Anjali Gera Roy: Not Speaking a Language that is Mine


I speak a language that is not mine.1 I don’t speak a language that is mine. My mother tongue is Punjabi. But I don’t speak it. To be more precise, I am not as fluent in it as I am in Hindi, the national language; in colonial English; or even in the local Bengali. But ever since I can remember, I have entered Punjabi in the column one has to enter one's mother tongue. I am not alone in making this contradictory claim for I discover it to be a 'disability' I share with other ‘displaced’ Hindu Punjabis of my generation.2 How can one stake a claim to a mother tongue one speaks haltingly, softening its heavy consonants and lengthening its vowels? How can one demand the membership of a linguistic group without speaking its language? This paradoxical disengagement of language from ethnicity occurs at the ‘displaced’ sites of the Indian nation place. It foregrounds the language-ethnicity elision in the pre-national Indian imaginary superscripted by print nationalism. I will trace the linguistic dislocations of Partition displacement to examine the problematic constitution of the modern Indian subject converging on a national language.

The Indian nation myth essentially aimed to overwrite, through a unifying national script, linguistic cultural identifications. The middle-aged nation’s failure at national language implementation speaks volumes about tribal mothers’ recalcitrance to learn the new patois. The strong resistance to Hindi language implementation, in the South as well as in non-Hindi speaking states, is rooted in the elision of language and ethnicity in theBhaaratvarshiya imaginary.3 The national language comes metonymically burdened with the homogeneity of the nation narrative in this interlocking of language with ethnicity. National language implementation is shot with a strong ambivalence that mirrors the Indian subject’s problematic constitution. The ‘one as many’ slogan of the Indian nation, voiced in the national language, is greeted with a loud wail in the 'vernacular' tongues or bhashas, which apprehend the nation’s unifying impulse as eroding their regional difference. The stubborn attachment to the mother tongue is a vociferous protest against the feared dissolution of the many into one. The transnational era has signaled the return of the ‘tribes’ following the tracks of these 'tribal tongues' buried under the national unconscious. What happened to dialects that died with the last survivors?8 To which tribal songs may their descendants turn to claim tribal ancestry? Will the permanent loss of these dialects drum the birth of new idiolects? I shall attempt to explore these issues by tracing the linguistic habits of three generations of a displaced Hindu Punjabi family, which resettled in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh in the Hindi heartland. 4

My analysis, grounded in a family narrative, is restricted to the experience of a 'micro' community of displaced Hindu Punjabis dispersed after United Punjab’s Partition in 1947 to different parts of India. My arguments are based on my routine interactions and conversations with members of similar displaced Hindu Punjabi families in the Indian cities and towns I have lived in between the years 1964 to 2003, covering Srinagar, Jammu, Jaipur, Lucknow, Delhi, Nainital, Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bangalore. Stories have acquired legitimacy as an alternative research methodology in the humanities and social sciences in the recent years. I follow an intuitive method drawing from my readings in post-colonial theory, subaltern, diaspora and culture studies to record these stories and have grounded my explorations in a self-narrative in the hope that it will be corroborated by the narratives of other displaced Hindu Punjabi families. I believe that such ‘storytelling’ can be substantiated and supplemented by empirical sociological methodologies. In my opinion, self-narratives like the ones used in this text could fill up the gaps that sociologizing and anthropologizing have not been able to account for. They can provide a close-up focus that zeroes in on the minutiae of everyday life and practices from which one can pan across to wider theoretical frames. Partition narratives, in particular, have been suppressed, distorted or homogenized through the elision of linguistic, regional, ethnic or sectarian differences undergirding them. These 'little' self-narratives, as paradigmatic stories of displacement trauma, could be fruitfully utilized in the theorizing of displacement in the discourses of nationalism, diaspora and post-colonialism.5

