Thursday, February 23, 2012

INDONESIA: A LAND OF LIMITLESS BEAUTY

“It was my maiden foreign visit. My mother came closer to me, cuddled for a while and finally hugged me saying ……. But hey... ! Don’t speak to anyone there who doesn’t know you and don’t take edibles from whom you don’t know”:-)

MAHTAB BASHIR
mahtabbashir@gmail.com
ISLAMABAD

The two prized possessions people of the Republic of Indonesia elegantly show off are - Smile on their faces and Batik on their bodies while every individual can hum “Chaiyya Chaiyya” - a Hindi song from 1998 film ‘Dil Se’ directed by Mani Ratnam, the song composed by A.R. Rahman, written by Gulzar, and sung by Sukhwinder Singh and Sapna Awasthi, filmed on a moving train starring Shahrukh Khan.


Indonesia is indeed a place like ‘Heaven on Erath’ and a land of diverse culture. It has something to offer everyone. Indonesia’s cultural mosaic is marked by many different cultures and a trip to Indonesia can become a cultural carnival for a tourist. During the ‘Familiarization Trip of Tour Operators and Travel Writers from Countries in the South & Central Asian Region to South Sulawesi & Jakarta’ from April 24 to May 2, 2011, the invitees from Pakistan, India, Iran, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan were taken to astounding naturally and man-made beautified places with the core objective to explore the vision and vistas and promote tourism for the Province of South Sulawesi and Jakarta. The Fam Trip was an endearing effort of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Indonesia in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and Provincial Government of South Sulawesi.

Indonesia - officially the Republic of Indonesia is a country in Southeast Asia and Oceania. It is an archipelago comprising approximately 17,508 islands. It has 33 provinces with over 238 million people, and is the world's fourth most populous country. Indonesia is a republic, with an elected legislature and president. The nation's capital city is Jakarta. The country shares land borders with Papua New Guinea, East Timor, and Malaysia. Other neighboring countries include Singapore, Philippines, Australia, and the Indian territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Indonesia is a founding member of ASEAN and a member of the G-20 major economies.

The Indonesian economy is the world's eighteenth largest economy by nominal GDP and fifteenth largest by purchasing power parity. Comprising more than 300 ethnic groups speaking over 250 different languages, the Indonesia population exhibits marked diversity in its linguistic, cultural, and religious traditions.


On 23rd of April, 11:00 pm, I kicked off my air journey with Thai Airways via Bangkok to Jakarta. It was raining when the plane after 4:30 hours touched the runway of Suvarnabhumi Airport (Bangkok) where I joined another Islamabadite Tehmas Durrani who was also a member of Fam trip as a tour operator and travel agent. He was a balled young man with a foreigner look and hardly shared his feelings … but in no time, being an extrovert, I compelled him to speak.


At Suvarnabhumi Airport (Bangkok) we had a four hours stay and than we made our headway to (Soekarno Hatta Airport) Jakarta where we reached after 2:30 hours. It was a bright Sunday and we thought someone from Pakistani embassy or officials from host would be waiting for us but there was none. After repeatedly failed calls to Pakistani embassy and curiously waiting for any officials to meet us, we sit idle in perspiration.

Good times followed us as soon as I saw a walking young Indonesian lady- an official of Indonesian embassy working in Pakistan, who recognized me and took both of us to a nearby fast-food outlet and made quick calls to embassy officials who took us along them in a Hotel Borobudur situated in the down town Jakarta.

Steeped in a rich cultural history, Jakarta was the first destination for the tourists of Fam trip members. Jakarta has enough interesting architecture and cultural relics to keep visitors entertained and mesmerized. It offers all kinds of attractions from museums, art and antique markets, grand luxury shopping malls to accommodations, food and a wide variety of cultural activities.

On the very next day, we landed at Sultan Hassanuddin Airport, at the city of Makassar, (also spelled Macassar, Mangkasar) the provincial capital of South Sulawesi, and the largest city on Sulawesi Island.

