don’t ask me to love you as I loved you before

At first, I thought it was the song of a lover singing to his or her beloved person but when you look into the history of the song, it was actually about Faiz Ahmed Faiz saying how much he missed his beloved country, Pakistan, after he was sent out of it.

Another poem I’d like to share with you is by Allama Iqbal, called “Khudi Ka Sir i Nihan”:

خودی کا سرِ نہاں لا الہٰ الا اللہ
خودی ہے تیغِ فساں لا الہٰ الا اللہ

The secret of the Self is hid,
In words “No God but Allah alone”.
The Self is just a dull-edged sword,
“No God but He”, the grinding stone.

“Fassan” is a stone name which is used to sharpen the sword
Mean to say Zikr of “La Ilaha Illa Allah” is the key to get aware of oneself,
hidden secrets of life, the universe and the Almighty Allah.

یہ دَور اپنے براہیم کی تلاش میں ہے
صنم کدہ ہے جہاں لا الہٰ الا اللہ

An Abraham by the age is sought
To break the idols of this Hall:
The avowal of God’s Oneness can
Make all these idols headlong fall.

آج بھی ہو اگر ابراہیم سا ایماں پیدا
آگ کر سکتی ہے انداز گلستان پیدا

کیا ہے تو نے متاعِ غرور کا سودا
فریبِ سودوزیاں لا الہٰ الا اللہ

A bargain you have struck for goods
Of life, a step, that smacks conceit,
All save the Call “No God but He”
Is merely fraught with fraud and deceit

یہ مال و دولت دنیا یہ رشتہ و پیوند
بُتانِ وَہم و گماں لا الہٰ الا اللہ

The wordly wealth and riches too,
Ties of blood and friends a dream
The idols wrought by doubts untrue,
All save God’s Oneness empty seem.

خرد ہوئی ہے زمان و مکاں کی زناری
نہ ہے زماں نہ مکاں لا الہٰ الا اللہ

The mind has worn the holy thread
Of time and space like pagans all
Though time and space both illusive
“No God but He” is true withal.

یہ نغمہ فصلِ گل ولالہ کا نہیں پابند
بہار ہو کہ خزاں لا الہٰ الا اللہ

These melodious songs are not confined
To time when rose and tulip bloom
Whatever the season of year be
“No God but He” must ring till doom.

اگرچہ بُت ہیں جماعت کی آستینوں میں
مجھے ہے حکم اذاں لا الہٰ الا اللہ

Many idols are still concealed
In their sleeves by the Faithful Fold
I am ordained by Mighty God
To raise the call and be much bold.

I love this poem so much because of the way it is sung and how it expresses Islam in a graceful and thought-provoking manner. Iqbal is truly a gem of our nation. However, even when these poems are in simple Urdu, it is still difficult for me to understand so i try and memorise its translation and recall it when I listen to the song on my phone. Which is sad.

But majority of the youngsters are not interested and prefer to use English more effectively and Urdu for only speaking purposes. Urdu poetry is not of interest to them. The situation has reached to the extent that the poor people in our country prefer to send their children to English medium schools so that they learn English in order to get a good job.

I feel it is an obligation in every country to preserve your mother-tongue in any way possible so that it doesn’t become a ‘foreign language’. There is a lot of history, knowledge and culture in a language. You learn a lot about a nation from their language. English should just be a link of communication between people all over the world but we must celebrate the purity of our culture and stand strong together without having to please and be subservient to other cultures. 😀

By Andale Seaworne

21. Pakistani. Muslim. People call me tubelight. Life is a roller coaster life but if you focus on the ups in life and have faith, life will be beautiful
Thoughts about things happening in everyday life stored in bubbles, waiting for the right time to burst out 😊
Loves McFlurry, Cheese and every food except green chilli, yoghurt, wasabi and humus 😎
Loves books and learning new things
Basketball girl 🏀
Helping out those in need
Holding no expectations, making no comparisons. We are all people of many colours. Accept us for who we are without labels

2 replies on “BUBBLE 12 – THE ‘FOREIGN-NESS’ OF MY MOTHER TONGUE”

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