Sindhi Language and Youth
by Harsh Punjabee Chairman (Youth Wing) Global Sindhi Council
Knowing who you are and where you come from is extremely important. Our motherland endorses cultural diversity. Different festivals are celebrated in India with great dhoom dhaam. It increases the sentiment of harmony and deepens cultural awakenings.
At the centre of these cultural awakenings are the youth who form integral foundations for all cultures and that is why it is a great honor for me to write on this subject as I strongly affirm the need to place Sindhi youth at the centre of our society.
When I began to pen down my thoughts I realized that this subject cannot simply be written. I decided to take my thoughts and throw them at young minds like myself. I decided to initiate a conference of young people at a college in the Mumbai suburbs. The word was spread, and on one weekend I had a fabulous attendance of 70 youngsters who came to air views on the subject.
So the 70 of us found ourselves in a huge classroom with the majority from the Sindhi Community and handful of 11 who were non-Sindhis. The average age was 25 years and I was well prepared with an agenda. The first on the list was to understand ‘how well’ the youth of today could read and write in Sindhi. I passed around a piece of paper on which was written a sentence in Sindhi. The paper was passed from a pair of hands to another pair of curious eyes, each attempting to read it. The piece of paper in Sindhi typography came back to my hands on which was written “I Am Proud to Be Sindhi” and not a single youngster could comprehend! It was a big blasphemy.
At this point, it was essential for the room to realize the importance of us youth in preserving our own culture. Every culture has a main ingredient on which it develops and prospers. That main ingredient is the younger generation. Because when young members wear a culture and adopt its heritage, the community enriches and blossoms but unfortunately the Sindhi community lacks the vital force of the younger generation.
We went on to understand how many could talk in their mother tongue. Majority of 80% raised their hands. Most could understand and speak Sindhi well and admitted that it was mandatory to speak in Sindhi whenever they went to visit their dadas and dadis. However, off late no one spoke the language, not even to their own parents! It was upsetting to know that majority of the parents spoke to their children in English or Hindi and a bare handful spoke to their siblings in Sindhi. Everyone in the room began to understand the ‘haal’ of our precious Sindhi boli.
I pointed out to all of them that they were studying in a college that belongs to a Sindhi Trust but frankly, none of them even spoke to one another in Sindhi. Occasionally they would joke around, “are vadi sai” but that’s all.
Not a single person admitted to having a true Sindhi conversation in college. A non-sindhi, Gujarati Member mentioned he had immense pride in his culture and had no shame in speaking in his mother tongue. Our Gujarati brother had accidentally put a tough question in front of us. ‘Is the Sindhi youth ashamed to speak in their mother tongue?’
You would have heard a pin if I dropped it at that time and all of them were waiting for someone to break the uncomfortable silence. It seemed as if all were beginning to understand the importance to speak and make use of this beautiful Sindhi boli. To me, I was happy that this discussion occurred, better late than never, because these thoughts actually provoked all of them to think about the implication of what I wanted to point out.
The youth jointly came up with an idea to create a modern, up-market newspaper, which speaks in an un-biased language. A tabloid which would be written in the original Sindhi script, and also include a few pages in Devnagiri along with a Roman Sindhi script, where we read English alphabets but speak Sindhi words. All were in synergy of thoughts and volunteered to bring to life this novel initiative, an attempt to keep our boli alive.
We opened the discussion to comprehend how well the youth were acquainted with their ‘ishta dev’. Jhulelal Sai known as Uderolal rose from the waters to save the Hindus from the wrath of Mirkshah who offered people two choices, to embrace Islam or face death. On an auspicious day, in the house of Ratanchand Lohano of Nasarpur, news broke that Mata Devki gave birth to a boy who opened his mouth and out flowed the river Sindhu with an old man sitting cross-legged on a pala fish. This day marks the Cheti Chand. The Hindu Sindhis follow a lunar based calendar, the first month of which is Chaitra and in Sindhi known as Chet and hence known as Cheti Chand. This New Year’s Day is also the birthday of our Sindhi Ishta dev Jhulelal.
Majorities were aware of our cultural beginnings but merely a fraction of 7 people had been to a Chetichand Mela although most of them had always seen posters of the Sindhi Mela in the neighboring areas. Few girls had gone to the Khar, Cheti Chand Mela 4 years back. They reminisced seeing a sea of people and beautiful statues of Gods and Goddesses and of course our most loved Jhulelal in the centre of all the attraction. They had been there with their respective parents and waited in a queue to take darshan and have prasad. There was also a lot of food. A stage was set, and there were a series of performances by Sindhi folks. There also were famous people who had made a mark of excellence for our community. When asked why they went 4 years back and hadn’t been since, they admitted they had gone simply because their parents had forced them.
A young man pointed out that he knew of various organizations globally that organized Cheti Chand and other cultural programs for the Sindhi Community. He would visit such cultural gatherings. However, he made a very bold fact, that at all such programs the youth attendance was near to nil. The reason, there was nothing for the youth to do there or hear. The attendance in the room agreed that the youth are not interested in hearing repetitive history. They were bored of hearing the meaning of Sindhiyat and that the Sindhis globally are striving for a Sindhudesh or that the community wanted a Sindhi MP! The youth has the ehsaas and we know the true essence of being Sindhi and we are proud to be one but the community needs to move on with time.
