Our Beacon Forum

Mind your language
By:Gurjit Singh, Lahore
Date: Tuesday, 22 November 2016, 2:36 pm


Mind your language—The movement for the preservation of Punjabi

Illustration by Marium Ali
Illustration by Marium Ali

February 21, 2016: it is a crisp morning outside the Lahore Press Club. The sun shines bright but the air is cool and the sky a clear, sharp blue. Pulsating and growing louder against the sound of passing motorcycles and tooting car horns, is the beat of a dhol. Sweaty bodies circle the dhol player, dancing to his beat, arms raised heavenward in a triumphant bhangra move. Several others just mill around.

The crowd is a melange of colour, with a few policemen in black shirts dotting the edge of the cordoned off area. The cheerful air seems to have infected them too; they lounge lazily in their posts, munching merrily on roasted corn from a vendor’s cart.

The atmosphere is pumped with adrenaline. As I approach the buzzing crowd, the dhol beats even more urgently against my eardrum, thump thump thump… only to come to an abrupt halt as the crackling of a loudspeaker rings through the air. Atop a decorated truck stands Afzal Saahir, popular Punjabi poet and television personality. He is flanked on either side by two heavyweights of the movement for the preservation and promotion of Punjabi language.

Iqbal Qaiser, independent researcher and founder of Khoj Garh research centre, stands to Saahir’s left, jubilant with his fist raised, grinning from ear to ear as hundreds of people chant in unison: “Read Punjabi, write Punjabi, speak Punjabi” — of course, in Punjabi.

Mushtaq Soofi, president of the Punjabi Adabi Board, an organisation devoted to promoting Punjabi language and literature, stands on Saahir’s right. A soft smile beams across his usually sombre face. The board is the main organiser of the event, bringing together over a dozen associations, activist groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to demand from the state the protection of their mother tongue.