Siraiki: A Forgotten Mother-Tongue of Faridabad

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By Soumya Duggal

IF Delhi, Faridabad, Noida, Lucknow and other major cities in the Hindi heartland of India were siblings living in a great country house in Victorian England, surely Delhi would be the eldest male child- the sole inheritor of the title, estate and all the attention of the county. Faridabad would live a quieter life, no matter how rich in experience and quality. Indeed in the annals of history, Farid’s town has not attracted as many scholars-suitors as Delhi has, nor has its geographical landscape been bedecked by as many fine buildings or its literary cartography been bejewelled by as many lyrical elegies. Yet we must take a moment to hear its stories as they echo from the depths of its dried up lakes and parched tongues.

Simply said, Siraiki is the tongue, and not the language, of many of the people who reside in Faridabad. Even though its speakers across neighbouring Pakistan are some twenty million in number, Siraiki never attained the status of a language in its own right in India and has always been considered a corruption, a mere dialect of Punjabi. Before the Partition in 1947, it was known to its speakers by many names- Multani, Reasati, Derewali etc- in the Multan and Bahawalpur regions of Pakistan where they lived. Many of them settled in Haryana and Delhi post arriving in the newly formed Indian nation and brought along their mother-tongue. But hoping to thrive in the post-colonial era, they taught their children Hindi (the language of nationalism) and English (the language of power), and internalised the disdain they received for their “unrefined” regional vernacular in the new nation-state. Having severed ties with their native land on the other side of the border, they were unaware that this ‘dialect’ was gaining greater legitimacy for language-hood in Pakistan and would soon be rechristened Siraiki.

Today, even as they suppress the memories of their erstwhile homeland, marred as they are by bitter scenes of Partition violence and contemporary hate campaign against Pakistan in the Indian political discourse, the many residents of Faridabad, Ballabhgarh, Palwal, and so on, carry an inextricable bond with their language everywhere. They carry it in their names (the Bhatias, the Narangs, the Chawlas…), in their wedding songs (the oft-sung folk songs of Mussarrat Nazir), in their love for Sufis and their poetry- especially that of the founder of their second home, Sheikh Farid. If we could bring them the treasures of scholarship which have accumulated in the Siraiki departments of university campuses in Pakistan as well as the U.K., they too would realise the transnational power of their largely ignored and increasingly forgotten intangible heritage- Siraiki.


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