Suno Punjab

We’ve been watching the excellent Suno Chanda. It’s the story of a respectable Muhajir industrialist family in Karachi but features some ethnic characters as well (a Punjabi mother in law and a Pathan Uncle).

Even though I spent formative years in Islamabad the only ethnic language I was exposed to was Pushto, which was the domain of the labourers, house help and security guards. Punjabi was simply non-existent and Urdu & English were the dominant languages. So I haven’t heard much Punjabi and to be honest growing up all the Punjabi neighbours were the “Pakistanis” while the Sindhis, Pathans were the exotics.

So for the first time I’ve really been listening to the Punjabi language in sustained doses.

Udaari and Dastaan also had Punjabi speakers but in Dastan the Muslim Punjabis spoke chaste Urdu while it was the Sikh kidnappers who lapsed into comical Punjabi.

What is rather shocking to me is how Punjabi sounds like a rustic version of Hindustani. A sort of Braj Brasha for the East?

The diminishing writ of Punjabi?

What makes Sindhi a teachable language but Punjabi a foul one?

Little did the opposing party know that this could be expected of any language spoken in Pakistan but Punjabi, for it is considered by our beau monde to be an illiterate version of Urdu owing to the likeness of the two languages. Speaking Punjabi in public is frowned upon and is not used by our nonpareil A-list to even communicate with servants. The current status of this 14-centuries-old language can be gauged by the simple inclination of Asif Ali Zardari to deliver at least some part of his speeches in Sindhi, but the smirks and guffaws that erupt in assemblages of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf when Imran Khan utters a single phrase in Punjabi.

Something has happened in the history of Punjabi whereby Hindustani speakers pushed Westward into the Lahore region (Amritsar is essentially a Lahori suburb). As an aside in the “Sacred Geography” of India; are there any Hindu holy sites in present-day Pakistan?


What is interesting is that all the “Lahnda” (Western) dialects of of Punjabi are in Pakistan and all the Eastern dialect (except for the prestigious and no doubt Hindustani influence Majhi) are in India.

This division between Lahnda and Eastern Punjabi was noted long before Partition; in fact the 1922 Britannica Encyclopedia notes:

The eastern and western plains, which are divided from each other by a line passing through Lahore, are dissimilar in character. The eastern are arable plains of moderate rainfall and almost without rivers, except along their northern and eastern edges. They are inhabited by the Hindu races of India, and contain the great cities of Delhi, Amritsar and Lahore. They formed, until the recent spread of irrigation, the most fertile, wealthy and populous portion of the province. The western plains, except where canal irrigation has been introduced, consist of arid pastures with scanty rainfall, traversed by the five great rivers, of which the broad valleys alone are cultivable. They are inhabited largely by Mahommedan tribes, and it is in this tract that irrigation has worked such great changes. The Chenab and Jhelum Canal colonies are already pronounced successes, and it is hoped that in process of time the Lower Bari Doab and the Sind-Sagar Doab will be similarly fertilized.

The British Raj and their schemes were disastrous for the aristocratic & urbane Mughal-Muslim population of Greater Delhi (the heart and soul of modern-day Pakistan) but very beneficial for the Punjabi Muslim peasants & cultivators (the majority of Pakistan).

Much in the same way the Mughals focused their attentions on their most prosperous province, the Bengal Subah so did the British do the same with the Punjab where their relatively advanced technologies made much headway. It’s interesting that the Punjab gained at the expense of Bengal under British rule. One could almost say the needless, excessive and tragic partition of Punjab (compared to the relatively light toll on the Sindh, UP or Bengal migrations/partition) was a retribution on Britain’s favorite province..

36 thoughts on “Suno Punjab”

  1. Do you think the recent push of promoting the Punjabi cultural heritage of Pakistan has a geopolitical strategy, namely Khalistan?

    The vocabulary of Punjabi is indeed going to appear more Sanskritized compared to Urdu. Many of Nusrat’s Punjabi qawwalis will for example say pooja whereas the Urdu ones say ibaadat. Also one of the reasons why Urdu is always more Islamically palatable.

  2. Pakistan as a national project is a gigantic disaster as it develops distaste and despise one’s own mother tongue.

  3. Zack,

    Calling Punjabi “rustic Hindustani” would be quite offensive to native Punjabis. It is a distinct language and its literature goes back to before Urdu was formed out of Khari Boli. The story of how Urdu became the prestige language goes back to the British Raj.

