During a casual conversation, my seven- year-old, asked, “Mama, how do other people recognise us as Pakistanis?”
I paused for a moment, then explained to him about the way we look, our dress, the food we eat, the sports we play and the language we speak. When we spoke about our national language, Urdu, he commented,
“But Mama, meri class mein kuch bachon ko Urdi sahi se nahi aati. Aur kuch ko tou Urdu bolna acha hi nahi lagta!”
Now this is something that I have noticed about the current generation which breaks my heart but hearing it stated so matter-of-factly by my own child, just made me wonder where did we go wrong for our children to lack love for their own language?
I admit that back in my school days I had a love-hate relationship with Urdu. I loved to read Urdu stories but expressing myself in Urdu essays and comprehension was no small feat for me. My Urdu teacher would always complain to my parents at PTMs about my lack of expression while explaining Urdu verses. And it’s not like I didn’t work hard to gain good command over the language but there were simply not enough creative outlets to foster love for the language – a play or two and some national songs at 14th August celebrations, perhaps, but that was pretty much it. I would try to read the children’s magazine Naunehaal for leisure but eventually, as school work and pressure grew, I gave up that as well.
And nowadays, when schools strive so hard to encourage creativity and love for learning in children; where studies are not limited to syllabus and books, we as parents and teachers together can do wonders to instil love for Urdu in our children. My children attended Haque Academy when we lived in Karachi and I remember how the Urdu teachers would make Urdu engaging in the most fun manner even at the kindergarten level!
They would string the vowels into a song and hence, the children knew the muswateen (Urdu term for vowels) on their fingertips. I was quite frankly jealous because learning Urdu was never this fun for me! At senior level, the school would have an in-house mushaira (poetry recitation), an annual Urdu Drama, an Urdu Spellathon and a monthly Urdu publication where children’s work would get published. These outlets were mandatory for students and would give them an opportunity to polish their Urdu skills while having fun with their classmates. I was satisfied since my children were at least partially on the path to knowing and loving their language.
Learning Alliance, which they currently attend in Lahore, also has a positive approach toward Urdu. Although I feel like some of the vocabulary in their textbooks is a tad advanced, they are getting used to it. They also have public speaking sessions conducted in both, Urdu and English, thus, encouraging students to speak and express in Urdu.
I know that considering the times, I am blessed that my children don’t find Urdu too difficult. It is the primary medium of communication in our house. Their grandparents talk to them in Urdu while my husband and I resort to Minglish (not something we’re very proud of). We have ‘read aloud’ sessions at home and make it a practice to read Urdu books at least twice a week. Our boys love Tot Batot, Akbar Birbal and other such tales. And the pre-schooler sings Urdu nursery rhymes alongside English ones. We’ve made it a habit to say Assalam-u-alaikum when greeting someone and we love challenging each other by reading tickers on news channel and trying to guess the meaning of Urdu words.
But while conscious and formal interaction with the language is beneficial, I truly believe that it is essential for parents to show love for their language by reading Urdu newspapers, books and poetry and above all, by NOT flinching or mocking when they hear someone speak in salees Urdu!
Urdu period in school and Urdu plays and songs are simply not enough for children to develop a love for their national language. Think about it – most of our children are comfortable with English because they HAVE to use it ALL THE TIME. Try and take your children to age-appropriate Urdu storytelling sessions and plays. The more exposure we give them to this beautiful language, the more they will learn, and the more they’ll fall in love with it!
And above all, use Urdu more in your day-to-day routine. It is sad that Urdu is on the decline in its own country but there is so much we can do to stop that from happening. Only if we make our children love the language, will they take pride in their culture, especially when interacting with people from other cultures or if we/they move abroad at some time.
As Frantz Fanon said, “To speak a language is to take on a world, a culture.”