PTV, ‘Speak Urdu movement,’ and Salahuddin Ahmed

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Rauf Parekh

PAKISTAN’s state TV channel, our beloved PTV, is supposed to uphold at least a few national traditions and traits. Promoting and savouring Urdu—Pakistan’s national language and a symbol of the country unity—is one of them. While private TV channels are bent upon killing Urdu by using a language that is an ugly mix of Urdu and English, we expect from the state channel that it would shun anchorpersons who take pride in speaking a few sentences in English, quite unnecessarily, and then switching back to Urdu—only to repeat the nauseating stint.

Alas! One can only lament that gone are the days when Radio Pakistan’s and PTV’s Urdu was something to reckon with. Z. A. Bukhari was so touchy about the standard of the language broadcast from Radio Pakistan that he had hired experts to correct the language used by artistes and newsreaders. These days on PTV even ‘mausam ka haal’ has become ‘weather report’.

An official of the Met office often informs the “kaashtkaar bhais” (brother farmers) during PTV’s news bulletin that “heavy to moderate rainfall hogi”, quite innocently forgetting that most of the “kaashtkaar bhais” can understand only one word (“hogi” or will be) in that sentence. This mumbo-jumbo leaves our farmers guessing what would happen and what weather would be like. Perhaps, giving the impression that one knows “enough” English is more important than communicating. One would not mind if the weatherman conveys the message for the farmers in Sindhi or Punjabi, or any other Pakistan language for that matter, since the farmers—the target audience—would be able to understand it. But using English words and phrases in between Urdu broadcast is kind of intentionally reducing the radius of communication and keeping the farmers uninformed.

Another linguistic jugglery that goes on unchecked on PTV and other channels as well, is inscribing the tickers of Urdu programmes in Roman script. Had Baba-i-Urdu Moulvi Abdul Haq or Dr Syed Abdullah been alive, they would have protested quite vociferously. Dr Syed Abdullah used to take out a small procession on Lahore’s Mall Road. Consisting mostly of his students, colleagues and some writers, the procession would go to shopkeepers and politely ask them to get their shops’ signboards painted in Urdu instead of English.

Moulvi Abdul Haq was a resilient soldier of Urdu, so was Dr Syed Abdullah. They fought for the cause of Urdu all their lives. Yet another writer and intellectual who loved Urdu above everything else was Maulana Salahuddin Ahmed. In fact, Salahuddin Ahmed spent every penny he had on Urdu and was quite happy with what he did. His mission was to promote Urdu in every possible way. Among the services he rendered for Urdu was ‘Urdu bolo tehreek’ or Speak Urdu Movement.

Though a movement against Urdu run by the supporters of Hindi in the pre-independence era had strengthened Salahuddin Ahmed’s love for Urdu, it was his childhood memories and parental influence that had sowed the seeds of commitment to national causes.

His grandfather was a Hindu from a princely state in Rajputana and was invited by the Raja of Jammu and Kashmir to serve at Srinagar. There he embraced Islam at the 14th century Sufi Nooruddin Vali’s shrine, situated in the town of Charar-i-Sharif. He renamed himself Hussain Bakhsh. He took keen interest in his son Ahmed Bakhsh’s education who, as a result, later earned name as a scholar and teacher of Persian, Arabic and Islamic Studies. Ahmed Bakhsh taught at Lahore’s Government College and Chief’s College.

Ahmed Bakhsh and his wife Buland Akhter Begum were pious and nationalist Muslims. When Sir Syed Ahmed Khan came to Punjab to raise funds for his education movement, Ahmed Bakhsh donated all his savings. Buland Akhter Begum gave away everything, including her jewellery, to the fund-raisers of Italo-Turkish war, known as Jang-i-Tarablas or Tripolitanian war.

Maulana Salahuddin Ahmed was born to this very couple, on March 25, 1902 in Lahore. Once Maulana Zafar Ali Khan lifted a nine-year-old boy and showed him to a large congregation at Lahore and announced “the one who has collected the largest amount for Italo-Turkish war fund is this boy”, and he was indeed none other than young Salahuddin, who was later to be known as Maulana Salahuddin Ahmed.

But he was not ‘Maulana’ in the sense that the word is most often used today. In those days, Maulana or Moulvi denoted a degree in oriental learning. ‘Maulana’ Salahuddin Ahmed was most of the times attired in western outfits. But his soul was purely eastern. Having passed BA, Salahuddin Ahmed had some brief stints in different fields, including journalism, but soon quit.

He started a mail-order company and an export firm as well, but all his jobs and commercial ventures were purely intended to make money just to finance his literary ideas. He founded Islamic Literature Company in 1927and launched in 1928 ‘Khayalistan’, a literary magazine from Lahore.

But the magazine that really shot Salahuddin Ahmed to fame was ‘Adabi Dunya’. Allama Tajver Najeebabadi had launched ‘Adabi Dunya’ from Lahore in May 1929, but when he sold it to Salahuddin Ahmed, its new era began and it became one of Urdu’s most popular and respected literary magazines of its times. Through this magazine, Salahuddin ran his ‘Urdu bolo tehreek’. His editorials and articles, quite large in numbers, appeared in ‘Adabi Dunya’ and some other literary magazines.

His books and articles are valued by critics and researchers even today.

For Urdu’s sake, he would go to any length. When some quarters began a movement to replace Urdu’s script with Roman, Salahuddin Ahmed was the most vocal and most aggressive critic. During an Independence Day conference, when the person presiding over the proceedings made his speech in Punjabi, Salahuddin Ahmed took strong exception and protested, saying that on such national occasions, speeches must be made in the national language.

Academy Punjab was another of his projects. Established in 1950 and intended purely to assist the writers, it published a large number of literary and scholarly works.

Maulana Salahuddin Ahmed died on June 14, 964, in Sahiwal. He was travelling to Qaboola, near Arifwala, Punjab, to attend a conference, when he suffered a stroke. He was taken to a Sahiwal hospital but could not survive. It is quite painful to see that a soldier of Urdu like Maulana Salahuddin Ahmed has been forgotten and rarely does anyone remember him. One hopes that this year he would be remembered on his death anniversary which would be his 50th.

Rauf Parekh, “PTV, ‘Speak Urdu movement’ and Salahuddin Ahmed ,” in Dawn, June 9, 2014. Accessed on March 1, 2015, at:

The item above written by Rauf Parekh and published in Dawn on June 9, 2014, is catalogued here in full by Faiz-e-Zabaan for non-profit educational purpose only. Faiz-e-Zabaan neither claims the ownership nor the authorship of this item. The link to the original source accessed on March 1, 2015, is available here. Faiz-e-Zabaan is not responsible for the content of the external websites.

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