Punjabi On A 50 Year Rope?

Hat’s off to songwriter Anand Bakshi, not just for some phenomenal poetry in general, but for his use of Punjabiyat. In dozens of songs that he wrote for Hindi films, he sprinkled a few Punjabi words in essentially Hindustani poetry. We are not talking clearly Bhangra, where such words are needed. This wasn’t anything original either, as many other lyricists had done this before him, but Bakshi really milked the Punjabi cow. If Punjabiyat refers to Punjabi-ness, or the essence of being Punjabi, Bakshi gets top honours for it in Hindi songs. The cross-pollination exercise has to be effected delicately, without destroying the identity of the host language, and this poet achieved that well.
One wonders how much a writer’s Punjabi excursions into Hindustani poetry have had to do with the cultural background of the characters that have mimed his songs on the screen; how much with the film’s situation, and how much with his own love of the language. Perhaps it hasn’t been so much of the first, because in most cases, not only have many characters not been Punjabi (at least not clearly so), most did not utter anything in Punjabi in the dialogues of the film. A case in point was in the film Raja Saab (1969). Neither Shashi Kapoor nor Nanda spoke in Punjabi in the film, but they did sing a Punjabi-flavored song, with him going “Tu jangal ki morni te main baagaan da mor, ke luk-chhup chori-chori aa do baataan kar laiye…baataan kar laiye, mulaaqaataan kar laiye”. While she responded with, “Mera naam hai Chaandni te tera naam Chakor, ke luk-chhup chori-chori aa do baataan kar laiye”. After this opening the song switches to mainly Hindustani.

But besides these three reasons for sprinkling a Punjabi tadka, could there be a fourth reason Bakshi was doing so? Maybe that the language was dying, and he was pained with the idea? A UNESCO report of 2010 lists many languages that are in various stages of endangerment, with Punjabi given about 50 years before it dies out. Other language experts give it about 20 years more. Here are some facts about the state of the Punjabi language, engaging with both sides of the India-Pakistan border, areas which are home to Punjabi language and culture.
Consider quickly the Indian part of the Punjabi story first. Here they consider it chic if you speak in English or Hindi, and this is true even in Punjab itself. Most people look at Punjabi as a pendu or ganwaar language, with neither sweetness nor sophistication. It is a language of bawdy jokes. That is why when you traverse the Punjab, you see very few signboards in Gurmukhi; they’re mostly in English and Devnagri now. That is also why only English and Hindi schools are doing so well in the state, even at the primary level.

If India’s Punjabi story is sad, across the border in Pakistan, it’s pathetic. Punjabis make up 48% of Pakistan’s population of about 160 million, i.e., about one in two Pakistanis is a Punjabi. But would you believe less than five books are published in Punjabi in that country in any year? What’s amazing too is while the other languages have many newspapers in their language, there are just three Punjabi newspapers in Pakistan today, and all are somewhat young in age. This one amazes too: no member of the Punjab Provincial Assembly may speak in Punjabi without the permission of the Speaker.

Says Professor Abbas Zaidi, in Linguistic Cleaning, The Sad Fate of Punjabi in Pakistan: “The most aggressive anti-Punjabi-ists come from the educated and semi-educated classes. As soon as they acquire the most minimal academic advancement, the first thing they do is jettison their natural language. I have never seen or heard of an educated, or even semi-educated, Punjabi parent who is willing to communicate with his or her child in their native tongue. Rather, they strongly discourage and often rebuke their children if they even suspect they might be talking to other children in Punjabi, because speaking Punjabi is considered a mark of crudeness and bad manners.
“A young child speaking Punjabi is at best an amusing curiosity for adult Punjabis. In a posh social or academic gathering anyone trying to speak that language is either trying to be funny or himself becomes the butt of jokes. A poet who writes in Punjabi finds an audience predisposed only to ribald entertainment”.

It wasn’t always so. Many great poets wrote in Punjabi, down the centuries, like Guru Nanak, Baba Farid and Bulle Shah. But those times have come and gone. It is another matter that we sometimes feel the language is in good health, thanks to high-profile punk rock singers who sing in Punjabi, and gurudwaras in the west that teach Gurmukhi to the young at Sunday School. But the weightages in such pockets only manage to take our focus away from the reality of the larger picture.

Here now are many songs from Hindi films, sprinkled with a few Punjabi words, for some of which you’ll have to hear the song. The lyricist is mentioned too.

• Ni main kehndi reh gayi (Aziz Kashmiri/Sabz Bagh, 1951)
• Chal meri gadiye tu chhuk chhuk chhuk (Aziz Kashmiri/Ek Do Teen, 1953)
• Nazron ke teer maare kas kas kas (Qamar Jalalabadi/Do Ustad, 1959)
• Bindiya chamkegi (Anand Bakshi/Do Raste, 1969)
• Tu jangal di morni (Anand Bakshi/Raja Saab, 1969)
• Resham ki dori (Anand Bakshi/Sajan, 1969)
• Ek to ye bairi saawan (Sahir/Dastaan, 1972)
• Teer kamaan ho gayi, Reshma jawaan ho gayi (Anand Bakshi/Mome Ki Gudiya, 1972)
• Beshaq mandir masjid todo (Anand Bakshi/Anand Bakshi/Bobby, 1973)
• Babul tere baaghaan di main bulbul (Anand Bakshi/Jheel Ke Us Paar, 1973)
• Koi shehri babu (Anand Bakshi/Loafer, 1973)
• Main teri Heer hoon (Verma Malik/Raftaar, 1975)
• Ki gal hai, koi naheen (Anand Bakshi/Jaaneman, 1976)
• Arre aa gaye hum dildaar (Anand Bakshi/Chalta Purza, 1977)
• Likhne waale ne likh daale (Anand Bakshi/Arpan, 1983)
• Lambi judaayi (Anand Bakshi/Hero, 1983)
• Kaali teri choti hai paraanda tera laal ni (Indivar/Bahaar Aane Tak, 1990)
• Mainu ishq da lagiya rog (Sameer/Dil Hai Ki Maanta Nahin, 1991)
• Meri makhana, meri soniye (Sameer/Baghbaan, 2003)
• Assi ishq da dard jaga baitthe (Dev Kohli/Sheesha, 2005)

The Lara lappa girl
Perhaps the most famous song with Punjabiyat sprinkled on it was Lara lappa laayi rakhda written by Aziz Kashmiri in Ek Thi Ladki (1949) filmed on its lead actress Meena, with a few others. After that amazing song, she became known as the Lara lappa girl. Her real name was Khursheed Jahan, and she was a Punjabi who loved her mother tongue. Earlier, in 1948, Meena had starred opposite Karan Dewan in India’s first post-Partition Punjabi film, Chaman. She went on to act in about 30 films in India, before she went to Pakistan, along with her new husband, filmmaker Roop K. Shorey, accepting a role in Miss 1956, a Pakistani copy of India’s Mr. and Mrs. 55. After a few months of shooting, while her escorting husband came back, Meena Shorey decided to drop anchor in Lahore, eventually starring in about 30 films there too. In spite of all that, she was not able to invest her earnings well.

In fact, she spent her last few years in penury. To compound matters, she witnessed the gradual disappearance of her mother tongue from the social fabric of Pakistani Punjabi society, something that pained her no end.

Meena, like many others, shouldn’t have gone away at all. She could have stayed back like many Punjabis, for example Mohammad Rafi, Shamshad Begum, and Suraiya. But chhaddo ji, she didn’t ask us for advice. In any case, it’s too late for her to take it.

Originally publeshed: 26th February, 2017