Wednesday, Aug 10, 2022

The Mighty Ma Boli: Punjabi Sees A Resurgence In The Public Sphere

Gurmukhi now dominates Punjab’s public spaces. Does this demonstrate an assertion of a regional identity shaped by Partition, reorganisation and insurgency?

Following directions: Signboards with Gurmukhi placed above English according to government orders i Photographs: Prabhjot Singh Gill

Surjit Patar, a noted Punjabi poet, narrated an anecdote at his Ludhiana residence in February. While discussing how a poet’s relationship with his surroundings influences his work, Patar recalled a girl child of migrant Bihari farmhands learning Uda, Aida, Eedi (letters of Gurumukhi-Punjabi script) under a sheesham tree at a government school in Punjab. “Kinna gehra saath hai akhran tha te rizak da (How intense is the relationship between letters and subsistence),” he said before he dwelt on a contradiction, “Those native people who have economic means, their children are learning A,B,C,D (in private schools)…They have their own aspirations.” Back in 2018 at a public event, Patar, the Punjab Arts Council’s chairperson, accused private schools of inculcating an “inferiority complex” among students regarding their mother tongue. The noted poet who also wrote a poem, Mar Rahi Hai Meri Ma Bhasha (My mother tongue is dying), had stated, “We want our children to learn English well but there is no need to make them forget their ma boli (mother tongue).”

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