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VITASTA ANNUAL NUMBER: Volume XXXIV (2000-2001)

Plea for the retention of mother tongue, Kashmiri

Dr. K. L. Chowdhury

Language is a complex, critical and uniquely human function. Its components include comprehension, fluency, reading, writing, prosody etc.

Language is the single most defining attribute of a people. Music, painting, sculpture, dance and other arts originating from any region or country transcend geographical confines for they don't need special training to be appreciated. Language, on the other hand, being distinctive of geographical regions each country having its own language and each state, district and even borough its own dialect has to be learnt to be understood. Post-independent India was divided into linguistic states mainly on the basis of language rather than demographic and geographic considerations.

Language is the most important means of intercourse between humans. Without it, like the mute, we have to resort to the elaborate and complex ritual of sign language involving nodding, grunting, gestures, expressions and body movements to communicate. Sometimes we make use of the mime as part of, or in lieu of, the conventional conversational speech.

Mother tongue is the language, which one literally learns in the lap of mother and from one's father, other relatives, friends and the community. It is the language that has come down to us from generations as part of a larger heritage. It is rooted in history, ritual, tradition and folklore. We may be able to speak and write many languages and use them conveniently and profitably in our commercial, professional and social transactions but it is the mother tongue that comes to us naturally and spontaneously and that gives the best statement to our deepest and purest thoughts. We think and dream in our mother tongue. We laugh and weep in our mother tongue. We love best in it and we even curse best in it. In fact our mother tongue is the sum total of the essence of our thinking and feeling and expressing. Besides, there is a spiritual and a metaphysical need in every human for his or her mother tongue. One can not deny the need for a common language for a country like India and, for that matter, a universal language for the world, which has shrunk into a global village because of the breathtaking revolution in information technology, travel, trade and commerce. Yet, there is an intense human need for topicality, for identity, and for individuality and mother tongue is one such attribute of the humans that fulfills this need. Imagine the dichotomy between our thoughts and expressions when we think in our mother tongue and try to express in a different language and loose the essence somewhere in between.

Kashmiri (Koshur) is the mother tongue of all people from the valley of Kashmir-Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs alike. It is essentially a spoken language. Till date no easy script has come our way and we have yet to resolve the contentious issue of Persian versus Devnagri script. Since Koshur is not taught in the schools, except for a brief honeymoon spell decades back, the language has received a step-motherly treatment at the official as well the individual levels, even by the most vociferous proponents of the so called Kashmiriyat. Kashmiris of all faiths and pronouncements would rather teach themselves and their children Urdu, Hindi, English and even Persian and Arabic rather than Koshur. Besides the fact that it is neither an official language nor a medium of instruction in schools nor of use in interstate or international commercial dealings, there is an unexplained contempt for the language and kids are spoken to in a language other than Koshur and discouraged to speak it not only in their schools but even in their homes. Our children have thus been straitjacketed into languages other than Koshur. In the process they have lost the case, essence and fun of daily speech the humor, the pun and the proverb; the slang and the idiom; the aphorism and the riddle etc., which spice the day to day conversation in mother tongue. Where religion has divided the Kashmiris to the extent that the minority Hindus have been forced into exodus, the apathy and neglect of their mother tongue and the contentious issue of its script have played no small role in widening the gulf between communities instead of cementing their relationship by virtue of providing a common identity and an affable vehicle for interaction and intercourse.

After more than a decade in exile our mother tongue has become tongue-tied. The trend towards extinction of Kashur has got accelerated because of the dispersal and Diaspora and the breakdown of family structure and the tearing apart of the social fabric. The easy way out for our children, growing up or born in exile, is to speak the language of the region to which they have migrated, the language in which they would be welcome in the adopted milieu. Do in Rome as the Romans do is an old adage and, one might add, better speak their language too! You are immediately accepted in a place of adoption if you speak their lingua. Conversely, how glad we feel when the shopkeepers of Jammu, where many of us have migrated, not only make available for us all the provisions for our ritual and daily use but also hawk them aloud in Koshur like Dejhouru and Athoru, Sochal and Hannd, Munji and Nadru, Warimuth and Hogade tapping the emotional appeal of our mother tongue.