South Sulawesi is located at the narrow southwestern peninsula of the orchid shaped island of Sulawesi also know as Celebes. Makassar is its capital. You can reach by air from other Indonesian cities like Jakarta, Bali and Monado with 114 flights daily provided by most Indonesian airlines. "Land of the Heavenly kings" South Sulawesi famous for its tremendous scenery and the quality and talent of its silk and silver work industries. The diversity of its local cultures and spectacular landscapes is an endless source of new discoveries. Sulawesi is famous for its unique flora and funa which cannot be found in other areas lying closely outside Makassar is the stunning karts outcrops as attractive as stone forest which cover about 400 sq km of land.

The Maros Karts is also a potential candidate for UNESCO world heritage. South Sulawesi, the land of Makassar and Bugis brave sailors is one of the provinces found on the main island of Sulawesi. If the Makassar and Bugis Tribe are well known as excellent seaman and predominate the south side, people of Toraja are later recognized with their unique culture which is centralized in upstate of this province.

At the dinner, after a brief introductory session, the Fam trip members of the South and Central Asian region converted into family members and in particular with Indian people including Nozer Master, Santosh Patil, Kiran Bhatt, Sanjay Sondhi, Sandip Srivastava, and Pravda Rathor, I have had a great fun and learning experience because of sharing common Sub-Continental culture. It was not the two-week relationship but these happy chirpy memories are still haunting me whenever I interact each of Fam member, on a social interactive web- portal.

‘Trans Studio World Theme Park’, the first indoor theme park in Indonesia, was our first picking spot. Trans Studio was built of 12,7 hectares with investment of IDR 1 trillion more. Facilities built in the shopping center which includes the Trans Walk and Rodeo Drive, and Studio Trans, Trans Hotel, office of Bank Mega.

Trans Studio World Theme Park has adopted the concept of Universal Studios in the United States. Contain spaces simulation program several television station, Trans TV, or events in Indonesia. The concept of a theme park in the Trans Studio World will provide the experience itself. Some of them are the Tsunami and earthquake, Magic Corner, Lost City, Terror Twister, Water Coaster, Magic Museum and more.

From Makassar we had a full day drive towards Tana Toraja through Bugis Villages and into the misty Blue Ocean and mountain along the distance of 328 kilometers. Full of fascinating sights outside and lovely company inside the red bus, we hardly shown a sign of fatigue.

With the drops of rain gradually hitting the windows of bus, we reached to Bantimurung Waterfall and butterfly resort. Bantimurung Waterfall is located in Bantimurung District Territory, Maros, South Sulawesi Province.


Bantimurung means a place for getting rid of sadness. The spectacular waterfall is located at the valley of the steep limestone hill with its fertile tropical vegetation which makes this area an ideal habitat for the types of butterflies and birds that are famous for their small number.

Before entering the waterfall location, we saw a statue of a kind of monkey (lutung), about 6 cm tall. This kind of animal can only be found in Sulawesi and Kalimantan.

Besides beautiful waterfall, Bantimurung waterfall is tourist area which is a habitat for many species of rare butterflies, that's why the invaders in the period of Netherlands colonization, in Indonesia, dubbed this place the “Kingdom of Butterfly.” Even a naturalist from the UK, Alfred Russell, lived in this region for one year (1856-1857) to examine 150 rare species of butterflies.
 
Located about 20 km from Sultan Hasanuddin Makassar Airport, 15 km from the city of Maros and 50 KM from the city of Makassar, This Tour can be achieved by using the Own Car From Makassar City About 1 Hour, And The trip can be achieved If from Hasanuddin Airport, Approximately 30 - 45 Minutes By Tourism Bus or By Car Rent.

From the waterfall, visitors can go up to see the lake on top, but there are many sharp corals on the way there. The lake is so blue with many flying butterflies around it. The drizzling shortly transformed into heavy rain and the colorful tiny butterflies hidden wherever they wanted to but my inquisitive eyes found beauty of various species of butterflies that fluttered here and there among the flowers and bath area of Bantimurung Waterfall.