Until a couple of decades ago, the column in which one has to enter one's nationality in all Indian state documents carried a footnote specifying the special category of the displaced, distinguishing it from other citizenship qualifiers such as birth, descent, or domicile. The displaced Hindu Punjabi temporality invokes the nation’s double time linguistically. Here is one community whose suffering the nation’s birthpangs literally entitles it to a particularly intimate kinship with the infant nation. Calendar time and dates of the nation compete with village event-time in the displaced Punjabi memory with the traumatic Partition experience forming the most significant temporal rupture. The secularized displaced Hindu Punjabi time traces its history to the birth of a secular nation carved out of an ancient communal core. Temporal breaks are marked here not by prophets’ births but deaths in the name of gods. The double time of the displaced Hindu Punjabi history is the pre-historic time of the 'tribal' past, Partition ton Pehlaan(Before Partition) and the secular nation time, Partition ton Baad(After Partition).6 Partition ton Pehlaan was roughly the time of spoken dialects, Partition ton Baad was the time of print languages, particularly the print language used in official documents.7 How did the ethnolinguistic subject negotiate the vocabulary of citizenship? The Punjabi subject transformed into the nation citizen by learning the rules and regulations governing the idiom of nationness. The bordercrossing translation ritual literally took place in the interstices of the nation marking many crossings – from the old to the new, from the sacral to the secular, from caste to class. It was a popular cultural text, namely the filmmaker Ramesh Sippy’s telenovellaBuniyaad(1984), which captured this 'translational' moment in the train the displaced family boards to India. The protagonist Lajoji, whose gendered tale slants Sippy’s Partition Narrative, chooses a Hindi, not a Punjabi, name for her newborn granddaughter. Her name–Bharati–ejects her from both her grandmothers’traditional Punjabi(Lajo,Veeranwali) and her mothers’ modern Punjabi(Lochan,Babli) narrative into the Hindi narrative of the modern Indian nation. By the time Bharati’s daughter, the Aditi character in Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding(2002), comes of age in the Indian English or Hinglish universe of millennial New Delhi , Punjabi has become a vestigial trace leaking as slippage in moments of intimacy or emotion. But diasporic Punjabi filmmakers Deepa Mehta and Gurinder Chadha have taken Nair's lead in 'upmarketing' Punjabiness to an exoticized global vernacular.

Partition ton Pehlaan(Before Partition)

From Pujandi to Satya Kumari


She was named Pujandi in her native dialect.9 Her progressive Arya Samaji husband made her enter the Great Indian Narrative by renaming her Satwanti. Her son changed it to Satya Kumari in tune with post-independence trends in Hindu women’s names. The story of several losses–of home, language and community–underwrites my grandmother’s inhabitation of her many names on which the nation’s script is overwritten. Till her death in the mid nineties, she remained an alien in her own country, her foreignness accentuated by ‘the foreignness of languages’. She spoke her singsong derewali that sounds alien even to East Punjabi speakers. Conversely, she never quite ‘settled’ in the Hindi heartland to which the family migrated. For one who located her home in a North Western Frontier Province, in a pind(village) called Bhakkhar, the nation narrative was framed within a migrant narrative, first from the village to the city and then to another linguistic region. Her imagination translated the nation’s alien geography as the loss of a home village and as the necessity of having to master a foreign language. Therefore, the first generation displaced Hindu Punjabi tenancy of the local dialect, a foreign tongue in the new land, problematizes the clash of old imaginings of the nation with the new. The lost home and community, without the compensating ‘myth of return’, are recovered in the traces of the dialect. Dialects, unlike the print languages on which the nation is imagined, speak of and from small places of face-to-face speech communities. They also remain the last resistive spaces in the homogenizing movement of print nationalism.

The pre-national Indian imagining of homeland was essentially a very small locality based in a dialect and a region.10 The synonymy of home with a linguistic region in the Indian imaginary, invariably a small locality, becomes particularly problematic when the region turns overnight into a foreign country. The citizen subject reclaiming a home in another nation is a contradiction of the condition of compliance underwriting the formation of the national subject. Adrift in a nation that is not home, he zooms in so close on the homeland that macro boundaries go out of focus. Home for the displaced Hindu Punjabi is the Punjabi suba frequently interchangeable with the mulk/watan or nation. The homeland, located in a narrowly defined Punjabi region with its particularized dialect, is a geographically bounded neighbourhood (river, mountainrange, and climate). Take, for example, the case of derewali's geographical constituency. Derewali binds the district lying between Jhelum and Sindhu river on the North West Frontier Province, now in Pakistan. Across the Sindhu are other dialect regions, for instance,balochi in Balochistan and Bannuwaali in Bannu. The map given above (1905) can provide the topography and contours of undivided Punjab.


