Urdu is my mother tongue but I was raised bilingual. I immigrated to Canada from Pakistan when I was 28 years old after getting married. In Pakistan, you speak Urdu at home but the language at school and work is primarily English because Pakistan is a former colony of the British empire. Here is my Urdu Story.
Research supports that children who are raised bilingual benefit immensely in various aspects: cognitive, adaptive and social. When my daughter was born, we tried to speak Urdu with her at home but we soon realized that the reason she wasn’t picking up the language as we expected was because my husband and I were talking to each other in English! There was also a dearth of quality Urdu content for children. As she started preschool, her vocabulary increased exponentially in English. She is also an extremely social child, so English is an essential means for her to communicate. I soon realized that I didn’t have to put in much effort for her English language skills but her Urdu desperately needed rescuing.
We now use fun ways to learn Urdu at home through songs, conversations and activities. I share all that on my blog to help other families who are on the same bilingual journey as us.
I come from a family where books, language and the written word were always celebrated. My great-grandfather Agha Shair Qizilbash was the first to do a poetic translation of the Quran in Urdu. (My sister maintains a lovely blog about his work). My maternal grandfather owned a bookstore in Rawalpindi after he was done with the airforce. His book store was frequented by poets, authors and great minds of his time like Faiz Ahmed Faiz. My great aunt Sahab Qizilbash was a renowned author and BBC broadcaster. She was friends with the likes of Madam Noor Jehan, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Lata Mangeshkar. She did a couple of PTV dramas just because she was friends with Haseena Moin – she was cool like that! Do you remember her as the loving, literary grandma from Kohar? My maternal grandmother nani translated books from English to Urdu and still recites Marsiya. My paternal grandmother dadi was a natural story teller. My memories are rich with her stories beautifully enhanced by lovely urdu quotes. She always had one for the right occasion.
My own mother wrote beautifully whenever she had the time. I remember a book by her bedside since I was a child. My father took us to the library every single Sunday and taught us the value of spending time in the company of books. I always thought it was super cool how he designed the database for the Army Central Library in Rawalpindi back in the early 80s, and we were given free admission to the library for his services even though he wasn’t part of the Army. My paternal aunt (phupi) taught me Urdu when I wasn’t doing well in the subject. I’m forever indebted to her to open my eyes to Ghalib, Ibne Insha and Iqbal. My maternal aunt (khala) corrected my English and gave me tuitions when I was ten. She led me with a gentle hand to a world of English literature. My elder sister is a talented writer and has a lovely blog of her own. The love of writing has been passed on to the next generation and my nephew has a very interesting blog too.
We have all always written. First for printed newspapers and now for electronic media. Writing is therapeutic, writing is fun. So why don’t I write in Urdu you ask? Because I never really did, but I mostly think in Urdu. So that’s how my bilingual mind works: Think in Urdu and write in English. Urdu is a very rich language and I need to improve my skills immensely before I can write in it. Till then I love reading and speaking Urdu. I hope I can give back a little bit to the language through this blog and most importantly pass it on as lovingly to the next generation as it was handed to me.