I have been hearing about Tana Toraja's beauty and mystical land and finally got the chance to visit it. The center of Tourism in Tana Toraja is Rantepao 328kms northeast of Makassar sitting 700 meters above sea level. Rantepao has cool; pleasant evening. Which is almost 14hrs drive by bus from Makassar. After reaching Toraja Heritage hotel, you will impressed by the ambiance of the hotel like traditional boat-shaped style marvelous scene will make your stay a pleasant and memorable one, which Fam Delegates experienced during the visit of Toraja. A number of traditional rituals, houses and also ornaments which are still can be met in Tana Toraja sub province which is recognized as "the land of heavenly king" made this sub province became an important tourism site that you must visit. It is home of several ethnic groups. The entry to Tana Toraja is marked by a gate built in traditional Boat-shaped style Tana Toraja that is famous for the amazing architectures of traditional houses and its vibrant funeral ceremonies live at the northern high lands.

At Toraja, I have chanced to meet my ambassador in Indonesia Sanaullah, who remained a part of excursion team till the very end. While standing along a roadside, a rickshaw stopped there with a fruit named ‘Durian’- a forbidden fruit in public places. The guide Udin told me despite being costly; the strange-looking durian enjoys a fanatical following. “Many of restaurants and places not allowed public to bring long this fruit with them. With my naughty feelings I asked is it the fruit Adam ate in the Heaven and faced the consequences? He smilingly nodded his head in negative and said Durian can be eaten with a spoon, much like a firm custard. The handful of large, stone-like seeds can be easily removed. The taste is reminiscent of the smell, but much sweeter. Some first-time durian eaters claim a strong aftertaste of alcohol or turpentine, he kept on saying.

Dulan Kuruppu from Sri Lanka while grasped one Durian and offered me to eat but I plainly refused because of unpleasant odor. He smilingly said “I love this fruit because it has the potency equivalence of ‘Viagra’. “I love it but my wife hates this fruit,” Dulan said. I promptly replied it’s not the stinky smell of Durian that makes your wife dislike this fruit- it’s the ‘vigor’ she hates most that you talked about…. & everyone had a roaring laugh.

Believing that their forefathers descended from heaven in a boat some twenty generations ago, the Torajas have a unique Christian animist culture. The majority of the people still follow an ancestral cult called "Aulk Todollo" which governs all traditional ceremonies. Their ancestor worship includes elaborate death and after life ceremonies, which are essentially great feasts. A strict social hierarchy is followed in the villages, and for an important figure wedding and burial ceremonies can take days to perform. Water buffalo and pigs are sacrificed in number appropriate to social ranks and the deceased's remains are placed in a coffin and interred in caves hollowed out in high cliffs. The mouth of the cave is guarded by life like statues called "Tau Tau". Two Villages with easily accessible cliff graves are Lemo and Londa.


Toraja area coffee is grown using traditional practices of coffee cultivation. Picking and sorting of the coffee cherries is done by hand making the coffee of very high quality as only the best cherries are picked. This type of growing and harvesting is utilized due to the very mountains terrain and the haphazard planting of the coffee trees resulting in a yield of only 300 kilo per hectare of coffee. 

Soon after breakfast on Wednesday (February 27), we left Toraja and drove directly to Polopo beautiful landscape and tropical forest. Upon arrival at the museum, the government officials greeted us with open arms and massive smiles. After watching a cultural performance, we headed towards Labomba Beach. At night we have had a scrumptious dinner hosted by Mayor of Parepare- a second capital city of South Sulawesi, located on the southwest coast of Sulawesi, about 155 km (96 mi) north of the provincial capital of Makassar. A port town, it is one of the major population centers of the Bugis people.

After participating in a seminar and business meeting, our next destination was Balla Lompoa. It is a reconstruction of the palace of Gowa Kingdom which was founded in the reign of King of Gowa-31, I-mangngi Mangngi Matutu Daeng, in 1936. The architecture of the museum is typical of the Bugis-shaped house, which houses on stilts, with a ladder as high as more than two feet to get into the room terrace. In the language of Makassar, Balla Lompoa means big house or a house of greatness. The entire building is made of ironwood or wooden iron. The building is located within a one-hectare complex bounded by high walls.