Besides, the proposed national language had to write the new nation on the traces of the Moghul scribal lingua. It must be noted that the communicational languages of old empires did not ever encroach on the cultural territories of speech. The switch from Hindustani to Hindi and Urdu as official languages of India and Pakistan heralds the emergence of the nation from the remains of the Empire. Courtly Hindustani marks the graphocentric phase in the gap separating phonocentric dialects from print languages. Pre-partition educational practices reflect this transitional moment in a linguistic split between 'the Hindiwallahs' and 'the Urduwallahs'.8 As the nation’s birth becomes imminent, the nationmaking process is expedited by the sharp switchover to Hindi from Urdu.

Dialect and language divide splits the private and public spaces of modern civil society. The citizen subject is born in the separation of the dialect or private speech from language or public discourse. Pujandi’s offspring, ill at ease in the face-to-face intimacy of derewali, articulate their aspirations to Standard Punjabi’s urbane inflections. Dialect has a strange meeting with language in the domestic space where Pujandi’s 'rustic' derewali utterances are greeted with Standard Punjabi responses in Lyallpur (renamed Faisalabad). Instead of resisting it, the dialect gives in to Punjabi’s unifying space in the construction of modernity. The erasure of 'dialectal' differences in Standard Punjabi enables the imagining of a unified Punjabi community. Standard Punjabi’s modernity writes its difference from the closed spaces of local dialects, which circumscribe identity in rigid kinship structures of belonging.

Anderson’s point about the homogenizing impact of print languages on speech communities is illustrated by dialects’ natural death in the evolution of modern Indian print languages. The development of modern Punjabi opens up new identity routes on which the nation myth might be scripted. But the inscription of the nation in modern Indian languages, be it Punjabi or Bengali, reveals a marked divergence from the unifying script the Indian nation sought to inscribe itself in. The adoption of modern Punjabi by educated speakers in Lahore and Lyallpur is a move away from small dialect based identifications towards the beginnings of a modern Punjabiqaum. Speakers of different dialects congregate in the public sphere of a standardized Punjabi to construct a unified linguistic space, which will be seen to reveal a deep ethnocultural as well as ethnolinguistic cleavage.9

The imagining of the nation in the Punjabi language produces slippages of religion translating into separatist demands for two pure lands, Pakistan and Khalistan. Though the latter is also couched as a linguistic demand, the Hindu Punjabi’s linguistic nationalism is a disjuncture in the sacral pre-national communities. The convergence of Arya Samaaj’s Hindu reformist programme with the Indian nationalist project offers the Hindu Punjabi a politically right path out of prospective minority location.10 Hindu Punjabis allegedly enter Hindi as their mothertongue and are dubbed traitors by the Akaali Dal. Pujandi enters the grand Indian masternarrative as the namesake of theMahabharata queen Satwanti, as the Arya Samaaj movement sweeps over Punjab dissolving tribal names, gods and dialects in a ‘return to Vedas’ Hinduism.

Satya Kumari

Torn between Muslim and Sikh separatism, the Punjabi Hindu community’s allegiance to Indian nationalism puts it in a linguistic bind. Consent to the nation narrative is interpreted as a tacit agreement to exchange place and language identities for a homogenous nation space signified by the national language. Mastery of the national language, of Hindi in India or Urdu in Pakistan, is flashed as a secret password to the citizenship of secular nation space in India and to the Islamic state in Pakistan. No other linguistic space cleared as wide a passage for the national language incursion as that of the displaced Hindu Punjabi. It betrays a naive faith in the reality of the nation myth, whose fragments interrogate its existence today.

