The Urdu word for birthdays is “Salgirah“, which refers to an old tradition of tying a knot in a rope for every birthday to remember the age of a person. My dadi (paternal grandmother) remembered the time this used to happen before diaries and modern calendars took away the need for this method.
The Urdu equivalent of “Happy Birthday” is “Salgirah Mubarik“. While many of us, mostly elders still wish on a birthday using the Urdu phrase and adding “jeeyo hazaroon saal, har saal mein hon din hazaar” (May you live a thousand years, may every year have a thousand days) Urdu is far removed from most of our birthday celebrations these days.
Two years ago I was attending the birthday celebrations for my daughter in her preschool, a place with an amazing multicultural and global outlook. The children knew how to sing the birthday song in English, Spanish and French. One of the teachers was from Italy and sang the birthday song in Italian and a young boy who knew the language proudly joined her. She then turned to me and asked if I would like to sing the “Pakistani” version of “Happy Birthday”. I was stumped.
Since that day, I resolved the bring Urdu in our birthday celebrations to have a truly bilingual representation. It’s quite simple really and here are a few suggestions:
1. Teach your children to wish “Salgirah Mubarik” along with Happy Birthday. Teach them by modelling it yourself.
2. The “Happy Birthday” song is the most popular and well-known song around the world. It’s natural that your children will love singing it. You can introduce them gently and enthusiastically to the Urdu version of Happy Birthday. Check out this post I have done on two versions of a urdu Happy Birthday song.
Below is a version of me and my daughter singing “jungle mein mungal tere he dum se” from the old Pakistani movie:
Enthusiam is key! Watch your children catch yours and have fun with the Urdu happy birthday song. We sing the first two lines and my daughter now adds the name of the birthday person within the words.
3. Make Urdu visible in the celebrations. You can either write “Salgirah Mubarik” on a blackboard or sign, as my friend did for my birthday this year (picture at the top). Or add it on the cake like the picture below (another birthday surprise by a lovely friend)
4. When you write birthday cards, you can add Urdu along with the English. Sometimes I write the whole card in Urdu and if I’m giving it to a child who cannot read Urdu yet, I just write “Salgirah Mubarik” in Urdu or their name (I love watching their eyes open wide when they see their name in Urdu).
5. Incorporate some traditional characters as birthday themes. The theme of my son’s first birthday was “Maula Jatt”. My daughter is loving Burka Avenger these days and that just might be the theme of her next birthday party!
6. Lastly you can follow any traditions you remember from your family. My dadi would lovingly give “Sadqa” (charity) in the name of the birthday boy/girl accompanied with a million of her duas that still ring in my mind.
Let me know how you liked these suggestions or if you have some of your own! Would love to hear from you!