S T R E E T
At an early age my family and I moved back from Europe, as my parents wanted my siblings and me to complete most of our education in Pakistan.
It was quite a challenge even then to learn Urdu which had been a completely alien language to me before that time. However, a language that I wish I had learnt at that age is Punjabi.
My father spent most of my childhood working out of the country and not being able to visit a lot. My mother spoke with us primarily in Urdu or English but never in Punjabi, as she had never learnt to speak it either.
By the time I grew up a little, my father moved back and tried to get me to learn Punjabi. But being a reluctant teenager I refused to learn it and ignored his constant talks about the importance of knowing your own mother tongue.
My father would frequently take us out on trips to our village to get me to interact with his side of the family there, hoping that I might be able to learn a few phrases (of Punjabi) and, perhaps, understand its importance. He would always say, “Have you ever met a French man who doesn’t know how to speak French? How can one not know one’s own mother tongue?”
My rebuttal would always be that at least I spoke Urdu.
Languages have always been my forte, having taken a keen interest to study French and other foreign languages at a young age. However, the thing I regret the most now that I’ve grown up and visited other countries abroad is not being able to speak Punjabi. When talking to a foreigner I would tell them that I have lived most of my life in Punjab. In return, they would ask me to speak a few phrases in Punjabi, at which I would slowly try to change the topic and leave.
It’s embarrassing for a Punjabi to not be able to speak Punjabi fluently. It’s not exactly the kind of thing you can hire a teacher for or even attend an academy.
A few years back, my father took me to Rawalpindi to introduce me to one of his oldest friends, Inayatullah Hassan or as he called him “Jaan ji”. My father told Jaanji about my reluctance to learn Punjabi and in return the latter would tell me how he only spoke two languages, English and Punjabi.
He tried to explain to me that after spending time abroad when he was younger he had come to the conclusion that nothing is more important than knowing how to speak and write your own language.
It has been almost four years since Jaanji passed away, and I have not yet forgotten my brief conversation that day with him. If only I had taken his words seriously I wouldn’t be looking back regretting the choices I made back then.