Kids Corner


Detached At The Roots:
The Roundtable Open Forum # 127





I was having coffee in one of the cafes of Stockholm, Sweden, when an African man and a boy entered the café and sat at the table next to mine.

One could tell they were father and son. From his demeanour and the way he was dressed the father apparently looked to be a man of meagre means.

The boy was of mixed origin; one could guess his mother to be ‘white‘.

Their conversation and gestures were indicative of ongoing tension and defiant argumentation between the two. I noticed that every time the man talked to his son in his native African language the boy would answer in Swedish.

This went on for quite some time but the man did not utter a single Swedish word in the entire conversation. I was so impressed and moved by his persistence and devotion for his language that I went to his table and told him that I had come to compliment him.

On hearing what I said, he raised his head and looked at me through his thick eyeglasses. I had sensed that he was clearly surprised by a comment coming from a total stranger.

To ease the awkward moment, I continued my conversation and said, “It is commendable that even though your son speaks Swedish, you persistently talk to him in your mother tongue.”

On hearing this, with a smile on his face he replied: “Well, if I speak Swedish with him then I would not remain who I am and what I am all about.”

At the time that man was the most cultured and learned man in the world to me. I felt that in him I had discovered the most invaluable treasure of knowledge and wisdom. Even Rasool Ghamatov who I have always revered for his love and passion for his native land and language had shrunk in stature in front of this ordinary common man.

This invoked and stirred in my mind many thoughts about Punjabis, who behave opposite to this man.

Those Punjabis who live in foreign lands never talk to their children in Punjabi; they take in Hindi, Urdu or English. In the East as well as in West Punjab, all limits have been crossed. ‘Punjabi’ is considered inferior and substandard. Speaking in Urdu, Hindi or English is no longer only a fad; it has become a religious cult.

Here I can’t help mention the Punjabi writer who boasts of writing in Urdu, Hindi or English, but is shy to commit his services to Punjabi. The Punjabi language has been orphaned by these people, who have left it thinking it useless. Since writing in Punjabi does not get them instant attention, they had decided to leave it. These prominent Punjabi writers neither wrote in Punjabi nor made an effort to learn to read and write their language.

These intellectuals are victims of their mental incapacity.

How tragic and unfortunate is this!

I started thinking that this black man and his ancestors must have also faced prejudice at the hands of western colonial powers like Punjabis did.

But I fail to understand why his behaviour and attitude is so different from that of Punjabis. We all know that other then existence, identity is the most precious thing for us humans.

And language provides that identity. Language originates in the land or nation one belongs to. It gives one the identification and the reason to be counted.

Unless we love what we are, we cannot progress and develop into good human beings. Love for freedom, his country and language were at the root of this black man’s passion and persistence to maintain his identity in the face of all odds.

Why are Punjabis devoid of such passion and love for their heritage and identity?


We invite our readers to please share your thoughts and experiences on what Justice Shahkar raises hereinabove.

[Courtesy: Daily Times. Edited for]
June 29, 2014


Conversation about this article

1: Harinder Singh (Punjab), June 29, 2014, 12:56 PM.

Punjabi will evolve as its speakers migrate to different new lands. It will not be the same as it is spoken in 2014 or 1947. It will metamorphose with amalgamation of new words, grammar from languages spoken by different language groups. It will always be around but will not be the same forever.

2: Kaala Singh (Punjab), June 29, 2014, 3:10 PM.

The author is absolutely right. In both India and Pakistan after 1947, an attempt was made to kill the regional languages and replace them with the so-called national languages, Hindi and Urdu. Many Punjabis on both sides abandoned their mother tongue. Thankfully, the Sikhs have kept this ancient and beautiful language -- which by many scholarly accounts might even predate Sanskrit -- alive, as our religious scriptures and services are in Punjabi. These days we see a revival of the language through music and movies. These days in India, Punjabi language and culture have become cool, no Bollywood movie is complete without Punjabi songs and I have observed many non-Punjabis wearing karras, and trying to masquerade as Punjabis.

3: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), June 30, 2014, 3:09 AM.

I think the author should narrow his analysis to Punjabi Hindus and Muslims. The Sikhs are continuing the rich tradition of story telling through Punjabi films which increase in quality every year. Punjabi music is unparalleled in all of South Asia for having such a large force for a language spoken by a minority. The Punjabi language through the Sikhs has reached every corner of the world. Second generation children such as myself are able to fluently speak the language and our children will be able to as well. Second generation children have contributed to Punjabi music by fusing western beats and the rhythm of Bhangra while singing in Punjabi lyrics. The Sikhs are the true sons and daughters of Punjab.