Pujandi’s family sought in the dream of a secular nation forged in a national language a refuge from religious persecution. Its attempts to enter the nation narrative by learning the national language yielded much amusement. How does one get oneself understood in another language without making 'expensive' mistakes? Lengthening Punjabi sounds gives cause for unintentional humour and confusion. But Pujandi, now Satya Kumari, valiantly fights her way through the maze of Hindi to get across basics no matter if her strange accent causes much merriment among the locals who speak chaste Hindi or Urdu. Displaced from both the dialect and the vernacular tongue, the family’s increasing fluency in the national language is an indicator of the success of the rehabilitation scheme. Shuttling between the Punjabi place of the resettlement colonies and the nation space of public places, their uneasy tenancy of the new language and place is accentuated by the differences in pronunciation, everyday practices and rituals. Punjabi’s 'alien; rhythms translate into a harsh Hindi underlining the violence of the resettlement scheme. Though an entire generation comes of age in the resettlement colonies, home Punjabi still conflicts with public Hindi to produce an 'atrocious' accent. Like all other old world customs, Punjabi speech might be practiced within the confines of the refugee ghetto. But Hindi is the currency to be exchanged for assimilation into the new milieu. Though strains of Punjabi might still be heard in extended families where the first two generations find comfort in the home language, nuclear set-ups are almost 'Hindiized'. These homes, saddled with the baggage of a foreign Punjabi in the new land, adjust to the changed surroundings by switching over to the national language the children bring home from school. The strange discourse between Pujandi and her children is repeated in another generation with the derewali dialect being replaced by Standard Punjabi. It would take three decades for a booming Punjabi industry to transform the shame of refugee existence into a saga of pride and adventure. Though Punjabi cannot be restored, the employment of Punjabi Hindi in the public sphere will signify not as Punjabi 'foreignness' but as Punjabi difference. And it would be another couple of decades before Punjabi can returnas the loudest voice in the Indian popular cultural space.11

The myth of return distinguishes the self-constitution of other migrants from refugees. While most migrants are 'strangers', refugees are particularly vulnerable because they are unwelcome both at home and abroad. While other migrants find refuge in language and ethnicity from their estrangement in foreign tongues and nations, refugees fleeing from ethnic violence know the price of ethnic difference too well. They rush to eradicate every trace of foreignness by wiping off all visible signifiers of ethnicity. They make a conscious attempt to adopt local dress, manners and languages to assimilate into the mainstream. The new settlers’ status is decided by their political clout. Conquerors demand homage, the vanquished receive contempt, or pity, at best. When the homeless are given shelter in others’ homes, they make space for themselves by making themselves inconspicuous. The hidden spaces of the home alone remain the preserve of ethnicity. Here one may speak tribal dialects, observe archaic rituals, relish exotic cuisines, and sing primeval songs without the fear of reprisal. Refugees must acquire a working knowledge of the local language and customs to be able to do business in the adopted land. But they return every evening to the security of the dialect of the ghetto where the old place is reconstructed through memory in the dwellings, the food, the attire, and everyday habits.

Unfortunately, certain identity markers, such as the body or the accent, cannot be cast away as easily. The body and the accent inscribe their foreignness in the land of others. The Punjabi language and ethnicity signified to the older residents an inferiorized refugee identity. The filth and squalour of the refugee camps, eyesores on the nation’s ancient cultural capitals – Delhi, Kolkata, Lucknow – were projected as metaphors of cultural debasement. If Punjabi dialects sounded harsh and uncouth, Lahori Urdu was designated a poor countrycousin to the chaste Lakhnavi.12 Punjabi costume, designed on Muslim patterns, paraded its foreignness against the backdrop of starched dhotis and sarees. Punjabi music sounded too loud and cacophonous to classical Hindustani ears. Displaced Hindu Punjabis were willing to make any adjustment, linguistic or cultural, to make a home in the new nation. The displaced Hindu Punjabi male learned to write Hindi to know his rights and duties as citizen subject and worked overtime to enter the nation as producer. The displaced Hindu Punjabi female learned to speak Hindi to participate in the nation’s public sphere and went through a complete 'makeover' to recast herself as an Indian woman. The acquisition of the national language, Hindi, and the removal of visible Punjabi ethnocultural signifiers signaled not only derewali's but aslo Punjabi’s death, which coincided with the displaced Hindu Punjabi subjects’ transmutation into Indian citizens. It took a couple of generations to make them shed their strong derewali or Punjabi accent and yet another to tone down their skin colour and physical features. It also took two generations for them to come home to the loss of a dialect and to the discovery that the submergence of the home in the dream of the nation was permanent.

