History, languages and diaspora

It was rush hour in an OPD clinic in a Middle Eastern country when an Arab gentleman brought his four-year-old child who had fever and pain in his throat. Having worked there for about eight months, I was familiar with names and symptoms of all common diseases in the Arabic language, and so I was able to take necessary details of the child from his father and the child himself in their own language. I reached a diagnosis that the child was suffering from an acute throat infection; before writing a prescription I suggested a direct throat examination of the boy with a wooden spatula and light. The father was happy that his child was being examined but the refused to open his mouth.

The father was becoming annoyed with the son, and angry, he ordered the boy in a firm way, “Open your mouth immediately.” To my utter surprise that command was in Sindhi. On my asking, the gentleman told me that their family had settled in Saudi Arabia several decades ago after migrating from Shikarpur in Sindh, Pakistan. Their language inside their home was Sindhi althoug all the family members were fluent in the Arabic language.

Whenever there are communication problems, people opt for innovative means. I witnessed in an Arab country an interesting situation when an Indian Punjabi cook of a hospital canteen was cracking jokes with Indian nurses in Arabic. Those nurses were from Kerala, India, and could not speak Hindi, Urdu, or Punjabi. The cook was probably not fluent in English.

A doctor colleague of mine in a UK hospital had a really interesting background. Born in Saudi Arabia, she studied in an American school, and graduated from the Irish Medical School in Bahrain. Her parents were born in Tanzania, Africa, and she was able to understand much of the Sindhi language, although she had never visited Sindh in Pakistan or India. Her grandparents were originally from Kutch in Gujarat, India, and had migrated a century ago to Africa. Traders by profession, they spoke Kutchi in their home, a language very similar to Sindhi.

While working in Saudi Arabia, an Indian colleague and a friend of mine was in an odd situation when the Bedouin father of a child was repeatedly asking the doctor in Arabic if his child should eat dajaj or not. The doctor was unaware of the meaning of dajaj, and could not answer him, and the Arab was getting exasperated. I had to intervene, and said to the father that his child could eat dajaj without any restriction. After their departure, my doctor friend asked me how I knew the meaning of dajaj. I told him that on the corner of the street from where I purchased fresh chicken, a signboard displayed a big word in Arabic-DAJAJ. It means chicken.

As per the available information, we can venture a guess that the language of Sindh, about 5,000 years ago, was none other than Sindhi

Due to some awareness of the written Arabic, we, Pakistanis, have some benefit, as we somewhat understand the language. Indians, especially non-Muslims, cannot read Arabic at all.

Everywhere in the world, there were certain peple who did pioneering work for advancement of literature and languages beyond their own homelands. Among those was Ernest Trumpp (born on March 13, 1828, died on April 5, 1885), a German missionary who had a great passion for literary texts and records. While working in in the India Office Library in London, he developed an interest in Indian languages and literature, and on his own, he did significant basic work for grammar of Pashto and Sindhi languages, and translated the Guru Granth Sahib, scripture of Sikhs, into English. Trumpp lived in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar, and learnt Sindhi, Punjabi and Pashto. In 1866, Trumpp edited and published the first ever-ever Sindhi poetry collection of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai in Leipzig, Germany.

A few years ago, Bollywood made a movie, Mohenjo Daro, which included some dialogues like Lakh Lakh Thora, which in Sindhi means ‘thanks a million’. This phrase is still common in Sindh. Nobody can say with certainty what the language spoken in the city of Mohenjo Daro was, but the producer claims that before making this film, he asked several scholars and historians for help, although the story of the film is purely fictitious. As per the available information, we can venture a guess that the language of Sindh, about 5,000 years ago, was none other than Sindhi.

The writer is a freelancer

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