For a long time now, I firmly believe that there are two types of minds; good at numbers and good at words. I know right now most of you must be thinking of a third kind “good for nothing”, and trying your best to put me in that category. I very much appreciate and share your great sense of humor but for now, let us focus on the first two kinds.

I was always good at words and bad at numbers. Always a bone of contention at school between the social sciences teachers who considered me a favorite and mathematics teachers who thought that I wasn’t good enough. At university, my transcript would read like this; B minuses and C’s in Micro Economics, Statistics, Accounting and Finance (I was clever enough to avoid an F, couldn’t possibly bear the horror of repeating a torturous course), and when it came to social sciences and languages, the transcript would be glowing with straight A’s. This pattern has continued into my later life. I live and breathe poetry and literature, am good at understanding people and their feelings, a maestro at deep 4 am conversations, but a total disaster in maintaining my own accounts and monthly budget. Punjabis are perhaps the only people on earth who have a tendency of feeling inferior about their own language and don’t want their kids to learn it.

At home, our parents conversed with each other in Punjabi and with us in Urdu. At school, the medium of education was English and we used to talk to our teachers and friends in Urdu. Then came a time when my old school father realized that we are seriously lagging behind in Punjabi. He asked us to speak our mother tongue at home, but by then it was too late. The old man gave up. I had a good understanding of Punjabi but I couldn’t speak the language fluently. A few years later, when I was more and more into music and literature, I finally saw the real face of Punjabi. I was absolutely mesmerized by its soulful music, the raw beauty of its Sufi poetry, amazing diversity of its phonetics, rich vocabulary and incomparable humor.

I realized that a beautiful treasure is lying ignored at our feet. I picked it up and embraced it. Thanks to a mind good at words, I could fluently speak the language in no time. Father was happy and so was I. Another thing which brought Punjabi into my life is the fact that practical life in Lahore and the rest of Punjab is very difficult if not impossible, without Punjabi. You approach a fruit seller, talk to him in Urdu and the price of bananas per dozen would hike up to a double. You can get the same for the right price if you ask in Punjabi. Getting good deals in the market wasn’t the only reason I started speaking Punjabi more and more. It is the language of the common man and when you don’t know it, there’s a significant barrier between us.

I don’t like barriers. Also, the last thing I would want is to try and fit in a social class which finds it humiliating to speak their mother tongue. Connection with a genuine common man is much more useful and makes all the sense in the world than having anything to do with a fake elitist who is probably ashamed of his Punjabi speaking granny. Many times, I’ve been asked by strangers how come you speak such good Punjabi, I could only guess that a well-educated and well-dressed millennial doesn’t prefer conversing in his mother tongue anymore. I would really like to put emphasis on two most profound aspects of Punjabi language and culture; its poetry and humor. Punjabi poetry has a very rich and unique expression.

It is very firmly rooted in the Punjabi soil. From simple yet beautiful songs to express the pain and pleasure of life to deep Sufi thoughts, Punjabi poetry is very pure, intense and beautiful. Punjabi humor is like none other. Actually in Punjabi you don’t even have to be funny to make people laugh to death; you just have to have a funny way of saying something very serious. The same thing wouldn’t sound least bit funny in any other language. Now, imagine how hilarious the real Punjabi humor could be. A Punjabi would never find the same pleasure in joking or cursing in any other language. Jugatbaazi, which can be roughly translated as funny taunting has become such an art form in Punjabi that it has no parallel in any other language.

There’s a geographic angle to Punjabi humor as well. It has a capital. I won’t name the place lest I hurt the sensibilities of its natives but the fact remains; they are the funniest people in all the land. Every child should have the right to receive an education in their mother tongue. The kind of educational emergency we have in Pakistan, insisting on a rigid medium of education keeps a huge population illiterate. Also, it’s only natural that in such circumstances, people would develop negative feelings towards the imposed language. Pakistan has always had language issues mainly because of its failure to replace English as official language and insisting on keeping Urdu as sole national language. Several first world countries have as many as four national and official languages. We need to find a balanced and progressive approach in the matter.

My first love was Urdu. It still is. Legendry poet Gulzar has sung the ultimate praise of the language in his famous poem “yeh kaisa ishq hai Urdu zubaan ka”, so there’s not much left to say. I would only add that it makes you fall in love with it even if you’re not an Urdu speaker. English followed soon as the world of Urdu was mostly limited to Sub-continent. It opened the doors of the world for me; from the beautiful translations of world literature to excellent histories and research and scholarship on literally every aspect of life. My mother tongue was the last to make it to my heart but it enjoys a very special place. One inconvenience of being trilingual is that at times you get confused. If you keep speaking and writing in one language for a long time, it becomes difficult to do the same in other language. Also, sometimes there’s a discrepancy in your thoughts and words because you are thinking in one language and expressing in another and each has a different flow. However, I truly believe that the thought chooses its language.

It tells you in which language it would shine like nothing else. (see, my poor attempt at translating “khayal apna pairahan khud talash karta hai”) Let us celebrate the beauty of our native languages which are not so developed or marginalized in any way. Languages die when their speakers abandon them. I take this opportunity to say Thank you Punjabi, for introducing me to a whole world of beauty and dreams.