Partition ton Baad (Post Partition)

Rushdie’s deconstruction of English in Midnight’s Children was viewed as signposting a significant moment in the decolonization process. But the deconstruction of Hindi a couple of years later in the celebrated commercial Hindi filmmaker Ramesh Sippy’s magnum opus Buniyaad on the small screen, on the other hand, went completely unnoticed in literary circles. But his homage to Punjabi Hindi, the way Hindi is spoken by Punjabi speakers, opened the Indian skies to regional variations of Hindi. Hindi films and Hindi language television have switched over to spoken vernacular Hindi registers from stilted Standard Hindi thanks to Ramesh Sippy’s mega tele-serial following 'the rags to riches' story of a displaced Hindu Punjabi family. However, long before the titan of Hindi filmdom made the Punjabi Puttar part of South Delhi’s haute couture, Hindi had always been deconstructed in Punjabi homes.13 In a manner similar to the way Rushdie works the structure of English outwards to inflect it with Hindi rhythms, displaced Hindu Punjabis would alter Standard Hindi to infuse it with Punjabi ‘structures of feeling’. The first, and perhaps the second, generation’s Hindi 'vowel and semi-vowel disability', is turned by the third generation into an act of linguistic deconstruction.14 Speaking its difference from Standard Hindi, displaced Punjabi Hindi scripts a difference in the Indian masternarrative inscribed in the national language.

European nationalism, converging on a print language, proved to be far from modular when confronted with the multiplicity of Indian languages. Followed to its logical extreme, cultural identifications clustered around languages disrupted the homogeneity of the nation space. The idea of the nation, a derivative discourse, required a link language to approximate to the European model. But fifty-five years after the birth of the nation, Indian languages are more likely to be relegated to oblivion by global English than by national Hindi. The ambivalence in the adoption of the national language by non-Hindi populations is replicated in the reluctant assent to the idea of the nation. Linguistic returns of the transnational era drive home the strength of these linguistic memories on which the nation myth was superimposed.

Identities are always relational and accretive. When an Indian meets a European, he identifies himself as an Indian; when he meets another Indian, he specifies his linguistic identity; when he meets another member of his linguistic group, he particularizes the region. Unlike that of other Indian linguistic groups, the displaced Hindu Punjabi’s particularized place is not relational and accretive but disjunctive. Recalling a region-based memory preserved in the dialect that the national memory erased forever along with the homeland, this disjunctive small regional memory recalls the violence of the national superscript. As the sole signifier of a particular ethno-cultural identity, the loss of dialect is particularly poignant as a grim reminder of the permanence of the loss of the homeland. The displaced Hindu Punjabi subjectivity is 'barbwired' against real geographical spaces. Unlike the materiality of regional spaces inhabited by other dialects, the geo-region survives virtually as a memory. The displaced Hindu Punjabi’s small regional memory reverses the real/imaginary dialectic of the region and the nation through this act of double imagining.

While the indelibility of vernaculars enables other linguistic returns, speakers of vanishing dialects can disrupt the homogenous nation space only by inscribing difference in the national language. The national language does not meet regional language difference but is repeated with a difference, a difference that does not return as the same. The repetition of the national language fractures its unified structure to inscribe the absence of the dialect. Neither Hindi nor Punjabi, the new language calls forth the violence of the idea of the nation. Like its speakers, the hybrid idiom is articulated in the transitory spaces of displacement. Neither at home in the new Hindi, nor in the forgotten Punjabi, the displaced Hindu Punjabi has inscribed the loss of home through communicating his discomfort in both. The displacement narrative cannot be inscribed in a pre-given linguistic origin but a linguistic rupture that inscribed the loss of home in a new language.15 It constructs cultural identifications from a language of negation, which borrows familiar signs to signify difference rather than identity.