I can not fault the argument of friends that it is profitable as well as practicable to adopt the language of the region, state or country where we migrate besides having a working knowledge of Hindi, the national language, and learning English, the global language. But I do not agree that learning Koshur side by side is to burden your child with a language too many, and to muddle up his learning process. The study of the psychology of learning has amply proved that infants have an amazing power of learning many languages simultaneously without causing any confusion and that with the passage of time they sift the words, clauses and phrases of the different languages into their appropriate domains. And with a large vocabulary at their command they learn to experiment with the usage of words, borrowing them from one language to the other when they tend to falter, thus unconsciously innovating and adding to the richness of each. Let us not forget that the English language owes its wide acceptability partly to an ever-growing vocabulary that it continues to borrow from other languages enriching and expanding itself in the process.

Language is our identity like our name, parentage, place of birth, religion etc. It links us to history, to our heritage and to our culture. And since language identifies us and helps to bind us to our community, region and country it is only our mother tongue which can rekindle the urge and affinity for roots that is instinctual in all humans. Therefore it will be Koshur that will be the guiding spirit in exile for our march back to our homeland in Kashmir. It is the mother tongue that provides the best utterance to devotion and the most effective voice to revolution? Lall Ded could not have poured out her soul except in Koshur, nor could Mehjoor and Nadim fire the imagination of Kashmiris in any other language. Manoj Jad, a little known modern Kashmiri poet, singing in his loud invocatory voice his revolutionary song, holds a jam-packed audience spellbound to rouse them into a hand-clapping chorus where half a dozen scholarly discourses in another language from the same stage draw just a glimmer of response.

How do we then revive what is threatening to become a dead language for our younger generations? The first is to inculcate a sense of pride in our heritage, especially in our mother tongue, without decrying, discreditiong or disowning other languages. We are no linguistic chauvinists and understand the limitations of Kashmiri but we could take a leaf out of the English language. We have to enlarge our vocabulary and imbibe new words and expressions. There has to be finality about our script. Commendable work has been done by our pioneers and is being carried forward in Devnagri script and I feel we should continue from there and refine it to suit the unique Kashmiri nuances and inflexions, no doubt a challenging job for our linguists. Lot of effort has also been made in bringing the Kashmiri dictionary up to date and more needs to be done in this direction.

We need to revive the habit of speaking to each other in Koshur, especially to our children, in whichever part of the world we are resident. The slogan should be to catch them young if our aim is to reclaim our mother tongue and to re-implant it on the fertile cerebral soil of our progeny. Attractive pictorial primers of Koshur need to be published and people encouraged having copies at their homes. We have moved into the inter-net age. And we are fortunate in having amongst us many qualified and skilled IT personnel, computer engineers and software experts who should not find it difficult to create Kashmiri web sites and open cyberspace in Koshur. We need to provide incentive to our writers in Koshur whose work has not seen the light of the day; having remained unpublished for lack of resources and lack of readership. Our authors who have already published books remain largely unknown, unheard and unread except in a small literary circle. We should endeavor to finance new editions of their work and encourage people to get into the spirit of buying books other than prescribed texts. Our social and cultural functions should mainly be in Koshur and we should conduct literary events and hold declamation contests and stage Koshur plays. Cinema and music being strong vehicles for language, creation of video and audiocassettes and experimenting with Koshur films will go a long way in this age of media blitz. But, more than anything else, there has to be a strong will to preserve and propagate Koshur. This demands a sense of deep commitment to our mother tongue from each one of us.

[Mailing Address : Chowdhury Lane, Roop Nagar, Jammu-180013]
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