4: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), June 30, 2014, 3:27 AM.

It is interesting that the author is able to make the connection between language, identity and nation, yet he scratches his head wondering why Punjabi Muslims and Hindus are devoid of such love for their mother tongue. Punjabi was not given the status of an official language when Pakistan was created regardless of the fact that it was the most spoken language in the largest state. This was done in order for the Muslims of Pakistan to keep their identity pure from a language which was spoken by a diverse array of individuals belonging to many different religions. It was also done to assure non-Punjabis that they would not be dominated by a single culture. Most Pakistanis however recognize this as an attempt to throw wool over their eyes as it is a common held belief in Pakistan that Punjabis control both the military and the government. Punjabi identity had been swept under the rug in order for Punjabi Muslims to hold on to their control of Pakistan. Punjabi Hindus are no better. Almost as soon as India had gained independence they attempted to force Hindi in Punjab. Unfortunately for the Hindus, the Sikhs would not throw away the language of their Gurus so easily. It did not take long for Hindi to be associated with Hindus and Punjabi with Sikhs. When the central government was collecting data for a language census to redraw the map of Punjab, Hindus who had never spoken Hindi in their life recorded it as their primary language. Hindi was seen as the language of the nation and Punjabi as an anachronism which needed to be stamped out. Language, identity and nation have collided with the people of Punjab and the Punjabi language. The Sikhs luckily emerged from it unscathed.

5: Kulvinder Jit Kaur (Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada), June 30, 2014, 7:57 AM.

I agree with the author that many urban Indian Punjabis, mostly outside of Punjab have opted to speak in Hindi or English with their children. In rural Punjab the language is still alive and well. In the western countries it is a constant battle. Parents have to be persistent and mostly the conversations are a lot like the African man and his son. The parents speak in Punjabi and the child answers in English. The consolation is that the children here at least understand Punjabi enough to answer back in English. The second generation does not get a chance to speak the language with their friends/colleagues. They are totally immersed in their waking hours in an English speaking environment (or any other language of the country). It is even harder when you are raising children in smaller towns/cities with very little Punjabi exposure. The only way to use a language is to read/write and speak it. We simply have to find some time each day to do these in order to keep Punjabi language in our lives. The author is correct in his observation that there is no need for Punjabis in Pakistan and India to abandon the Punjabi language where it takes hardly any effort to maintain it. I have also heard people commenting "Punjabi is so crude and rustic." So is any other language, if spoken that way. All languages evolve and change as time goes on. New words are added and some old ones become useless. The point is to keep the language in use, as it is today.

6: R Singh (Surrey, British Columbia, Canada), July 01, 2014, 1:40 AM.

"Punjabi Primer" by Dr Gurbakhsh Singh is a great way to learn to read and write Punjabi.

7: Darshan Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), July 01, 2014, 12:05 PM.

I disagree with the author. Sikhs still maintain and are proud to speak Punjabi. E.g., without the Punjabi ghaal (curse words) you can never be a true Punjabi, wherever you are, driving, playing hockey or quarreling with a non-Punjabi. It really raises some kind of fear to the non-pPnjabi. The voice, the muscles, the facial expression and last, and not least the vocal chord, all will synchronize with such a force that they will shake up your opponent. Try it with any other language, it does not have the same effect. The author suggested that many Punjabis have abandoned their mother tongue, but perhaps he has failed to grasps the level of the Punjabi lingo when the couple is having a tit-for-tat. It is said that when a couple is in the initial stages of a blooming relationship, they will speak romantically in Urdu. Later when the couple get married, they turn to Hindi, sing Bollywood songs, etc. But when they quarrel, nothing beats the Punjabi language. On the other hand, Punjabi has been localized by the immigrant Punjabi. E.g., in Malaysia, it has been malayanized: we call a knife - "pisao", house - "rumeh", cowshed - "gayahrumeh"; tofu chili paste - "tahu sambal"; kitchen - "dapar"; police-mate (from malay word of mata-mata) reverse - "gostan kar lo"; and ending most the word in Punjabi with "lah". Thus, 'please come' - "aaja-lah". Some Punjabi words that I find unique in Malaysia: e.g., "dighi" - for bathroom.

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