I speak Hindi, a language that is not mine. I don’t speak Punjabi, which is my language. I speak Hindi because it is the only language I have. I speak Hindi fluently but with a difference that signifies my non-identity with its native speakers. I speak it with a trace of Punjabi to make it mine.

Works Cited

Ashcroft, Bill. Post-colonial Transformation. NY: Routledge 2001
Bhaba, Homi K. Nations and Narrations. London: Routledge 1990
Chatterjee, Partha. The Nation and its Fragments. Delhi: OUP
Chadha Gurinder, Bend it Like Beckham 2002
Das, Veena et al(ed), Violence and Subjectivity. New Delhi: Reynolds 2000
Derrida, Jacques. Margins of Philosophy. Tr Alan Bess Chicago: Chicago Univ Press 1982
Gupta, Dipankar, The Context of Ethnicity: Sikh Identity in a Comparative Perspective. Delhi: OUP 1996
Hall, Stuart, “New Ethnicities”. Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies. (ed) David Morley & Kuan-Hsing Chan. London: Routledge 1996 441-449
Nair Mira, Monsoon Wedding 2001
Nandy, Ashis, Time Warps: The Insistent Politics of Silent and Evasive Pasts. N Delhi: Permanent Black. 2001
Pandey, Gyanendra, Remembering Partition: Violence, Nationalism and History in India. Cambridge University Press. 2001
Sippy Ramesh Buniyaad 1984-85
Veer, Peter van der. Religious Nationalism: Hindus and muslims in India. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1984


Our thanks for permission to reprint the above article to - Anukriti. Translation Today for Anjali Gera Roy's essay 'Not Speaking a Language that is Mine' Vol 1. No 2. October 2004