This museum serves as a place to store a collection of objects Kingdom of Gowa. In the main room there are three chambers, namely: the king’s chamber as private rooms, cubicles where the historic objects, and the royal chamber. All three chambers are each measuring 6 x 5 meters. At the front of the main hall of the building, an Indonesia map displayed on the right side wall. In the main room display a family tree starting from the King of Gowa Kingdom of Gowa I, Tomanurunga in the 13th century, until the last king of Gowa Aididdin Sultan Abdulkadir A. Moch Idjo Karaeng Lalongan (1947-1957). In the main room, there is a place on the throne in a special area in the middle of the room.


Then we moved towards the tomb of Sultan Hasanuddin(1629 - 1670) king of Gowa who spent his whole life fighting against the Dutch. His cemetery is in the graveyard of the kings of Gowa. Including in his cemetery is a stone that was utilized as a place for inaugurations of the Kings of Gowa, and an old mosque. The tombs of Gowa Kings are large stones scattered among the fragrant while "Kamboja" flowers and the splenderous flaming scarlet flamboyant flowers.

Outside the cemetery borders there is a stone from "Tomanurung", on which all kings of Gowa were crowned. According to the legent of South Sulawesi Kings, they are the descendants of “Tomanurung", who were sent from the sky to become Kings. The mosque near this place was built in 1930 and restored in 1978.

Gowa is a region in the province of South Sulawesi, Indonesia. It is a "level 2 district," with an area of 1,883 km² and a population of approximately 500,000 people. The capital is Sungguminasa and the famous hill resort of Malino is within the region.


The 5 days visiting various cities of South Sulawesi went by like a blink of eye and on 29th April we flew back to the capital city Jakarta.

The 30th April was a day of city tour, when the Fam members chanced to visit various spots including Monas, Sarinath, Kota Tau-Museum, Sejarah, Ancol (Pasar Seni Ancol, Pantai Ancol).

The only problem I have had during the trip was counting of currency notes but fortunately I had not sufficient amount to spend on shopping. Having along just 100$ on a fortnight visit to a foreign country is indeed a pleasant surprise for readers but for me even big surprise I got when I reached to a counter of an exchange company at a shopping mall in Jakarta, I came to know One US$ is equivalent to over 9100 Indonesian Rupiah (ID, IDN). And after exchange it took me hours to count over 910000 Rupiah. More surprisingly, 910000 Rupiah flew away in few minutes until I purchased few shirts, t-shirts, chocolates, and a couple of souvenirs.

Not many of Indonesians know English as a secondary language but somehow they managed to have a discourse with others to make them understand. However, if you are unable to comprehend their reply or they fail to make you satisfy, do not get hyper as the timely smile of Indonesians is enough to make your temperament down and to create that crooked line (smile) on your face too.

The culture and traditions of Jakarta, especially the heritage buildings are well preserved and worth visiting. As the capital city is a melting pot representative from each of these ethnic groups. Located on the northern coast of West Java, it is the centre of trade, commerce and industry and has an extensive communication network with the rest of the country and the outside world.

Jakarta is one of the Indonesia’s designated tourist areas. It is equipped with all the means of modern transportation by air, sea, rail, or by land. As Indonesia’s main gateway, Soekarno-Hatta International Airport serves as a growing number of International airlines and domestic flights.


People of Indonesia are known as friendliest people in the world and most tolerant in their manners. They consider the head as something sacred that must be respected. Calling someone by crooking the index finger is considered impolite and giving or receiving things with the left hand is not acceptable here. In recent years, Jakarta has expanded its facilities for visitors with luxury hotels, elegant restaurants, exciting night life and modern shopping centres. The National Monument is a 433 ft (132 metre) tower in the centre of Merdeka Square, Central Jakarta, symbolizing the fight for Indonesia's independence. Construction began in 1961 under the direction of President Sukarno and the monument was opened to the public in 1975.