    Regarding your question on Hindu holy sites in Pakistan: Katas Raj is a major temple complex in Northern Punjab.

      1. Yes, he did (and so did Mir before him) but that was in Delhi and Lucknow, which were core Urdu speaking areas. Urdu became the prestige language in Punjab during the British Raj.

        1. Yes before that it was Persian.. when u come to London I’m thinking of creating the Urdu & Persian Society; bring back Persian to the Subcontinent. I’m such a faux imperialist loll

          1. I think it was the British who decided that Urdu should be the official language of Punjab because it made things easier for them administratively.

            Punjabi is similar to Urdu but it is not a lesser form of it. It is a much older language with a literature of its own. Baba Farid was writing in Punjabi in the 12th century, long before Mir and Ghalib.


          2. Baba Farid is considered one of the first Punjabi poets.

            I’m not exactly sure how “Lahnda” is different from Punjabi.

            In any case, Punjabi existed long before Urdu was ever created out of Khari Boli.

      1. What would be the official language of Turanistan? I feel the flag symbols are more or less decided. Also will the pasthuns side with the Uzbeks or the Punjabis? Will the persians be able to persianize everyone like they did with everyone? So many possibilities!

      2. It almost happened a few months before 9/11. I recall April 2001 Musharraf chilling with Taliban leaders talking of official merger. Masood was also almost out. Khorasan caliphate was in the offing. Nice jihadi pipeline from Kashmir to Chechnya. US and NATO were happy because it kept the Russians, Chinese and Indians watchful of their own backs.

        Then Islamists bit the hand that fed them got over ambitious pulled off 9/11. US is doing the Genghiz Khan ever since.

      1. I’m sure they’re open. Hindus in Pakistan can obviously get there easier whereas Indian Hindus have to go through formal visa process. Lot of Pakistani Muslims also come through formal channels to Ajmer etc. Similarly Sikhs go to Nankana.

  4. “t’s the story of a respectable Muhajir industrialist family in Karachi but features some ethnic characters as well”

    A sindhi’s worst nightmare 😛 btw, wouldn’t Muhajir (see themselves) be a ethnicity itself ?

    ” As an aside in the “Sacred Geography” of India; are there any Hindu holy sites in present-day Pakistan?”

    There are no hindu places in Pakistan/Bangladesh which have any significance for wider Hindu population, at least not like the Sikhs have in Pakistan. There is a hindu temple in Dhaka which is of some significance but that too mostly for Bangladeshi hindus. Both Katas raj and Hinglaj have long been forgotten in Hindu memory and most of its recent significance is due to its exotic-ness of being temples in “Pure” land. There are hardly any Baluchi hindus or punjabi hindus in Pakistan to really care. Almost all “sacred” places are in mainland India and only few of them in disturbed areas like Vaishno Devi in Kashmir. Its similar to how Buddhist places in Afghanistan/Pakistan have long been forgotten.

    But that doesnt undermine Eck’s brilliant work, which goes on to show how much Hinduism had a role for what areas constituted India today(routinely undermined throughout India’s intellectual circles). One of the reason you find the lionization of Ashoka in both India’s flag and symbols is for the look out of a “neutral” hero and a religion in a country which had long forgotten both Ashoka and Buddhism. Today Eck book would be lost in the binary of Hindutva vs secular fight. In many ways its a book like Shadi Hamid’s one where the author is clearly a bit disturbed by its own conclusions.

    ” It’s interesting that the Punjab gained at the expense of Bengal under British rule.”

    This is again a myth , Bengal and Madras both got the first movers advantage vis-v British. The British colonization project was shouldered on Bengali and Tamil shoulders. Its only when the British moved on to other ethnicities that these areas (not madras though) started having second thoughts. We think that British colonization affected every part of India uniformly, it did not. That’ s the reason you wont find any negative view of CPEC in Pakistan/Punjab. The Independence movement only caught on in the last 30 years and even then i would say its popularity /uniformity is a bid exaggerated.

      1. “Pakistani” is a nationality, not an ethnicity. Most Pakistani Punjabis are very conscious of the fact that they are Punjabi. Muhajirs are also conscious of their origins in the UP.

        The State does want people to forget their ethnic origin and focus on being Pakistani. But this is an uphill fight.

