Monday, March 24, 2014

The al-Bunjabis from al-Bakistan

A commenter claims that Arabic does not do R  (like Rubber), T (Topi), or D (Danda). Also P will be replaced by B (Z with D). Sounds a bit limiting and the accompanied loss of Urdu will certainly be a shame.

That said, if Punjabis prefer to call themselves al-Bunjabis there is not much need for hand-wringing.  
Losing your native culture (or elements of it) is not that bad if substituted by something of equal (or greater) value. In this case it is the language of Gods (Arabic) supplanting the language of poets (Urdu). Or in the eyes of the Taliban pure words replacing impure ones.

This can (may) trigger an identity crisis amongst the older generation, in India the worry is that the youth are becoming Americanized (as seen in the emergence of Hinglish). Even the Tamil-firsters admit that while they fought (and won) the battle against Hindi, they lost the war against English!!! The pull of a more powerful culture will not be denied regardless of how much ever heart-break it inflicts. 

It is undeniable though that the alien licence plates represent one more milestone marking the (mental) distance traveled by the Punjabi middle-class on the road from SAsia to SArabia.

Columnist, analyst, journalist and culture critic Raza Rumi’s take is: “Nothing is more telling than the literal identity shift of Pakistan taking place in Punjab. Number plates with Al Bakistan amounts to changing the name of the country. I would suffer from an identity crisis if I were to be called Rada instead of Raza. Intriguing how the administrative apparatus in charge of issuing number plates and registration is complicit in the Arabisation process. I also saw a much higher number of camels during the last Eidul Azha (please note it is not Adha for most of us but will be soon called that). Allah Hafiz.”

Are these the first few signs Pakistan is moving towards Arabisation? Is the land of five rivers slowly giving way to sand dunes, camels and date trees? Well, maybe not.

“I had gone to Dubai a few years ago where I saw similar number plates that I liked. They somehow looked cool. On my return I thought why not get one for my car, but with a twist. A few months after I got my car’s number plate designed with some Arabic, I saw a lot of vehicles bearing the same design. I felt good to be a trendsetter of sorts,” Abuzar Butt, a young car showroom owner, told us.

Hafiz Muhammad Ali, a bike owner, who also had the same kind of number plate, said: “I saw so many cars with these fascinating new number plates. I clicked a photo of one, took it to a plate maker and got one made for my bike too.”

The number plate makers can’t be blamed for this for they are merely doing their job. “I’m just a regular plate maker. I will make a plate according to any design you provide me. And this is also the case with these Arabic ones. I get the designs and I make them,” said Niaz, a number plate maker on Jail Road.

But not everyone is amused by vehicles becoming ‘Arabised’. Rizwan Saleemi, a businessman, says: “Most of the people who are doing this belong to upper-middle class Punjabi families based mostly in Lahore and other cities of Punjab. They are going through some kind of a paradox. They want to enjoy everything modern consumerism has to offer; a good car, preferably modified, mind/ear blowing sound system, giving their girlfriends a spin in their brand new Corollas and Civics every now and then. But wait a second, what about the fancy Altima they had when they used to roam around Riyadh, Dubai or Qatar? They had a nice Arabic plate on that elegant ride; let’s get made one for my car here in Pakistan.”

The second reason, he says, is the “ridiculous amount of romanticism of Punjabi middle classes with their presumed Arab roots”.

“These plates, sadly, look fancy to the majority, but I personally despise them. This is surely one of the signs we are adopting Arabic culture, and we have seen many already. Basically, culture thrives on middle classes, and Punjabi middle classes are no more there for their culture and language. So more Arab culture to see in the coming days,” the angry young man speaks his heart out. Hold on … how do you say “angry young man” in Arabic.



  1. I see such articles from Omar in BP all the time. Why is this bad or not anticipated? It is well known that, as the Muslim population in a country becomes more educated, it becomes more "Islamic" in the sense of support for an older Islamic order as propagandized by Maududi and Qutb. reference [1] shows that the support for "Islamic" values in Pakistan is consistently the highest among the Islamic world. As such, the view of general Pakistani (educated) population is that a labor pool for Arabia, and Danda or security for the Arabs, through security forces and the "Islamic" bomb. In this, both the popular view and behavior is aligned; it is the remnants of the colonialism, namely, the Army and the government that vacillates. There is no confusion among the Pakistani people regarding (1) support for the Kashmiri Mujaheddin and opposition to India, and (2) support to Taliban and opposition to the US. There is no division among Pakistanis, and the support for all of the above is consistent and exceeds more than 80%. Then, what is the issue about enforcing and following the mandate?

    1. "The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society" Pew Report dated April 30, 2013.


    "Losing your native culture is not that bad if substituted by something of equal (or greater) value" I cannot even interpret this.