A friend sent a link to a story that I thought of today.
It was about a Pakistani mother upset by her children’s use of Hindi words. They had picked them up from television, whose cartoon channels carried Hindi programming. A Lahore teacher the report quoted said children in her class had begun to use vishaal, shanti, mukti and adhikaar in conversation.
This was apparently a very bad thing, and some literary figures said in the report that Urdu programming was needed and that mothers should teach Urdu at home if they wanted to preserve their culture.
Cartoon Network, Pogo and the rest were available in English also, of course. However, according to a cable operator from Allama Iqbal Town also quoted in the story, Pakistani children preferred their cartoons in Hindi.
This is true of India also, where children including those studying in English schools, watch their cartoons only in Hindi.
The reason I remembered this story is some work I do every week for Firstpost, where I translate Saadat Hasan Manto’s non-fictional writing.
I was reading an essay where he describes one of his court cases. Manto is sent a notice by a Karachi magistrate and has to travel from Lahore to face the charges.
Manto and a friend set off by train armed with 15 bottles of beer (even I was taken aback by this number). The adventure begins and Manto packs off an old man fingering his prayer beads and a woman in a burqa. The compartment is inappropriate for them, he says, and they flee.
At this point he writes, and this is the precise moment when I thought of the Hindi story, “hum nischint ho gaye” (we became carefree).
Once Manto and his friend reach Karachi they go to his brother-in-law’s house where “hamari badi aao-bhagat ki” (they looked after us very well).
I want to tell Pakistani children who use Hindi words that they are in excellent company.
Nischint and aao-bhagat are not Urdu, if by Urdu is meant a language whose words are all taken from Farsi or Arabic. Of course the truth is that Urdu is actually exactly the same language as Hindi if we look at their grammar (don’t tell Pakistani mothers this). Only the scripts are different. I know many literate Pakistanis who use Hindi words for their precision. Jang columnist Hassan Nisar, for example, is fond of the word satyanash. Writer Nazir Naji is another who uses an easy Hindustani language, rather than a rigid Urdu.
Gandhi said all Indians must learn the Hindustani language in its Devnagari and Persian scripts.
Though it is not common for Indians to know Persian script, there are many I know who read it, and I’m not just referring to Muslims. On the other hand, I know of only one Pakistani who can read Devnagari, the linguist Dr Tariq Rahman.
This is astonishing given how obsessed Pakistan is with India as a military and civilisational threat; but perhaps knowing Devnagari isn’t needed. Pakistanis need only switch on India’s news channels to know what’s going on because, like Lahore’s cartoon-watchers, they immediately connect with Hindi.
There’s nothing wrong or foreign about words like vishaal, shanti, mukti and adhikaar. Some of them have no parallel in either Persian or Arabic and are unique. In Gujarati we use the word haq as easily as we do adhikaar and that’s as it should be. Being rigid about words, especially for the reason that they are thought to be corrupting, is just a waste of time.
Let me finish by telling a story written in Gujarati about a man who, like the Pakistani mothers, is worried about the enemy’s words in his language. The story is called Bhadrambhadra, and the man, Daulat Shankar, resolves to speak only pure Gujarati, but he becomes a laughing stock instead.
The reason, and alert readers will have noticed this already, is that his first name is itself an Arabic word.