Khushal Khan Khattak, the great poet of Pashto, as a result of his resistance to Mogul rule was imprisoned by Emperor Aurangzeb. After some years while he was still in prison, it was officially conveyed to him that he could be released on certain conditions. The poet rejected the offer. “Had it come earlier I would have considered it. I longed to be with my family to hear the first few words of Pashto from the lips of my son who was a toddler when I was thrown into prison. The emperor denied me that moment of joy. I am no longer in a hurry to get out of prison. Now I am not interested in any conditional offer of being set free,” replied Khushal Khan.

The grandparents of contemporary Punjabi young men and women were all like Khushal Khan who used to be thrilled with joyful excitement to see their kids struggling with their mother language. That unfortunately is no longer the case with a large chunk of Punjabi parents. They teach their kids the language/languages they themselves are not comfortable with. But slowly and gradually things are changing owing to the constant efforts of various literary and cultural bodies committed to promoting mother language and raising cultural awareness. There is growing realisation of the loss we suffer from our disconnection with our language, culture and history.

This year augurs well for our mother language and culture if we take stock of activities that have already taken place all across Punjab in the current month. A rally was organised on the International Mother Language Day on Feb 21 for the rights of mother language by the Pakistan Punjabi Adabi Board in collaboration with a host of literary and cultural bodies that marched from the Lahore Press Club to the Punjab Assembly.

Writers, intellectuals, students, teachers, lawyers, political workers, trade union leaders and members of civil society, all were out with the demand that the teaching of mother language from primary to college level be made mandatory. It was not just a Lahori crowd. People from Sahiwal, Kasur, Jhang, Pakpattan, Nankana Sahib, Gujrat, Gujranwala, Wazirabad, Sheikhupura, Faisalabad and other towns traversed long distances to join the rally. A sizable number of women made it gender balanced.

The enthusiasm of young men and women was infectious. A group of folk dancers and singers from Sahiwal with their ‘Jhumar’ (a folk dance) added to the festivity, creating an ambiance of a carnival.

Mother language day celebrations were not confined to Lahore. This year the event inspired literary and cultural activities all across Punjab. Mianwali, Mandi Bahauddin, Rahim Yar Khan, Bahawalpur, Bahawalnagar, Multan, Sahiwal, Faisalabad and even Islamabad held various functions displaying the richness of language and culture with their seminars, marches, skits, dances, dramatic performances and puppet shows.

It was very encouraging for the cultural activists to see members of political class joining the rallies, marches and other programmes. The leader of opposition in Punjab Assembly and an ex MPA of the PML-N addressed the Lahore rally, pledging their all-out support for the cause of mother language, neglected for so long.

PILAC (Punjab Institute of Language, Art and Culture) organised “Maan Boli Conference’ on the occasion. Its segmented programme highlighted various issues related to the question of use of mother language in Punjab. Its two sessions proved to be thought provoking in which the relevance of mother language and the role of the media were discussed and debated.

Shafqat Tanveer Mirza award this year was conferred on Abid Ameeq, a wonderful poet, critic and intellectual of great depth, for his services for the promotion of mother language. The Punjab governor graced the occasion.

The Lahore Literary Festival held from Feb 21 to 23 was a roaring success as expected. Razi Ahmed, the founder and chief executive of the festival, added to its repertoire by including sessions on the Punjabi literature and won accolades. Two sessions discussed ‘The Punjabi poetry of resistance’ and ‘The image of woman in the classical Punjabi literature’. The discussion and dialogue evoked a visceral response and stirred the imagination. It emerged that Heer and Sahiban were the most defiant and emancipated women in the literary and cultural history of the subcontinent.

Izzat Majeed’s Sachal Orchestra also had a concert on the occasion. Sachal’s one-hour performance, a fine blend of tradition and innovation, mesmerised the audiences especially the young people, proving yet again that Lahore was still the cultural hub of the country.

Pakistan is a region which has traditionally been tolerant of linguistic diversity. And this precisely was the source of our literary, intellectual and cultural richness. Use of any language as a tool of dominance will not only cause a political dissension but also impoverish us all materially as well as spiritually. So “let the hundred flowers flourish.” A single flower cannot make a garden. And let our country be a garden. —



Updated 28 May, 2022

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