By Kasim Osmani
Pakistani media has recently seen a boom in infotainment-cum-political shows. All it takes is an Urdu-speaking anchor, co-host, and a group of Punjabi-speaking stage actors. Tune into any channel and you would see such infotainment shows that are designed either on similar patterns or an elaboration of another program’s pattern.
On a positive note, these programs have brought Punjabi stage actors to mainstream media, which earned them fame and recognition unprecedented in the past. From legendary actor Sohail Ahmad to Agha Majid, Saleem Albela, Anjum Nawaz and many others, our media has given much needed attention to this talented lot.
While we burst into laughter at every single rebuttal, the so-called Juggat, what concerns me the most is the overall (mis)representation of Punjabi language and its culture. As a student of linguistics, I fully understand how discourse represents hidden ideology and how we continue to develop ‘culture’ through daily conversation.
As for Khabardar with Aftab Iqbal, I am unable to decide whether the program is in Urdu or Punjabi (or in both languages). This is how an obvious impression goes like this. Aftab Iqbal opens the program, mediates and concludes it in Urdu. Meanwhile, some ‘ignorant’ and ‘illiterate’ bhands interrupt him (and others) in Punjabi and entertain us. They are unable to speak Urdu despite being insisted to do so. The host snubs them for their lack of knowledge/information and teaches Punjabi speakers the correct pronunciation and etymology of Urdu words. A verbal and cultural clash between the ‘civilized’ and ‘uncivilized’ lot continues to entertain us.
On the other hand, Aftab Iqbal, a renowned scholar, journalist and linguist himself, conveys all substantial information in Urdu. An entire segment ‘Zuban-o-Bayan’ (language and discourse) is solely dedicated to Urdu language. The host, co-host and participants’ questions are all in Urdu. As a host, Aftab Iqbal has dominant role in the program. He seems to have sworn in not to speak Punjabi as if it might make him anything less worthy.
Such apparent laughter have underlying stereotyping of Punjabi language and its culture. Just as we used to laugh and share SMS jokes about Pathans and Sardars and have ended up stereotyping the both as stupid and idiots, I fear Punjabi language and its culture is being treated in a similar manner, yet on a much larger scale and with greater impact. Have we forgotten Waris Shah, Sultan Baho, Mian Muhammad Bakhsh, Munir Niazi, Jaswant Singh and countless other poets and authors who wrote in Punjabi language? Is not it that Punjabi is still the 10th largest spoken language in the world with over 100 million speakers? To represent Punjabi-speaking people as illiterate and unmannered, and pass over all knowledge and civility in Urdu, shows as if Punjabi is merely a tool for laughter, amounts to misrepresentation and discrimination on ideological grounds.
It gives a perception as if Urdu is the language of the civilized and educated lot; whereas, the situation with Punjabi language and culture is inverse. If we reflect this to 19th century British colonization, we come to know how tactfully English language was used as a war tool. It was portrayed as the language of civilized and educated lot, English poets and authors were depicted as kind of super-humans; whereas, subcontinent literature was deliberately portrayed as low-witted. Its impacts are still evident.
I see no harm if entire program is run in Punjabi. People should be informed about Punjabi language, culture and history. In linguistic terms, Punjabi is highly flexible and rich language with unprecedented capacity to make us laugh without paying much attention to meanings. On the contrary, Urdu offers us humor not everyone is capable of doing, and is far less adaptive to ‘juggat’ type features of Punjabi.
However, it should not be taken as an excuse to render the program the way it is done. At least, a segment dedicated to Punjabi language and could also serve the purpose. We better learn from Indian Punjabi cinema. Let us accept they are doing great job for promotion of Punjabi language and culture. Even in far-off Canada, Punjabi has become third most spoken language. The credit goes to Indian Punjabis, who proudly represent their culture.
Thus, a growing impression that Khabardar and other such programs are spreading needs to be shunned, lest we develop stereotypical behavior against Punjabi language, culture and its speakers.
P.S: I duly appreciate Aftab Iqbal and his team for raising public issues and spreading awareness of civil rights in a very interactive manner. No reservations against Urdu as language or against any of the team members.