_____________________________________________ 1 Refer to Jacques Derrida’s collection of essays in Speaking a Language that is not my Own where he relates his own situation – a Mehrabian speaking French – to the nature of language.
2 I am beholden to Tutun Mukherjee for this phrase and for leading me to believe that my little story has its place in the mega national narrative. I have discovered through my routine conversations with other Punjabis that this disability is confined to displaced Hindu Punjabis forced to settle outside Indian Punjab, especially those raised in nuclear homes. Sikh Punjabis retain Punjabi language irrespective of the place of resettlement or migration. The splintering of the religious and linguistic identity is peculiar to Hindu Punjabi but not other Hindu communities say Gujrati or Bihari. This happens because their religious affiliation enjoins the learning of devanagarirather than gurmukhi, the Punjabi script developed by Sikhism. Research has shown the use of shahmukhi used to transcribe Punjabi sounds prior to the formation of the Sikh identity.
3 I will use the term Bhaaratvarshiya to designate the pre-national community that the nation India replaced. I choose this over the later term Hindustan because of its sectarian and regional connotations. My preference is not rooted in any originary desire but the inclusiveness accorded by its anteriority, which locates all subsequent self-imaginings into a pre-national temporality.
My description of derewali[Miyaanwali] as a dialect was based on the general understanding of derewali as a dialect of Punjabi among displaced Punjabis. 4 Ironically, Punjabi speakers were in the habit of using Hindustan to refer to this region and Hindustani to the speakers of Hindi from whom they distinguished themselves. This linguistic slip, pointing to older linguistic communities, writes them out of the nation.
5 Diaspora theory has largely addressed itself to linguistic, ethnic or sectarian diasporas overseas. Similar intra-national diasporas have not been theorized. Interestingly, Bill Ashcroft’s Post-colonial Transformations illustrates place and displacement by citing the Partition diaspora. Gyanendra Pandey’s Remembering Partition uses the Partition experience to theorize about nationhood, history and particular forms of sociality.
6 Among the Partition displaced, Partition serves as the most important marker in dividing generations. The most important difference is between those who were born before Partition and those born later. Gyanendra Pandey suggests that the alternative names to refer to the events of 1947, ‘are diverse claims regarding nationalism and the nation-state’(2001:13)
7 Though modern Punjabi evolved well before the Indian Partition, dialects continued to flourish in Punjab. The temporality of both modern Punjabi and Hindi is at odds with dialect time. The official language of pre-Partition Punjab Hindustani met challenges from Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi promoted by the Muslim league, the Arya Samaaj and the Akali Dal respectively in consolidating Muslim, Hindu and Sikh identities causing Punjabi’s linguistic rupture. Peter van der Veer notes ‘the creation of a regional identity around the symbolic cluster of a tomb cult as that of Faridudin Chisti in Punjab. He asserts that the establishment of Baba Farid’s shrine was instrumental in the transformation of this region from a non-Islamic to an Islamic one. He offers an insight into the fracturing of a regional idenity into a sectarian identity, particularly in Punjab. He mentions that the change in names from Punjabi secular to Islamic, which disappear completely by the early nineteen century reveals a very slow homogenization of the identities of the the followers of Baba Farid, which he compares to Hinduization or Sikhization.
As the essays in this special feature show, languages such as derewali, lahnda, Hindco and others that have now been included in Siraiki in contrast to my understanding of them as being variations of Punjabi.
8 Khushwant Singh makes a jocular reference to the divide between the Hindi and Urduwallahs in Government College Lahore in his obituary to the Hindi writer Bhisham Sahni. Though Hindi might have been available as an option, Urdu was the preferred language up to a certain point. The majority of Punjabi Hindu males who were in high school before Partition are able to write the Urdu script but write Devanagari with great difficulty. Those born closer to Partition, particularly females have no knowledge of Urdu.
9 Deepa Mehta freezes this moment of rupture on celluloid in her film 1947 Earth. The film constructs a public sphere where all castes and communities might freely congregate and dialogue represented by the Hindu ayah (governess) and lallah (shopkeeper), Muslim khaansaama (cook), Ice-candy Man and maalishwaalaah (masseur), the Sikh worker and the Christian sweeper. The riots on both sides of the proposed border trigger a rift between friends that turns out to be unbreachable. “Punjabis ceased to be Punjabis and became Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs”. Pandey quotes an intelligence report. (Rees papers, PBF bundles, Secret ‘log’ of 4th August 1947) Pandey 2001: 198) Nandy cites this as an example of ‘religion as ideology’ coming into conflict with ‘religion as faith’.
1 0 Punjab’s demographic structure has changed after its several partitions. Hindu Punjabis, a considerable majority in undivided Punjab, are a minority in present day Punjab. Dipankar Gupta notes that their perception of themselves as a minority (though they constituted 31% of the population of undivided Punjab) might have played a role in the way Hindu Punjabis welcomed the Arya Samaaj movement. Gupta also attributes to the Arya Samaaj movement the resurgence of a Hindu consciousness in Punjab. The alleged listing of Hindi as mother tongue by Hindu Punjabis led to the further division of Punjab into Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.
1 1 The nineties have signaled the return of Punjabi to India via the Punjabi diasporic presence, which has created a global space for Punjabi through its music. Today, no Bollywood film is complete without a Punjabi number.
1 2 Dipankar Gupta makes very important distinction between the alleged ‘Punjabi invasion’, which the older residents found brash and aggressive and the specific culture engendered by contingencies of refugee existence. “The lack of decorum and form that older residents of Delhi objected to were really outcomes of refugee existence”(1996: 32)
1 3 Puttar, son, is an endearment used to address both male and female children by elders. The linguist Vaishna Narang told me in a private conversation in October 1995 that Delhi Punjabis switched over from the Hindi equivalent beta, son, to puttar post Buniyaad.
1 4 Punjabi speakers had problems with Hindi semi-vowels as in sounds ending with kra or dra. But it can be used to signify Punjabi difference, such as pronouncing putra (son) as puttar or fikra (anxiety) as fikar in Punjabi Hindi.
15 Veena Das displays a great sensitivity to this linguistic dislocation speaking about her experience of interviewing displaced urban Punjabi families in connection with her work on their ‘aesthetic of kinship’. A ‘delicate aesthetic’ alluding to betrayals and complaints could be reconstructed only at the edges of conversation, which invoked the old kinship structures. “The very language that bore these memories had a foreign tinge to it, as if the Punjabi or Hindi in which it was spoken was some kind of translation from another unknown language”, she observes. (Das 2000: 209)

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