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Leading playwright decries neglect of Urdu

October 14, 2012

KARACHI, Oct 13: The highlight of all the plenary sessions, workshops and papers read out on the second day of the 28th SPELT International Conference, 2012 — Rainbows of ELT — held at the Habib Public School on Saturday was Urdu writer and playwright Haseena Moin’s paper ‘Urdu zuban ka zawal school or iblagh-i-aama’.

Room number 17 reserved for the playwright’s talk was jam-packed even one hour before the scheduled time.

Not one to ever disappoint her audience, Haseena Moin walked in at 3pm sharp when participants in the conference, having run out of chairs, were also sitting cross-legged on the floor.

“The Urdu language has been a victim of grave injustice, which can even be seen from the fact that this lecture on the importance of the Urdu language is being held in a small room in a corner at a big international conference,” Ms Moin observed.

Her lecture was part of the Urdu strand of the conference.

“Urdu is our national language but it got buried somewhere in government files as the official language of Pakistan remains English to this day even though there were talks of switching over to Urdu in 1965 and 1973. But then it was said that some 15 more years were needed to make the switchover, which has not happened even after 39 years. That is how we put Urdu on the back burner,” the writer pointed out.

“Where the learning of all languages should be encouraged, one should not ignore one’s own language in the process of working with other languages,” she added. “How can Pakistan be a true democracy when we ignore the language of the masses?” Ms Moin questioned.

“Today our children know just about everything through the Internet but they hardly know anything about their country’s history. Our school history books which happen to be foreign editions only give a bit about the Quaid-i-Azam and the Khilafat Movement. The students are not being given the full knowledge.

“The English and Urdu-medium schools, too, have divided education in our country into two. Despite exorbitant fees, parents are inclined to send their children to English-medium schools. For them to do well there, they urge them to concentrate more on subjects other than Urdu, which then remains the only subject where they are lagging behind. Both the home and the school are responsible for the lack of attention given to Urdu. What is to become of Urdu then?”

Ms Moin observed that children were picking up most Urdu words and phrases from TV programmes, especially comedy shows.

“There is a very thin line between comedy and tragedy. Our tragedy is this that the comedy being shown on television these days forces the elders in a family to get up and walk out of the room and the women to be embarrassed. Only the children are left behind, glued to the screens,” she said.

Citing her own example of standing up for the Urdu language, she said that while working on the short Urdu serial ‘Aahat’ with the John-Hopkins University/ Population Communications Services in the US, she was given a presentation by the university team in English. But when it was her turn to speak about her play to them she went ahead and did it in Urdu after informing them that since they addressed her in their language in their country without considering that her language was Urdu, she would address them in her language. “There is no need to be linguistically lethargic when it comes to standing up for your language.

Give respect to your language and be firm about it,” she said.

Other activities of the conference included the launch of the third edition of a book entitled Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching by Diane-Larson-Freeman and Marti Anderson published by the Oxford University Press (OUP), other Urdu sessions by Khurram Ali, Prof Sahar Ansari, Dr Jaffar Ahmed, Dr Asif Farrukhi, etc, and a symposium on ‘Planning your continuous professional development’ with a lively panel discussion carried out by English language teachers Huma Thaver, Rehmat Ibrahim, Mahnaz Ghazala, Ayesha Uzma Aslam, Adeeba Ahmed and Judith Grace Hudson from Australia about how each one of them started their teaching careers and how they have grown and developed in the field over the years.

The conference ends on Sunday.