  5. This map of Pakistan is quite an informative one actually. It reveals the folllowing:

    1) Even though the province of Punjab is more than half of Pakistan in terms of population, Punjabi speakers probably only make up a plurality. If Hindko and Seraiki speakers are removed from ‘Punjabi’, they perhaps make up less than 40% of the population.

    2) The above demographics indicates that the acceptance and promotion of Urdu by Punjabi speakers was more thought out than a lot of commentators have assumed. It allowed for the creation of an Urdu speaking ‘Punjab’ province which would be able to dominate Pakistan (similarities to Bihar in India).

    3) This domination is what ensured that Pakistani Punjab was not reorganized into Seraikistan, a Hindko province and possibly Potohar. In contrast, Indian state of Punjab was reorganized into Haryana and Himachal, and both those states have embarked on a dramatically different political and economic trajectory than they likely would had they remained in a larger ‘Punjab’ state. But this reorganization’s effects were also an important factor in sparking the Khalistan insurgency.

      1. Why would there be ? Pakistani Punjab was never reorged and the spoils left by the departing old elite (Hindus and Sikhs) were enough to keep most groups interested in a Punjab province.

        Khalistan type situation in Pakistan would have arisen if Karachi was separated from Sindh to create Jinnahpur as demanded by the MQM. Interior Sindhi elites would have lost any claim to Karachi’s surplus. That would have been enough to push them over the edge.

          1. One of the points in the 1973 Anandpur Resolution is:

            “Keeping in view the special aptitude and martial qualities of the Sikhs, the present ratio of their strength in the Army should be maintained.”

            There are a bunch of other demands (opposition to land reform, hand over Chandigarh (comfortable Hindu majority) to Punjab) which have nothing to do with Sikh religion per se.

            I do discount any importance to religion, and I have good reasons to do so.

          2. We go around circles on this issue, the division of Indian punjab was on religious grounds first and foremost and not on economic or political grounds. A united punjab was no hegemon in demographic terms to India unlike Pakistan. There was no reason for the state to divide or not divide punjab. It was the demand of hindu punjabis to divide the state.The Khalistan movement had a religious basis from time immemorial (from Singh Sabha movement in 1800s) and not due to some economic reasons (which would happen if Karachi is separated from Sindh) Khalistan had a clear issue with Hindu India. My relatives have lived through that, no one came for their head saying Haryana has taken our water.

            Today its fashionable to recast past secessionist struggles as “state rights” “economic reasons” rather than ethnic and religious terms on which they were fought on the ground. Not on some intellectual level. Its similar to how Pakistan struggle, Khalistan as well as Kashmiri movement is now being “intellectualized” with this sophistry.

          3. I am aware that the bulwark for causes like Pakistan and Khalistan were mobilized on the basis of religion. Hence, it is likely that one’s personal interaction or even involvement in such movements is laced with religion.

            But that does not change the fact that economic factors including competition for government employment (and hence a ticket to a modern, urban life) were a preeminent reason for the wide currency such movements received. Even if these anxieties took on an exterior form of religious chauvinism.

            If for example, Khalistan was about religion, how does one explain the near absence of Khatri and Mazhabi Sikh involvement in it ? Are you suggesting that these groups are somehow ‘less Sikh’ than Jat Sikhs ?

          4. Seraiki is arguably a Punjabi dialect. Punjabi speakers are the majority of Pakistan’s population. Unlike Punjabis in India, Punjabis in Pakistan run the entire show.

            Good luck trying to divide Punjab province. Not going to happen. The Powers that be in Lahore will not accept the loss of their authority over Southern Punjab.

  6. But Jat Sikhs are the core of Sikhism in a way Khatris (who have very strong associations with Hinduism) and Mazhabi (OBC Sikhs) do not.

    I agree with all of your points about socio-economic struggles but do not underestimate mobilisation on the basis of religion and language etc; that’s all..

    1. I think the Khatris were displaced from Pakistani Punjab and NWFP, so no love lost for imaginary Punjabiyat particularly Punjabi Muslims.

      1. Yes it’s interesting how the trading castes (Khatris and their Sindhi offshoots the Bhaibands, Marwari, Gujaratis) all cluster on the NorthWestern border of the Subcontinent.

        This would make sense since Pre-RAJ; the Northwest was the primary route of trade and conquest.

    1. I do not believe in a division of Punjab based on ethnic reasons. Administrative convenience is another matter.

      In any case, it is the Punjab Assembly which has final say on any division of Punjab. This is really not going to happen.

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