Moreover, the youth feel that elders are not giving room for younger people. Majority felt that it’s always all about the elders. The cultural gatherings have become forums to announce who has done what for the community and spent how much money on a certain cause. They say “Naiki kar darya mein vij.” But it’s more like “Naiki kar ain sabneen ke budhai.” The youth does not like to hear people blowing their own trumpet. The young Sindhis need a fresh wave of programs for younger people to be involved. The Sindhi cultural events should include themes that appeal to the younger generation. Particularly, the elders should involve their children and teens and bring them along to such cultural gatherings.
The forum then shifted focus on Sindhi Performing Arts. Most present were keen to watch Sindhi Movies, Plays or even listen to Sindhi Music but the fact emerged that they didn’t find the content hep enough. It has to be trendy and if it isn’t trendy it’s not appealing. They felt that the styles are old, the music is outdated and the comedy films are not funny. The content is ‘been there done that”.
To this problem, I blamed ourselves the younger generation, because we want to become movie stars, we want to become radio jockeys, most of us are even keen to do theatre but do we think of our community before stepping into the outside world. No! The youth are more interested in the Femina Miss Indias, the Radio Mirchis or the Karan and the Kapoors of Bollywood. If we see a problem, we must attend to it. Just sitting down and having conferences won’t help.
We need to go out there and take responsibility in our hands. If journalism interests us, we must contribute literary works to Sindhi publications. If we desire to become an actor, we must indulge in acting in Sindhi movies and plays. We must contribute to build and uphold this rich heritage that has been gifted to us by our ancestors. Each and every time a new generation has risen up and done what’s needed to be done – and it is time for our generation to answer this call!
Gladly, the silver lining in this discussion so far was that the younger generation is attached and receptive to Sindhism. It was evident as the Sindhi families enjoy and celebrate number of Sindhi festivities such as Teejri, where the women in the house, after making offerings to the Moon, break their fast. Also the nandhi and vaddi thadri! The teens adore the lolas and boondi raitas. Born in a Sindhi family with Sindhi upbringing, they follow the fasts of Giyaaras or Umaas, wherein vrats are observed, and if someone is not fasting they are vegetarian on Mondays and Saturdays. Speaking of all the festivities made us hungry and the topic shifted to Sindhi dishes.
“Seyun Patata” “Seero Malpuro” “Daal Pakwaan” “Sai Bhaaji” “Varyun Waara Chaanwaran” “Seyaal Maani” “Bread ja pakora” “Singhar ji Mithai”. One at a time each person screamed out their favorite Sindhi dish. “WOW! I was overwhelmed as they all knew their Sindhi food. Truly, a mother’s heart fills when she feeds her children’s tummies with delicacies”.
We went on to discuss the most loveable aspects of Sindhi Culture. Two ignorant voices prompted from the back benches. ‘Ulhasnagar’ and ‘Papad’. There were few giggles. To which I had to mention that Ulhasnagar was, and is even today a wonderful place. The people are extremely entrepreneurial and Sindhis globally have gained recognition as a successful community. This was an annoying fact that people today jokingly associate Sindhi first with Ulhasnagar and Papad. We must not create a mockery of it although there seemed to be a reason for the mockery which emerged after heavy debates. The fact – Sindhis and Sindhi Culture have been stereotyped. We have grown to see our culture in all its richness but portrayed very poorly. “Vadi Sai, papad khaienda!” That’s all we hear in Sindhi movies and plays. Our culture has been portrayed through old stereotypes of worn-out looking aunties and uncles with comical accents, which is very un-cool. Maximum felt this was the problem. This stereotype has gone down within the system in such a long way that we fail to associate with it and the youth does not want to attach themselves with that haggard image.
But we all felt that we must move on! Unless we do not eliminate this stereotype, this problem won’t be solved. The solution is that our culture needs a make-over. We need to identify several Sindhi youth icons to make this shift. The logical progression towards that is through forming Groups of Sindhi Younger Generation. We must collectively aim to support our cultural heritage by promoting a message of ownership through multilingual resources, multimedia activities, Sindhi Museums and Libraries for Sindhi Literature, Music and Movies to engage young people through developmentally appropriate tools.
Cultural Competence is another formula. Research suggests that not talking about culture actually fuels the development of stereotypes. We as a community, have to become honest and open because the development of cultural competence never ends. It is a journey, not a destination. Adults must take an active role in fostering youth’s cultural competence.
After hours of discussion, everyone felt that the session had been extremely thought provoking. The youth felt ‘jagrit’ because it was necessary to do away with the eye wash and come to reality.
The attendance expressed immense gratitude as they thought this discussion came to them as an ‘alarm clock’. The youth are not ignorant, but had become severely involved in their daily lives of the worldly rat race that they needed someone to come along and shake them to this insightful discussion. This discussion does not end here. All vowed to spread the fragrance of this discussion to other folks and friends.
All youngsters had begun to feel morally responsible towards our community. They were grateful for pinching their minds and leaving impressions which would last them till the end of their lives. We are living in very independent times where we realize and value the meaning of privacy and independence. We don’t want to be spoon-fed but give us room to start. We all need the opportunity… leave the rest to us…