International Mother Language Day was proclaimed by UNESCO’s General Conference in November 1999. Since then the day has been celebrated to strengthen linguistic and cultural diversity and multinlingualism. Most recently it was celebrated on 21 February the world over.
The importance of celebrating such a day is evident in the wake of a rapid globalization that threatens the very existence of smaller cultural identities. Unfortunately in our part of the world such ‘small’ matters don’t get due consideration because of poverty, illiteracy and lack of sensitization about preservation and promotion of cultural heritages.
Gilgit – Baltistan is a unique region because of its lingual and cultural diversity. Shina (Gilgiti- Chilasi – Puniali – Hunzai), Balti, Burushaski (Hunzai- Nagari – Yasini), Wakhi (Gojali – Iskhomani), Khowar (Chitrali), Kohistani, Domaki and Gojari are some of the large and smaller languages spoken in the region. Considering the small population of the entire region, calculated optimistically at not more than two million people, we will appreciate the average population that speaks a certain language or a dialect.
Shina is the largest language, spoken in all districts of Gilgit – Baltistan, including all its variations. Shina is followed by Balti, spoken in the Baltistan region, comprising of Ghangche and Skardu districts. Burushaski is spoken in two districts, three variations, and is the third largest language of the region. Burushaski is a rare language that is spoken in the northern areas only.
Wakhi, on the other hand, is spoken in different parts of some Central Asian Countries besides Gilgit – Baltistan and Chitral. The total number of people who speak Wakhi, internationaly, is calculated at around 60 ,000. Khowar, the official language of Chitral, is understood and spoken throughout Ghizar District. Similarly Gojari is spoken by a very small number of people in some parts of Gilgit – Baltistan.
All of these languages are at different stages of growth and development. Khowar, probably, is the most developed language of all. By far it has developed a rich collection of prose and poetry. But this has little to do with the Khowar speakers living in Gilgit – Baltistan. Most of the development, modernization, has taken place in Chitral, hearland of this sweet language.
Burushaski, for all good reasons, is the second most developed language of the region, in my opinion. While Burushaski poetry touches its zenith in the poems of Dr. Naseer Ud Din Hunzai a lot of work is required to develop Burushaski prose. Burushaski is the only language in the region in which the holy Quran has been translate, recently, by Alwaiz Ghulam Udin.
Balti is unique because apart from advances in poetry and prose there is a significant growth in Balti drama literature. Similarly Shina has developed to a large extent in almost all fields of lingual expression. Shina poetry, probably, is the most advanced form of literature.
Wakhi, despite of being an internationally spoken language, is yet to start its journey of developemnt. Wakhi poetry has developed significantly but efforts are still underway to develop a writing script for the language. Storry telling literature is available but not written, yet.
Domaki, in my opinion, is the most important language of our region. It is a unique language of the blacksmith. Discouraged by social stigmas, stereotypes and ridicule the language is threatened. Little efforts have so far been made to preserve the language and develop it on modern lines. Gojri language also faces the same fate, albeit, at a less intense scale.
The need is to instill (if needed), promote and stenghten pride of the people in their mother languages. We all must be proud of our linguistic heritage. If we are not proud of our languages today and, more importantly, if we do not donate our time and knowledge to develop them then at some time the coming generation may not be able to know what the languages of their forefathers were.
Towards the end let me share a poetry written by Nazir Ahmad Bulbul, a towering Wakhi poet, a painter and an educationst.
Nazir Poetry <<<<<<<<CLICK HERE TO READ The Roman Wakhi Script based graphic image by Aejaz Karim
I have tried to translate this poetry into English.
I Was Shephered, I am Shepherd
I am proud that I am Wakhi, I was Shepherd, I am Shepherd
I am the language of absolute faith, I was Shepherd, I am Shepherd
In the past I owned cattle, now I am in the pasture-hut of Knowledge
Herding thougths and ideas, I was Shepherd, I am Shepherd
Holding stick of pen in hand, my luggage of voyage are my books
Exploring the butter-store of knowledge, I was Shepherd, I am Shepherd
Skimming the butter of intellect, from the delicious curd of knowledge
Decanting the milk of ideas, I was Shephered, I am Shepherd
The entire world is our green field, everywhere we nestle to herd
In every field, at every slope, I was Shephered, I am Shepherd
I am Shepherd of my faith, I am Shepherd of the light and Quran
The most brilliant in all these times, I was Shephered, I am Shepherd
Oh Wakhi! remember when you could not speak, it is the vision of thy Master
(so) Once in a time, inquire thy truth, I was Shepwhered, I am Shepherd
Note: My language skills and inability to exactly translate the meanings of some of the Wakhi words might limit the scope and impact of this beautful poem. But in the words of Nazir himself
“it tells us that our roles and forms of earning livelihood might change but we must not forget our past and be proud of our cultural heritage”.