Monument is topped by a flame covered with gold foil. The monument and the museum is open daily from 08.00 - 15.00 Western Indonesia Time (UTC+7), everyday throughout the week, except for the last Monday of each month, when the monument is closed. Situated in the old town of Batavia, the National Museum is probably one of the most poignant witnesses to Dutch colonisation in the city. Started by a group of Dutch collectors, the museum has various compellations; prehistoric artifacts, archeology, heraldics, historical relics, geography, ethnography, and ceramics. The museum displays more than 100,000 cultural objects. Metropolitan tourism activities are shopping, sightseeing in big cities, and enjoying modern amusement parks. Ancol Dreamland with Dunia Fantasi theme park and Atlantis Water Adventure is Jakarta's answer to Disneyland-style amusement park and water park. Several similar theme parks also developed in other cities, such as Trans Studio Makassar and Trans Studio Bandung. 


The nation's capital, Jakarta, offers many places for shopping. Mal Kelapa Gading, the biggest one with 130 square kilometres (50 sq mi), Plaza Senayan, Senayan City, Grand Indonesia, EX, and Plaza Indonesiaare some of the shopping malls in the city. Next to high-end shopping centers with branded products, Indonesia is also a popular destination for handicraft shopping in the region. Certain Indonesian traditional crafts such as batik, songket, ikat weaving, embroidery, wooden statue and fashion products are popular souvenirs for visitors. Indonesian textile and fashion products are known for its good value; good quality with relatively cheap and reasonable price. Bandung is a popular shopping destination for fashion products among Malaysians and Singaporeans. Another popular tourist activity is golfing, a favorite sport among the upper class Indonesians and foreigners. Some notable golf courses in Jakarta are the Cengkareng Golf Club, located in the airport complex, and Pondok Indah Golf and Country Club.


Temperatures in Jakarta tend to be fairly uniform through most of the year, but the rainy season can cause problems, especially as far as mobility is concerned. A lot of roads get clogged with mud and water, and the constant dripping and drizzling can get on your nerves, besides being a major inconvenience. The best time to visit Jakarta is therefore during the dry season (May to September). Be prepared, however, to be surrounded by tourists- this is peak season, and much of Indonesia, especially more popular destinations like Bali are literally flooded with visitors.

Much more can be said about these amazing places, but a visit there can only estimate its real value, which it well deserves, to be seen and appreciated, and to leave it with only good memories that lay in the mind forever.

With the lyrics ‘Oh let the sun beat down upon my face, stars to fill my dream/ I am a traveler of both time and space, to be where I have been/ To sit with elders of the gentle race, this world has seldom seen/ They talk of days for which they sit and wait and all will be revealed, a song by English rock band Led Zeppelin o my lips I touched the surface of Benazir Bhutto International Airport (Islamabad) via Thai Airways, Flight No 349 on May 2nd.


It would be sheer injustice if I would not mention the names of all of my excursion colleagues especially the Indians include Nozer Master, Santosh Patil, Kiran Bhatt, Sanjay Sondhi, Sandip Srivastava, and Pravda Rathor, my country fellows Tehmas Durrani, Hamid Jinali, and ambassador Sanaullah, Sri Lankans Sonali Rodrigo, and Dulan Kuruppu, the lovely happy couple Mr and Mrs Aziz from Azerbaijan, all fellows of Central Asian States, the officials of Indonesian foreign affairs Rima, Sugiri, Haidi, Mr and Mrs Ishaq Latuconsina, the couple serving in Pakistan and Munir Akram an official of Indonesia embassy in Islamabad, for adding happy moments in my heart and brain. My massive thanks to all of you.

I am also indebted to all those to whom I met, forgot names but would remember them by faces to show me the striking face of Indonesia- where beauty intrigues!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

TRANS-BOUNDARY EFFECTS MULTIPLYING POLLUTION

“I was in Norway, and while hitting a nail in a wall, the neighbor knocked the door and retorted “you are making noise pollution – please, stop it and resume it as soon as I leave my home,” and in our country even the bumper of a vehicle has inscribed ‘Push the horn- and take your way’: Asif Shuja Khan, Director General (DG) Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA)

MAHTAB BASHIR
ISLAMABAD

It is believed that birds, river water, and air needs no barrier to cross boundary line of one country to another, however, in modern days all three objects causing environmental nuisance at a massive scale, hence, knowing this core environmental issues the environment experts with their heads down are engaged in coping these issues named ‘trans-boundary’ problems.

Director General (DG) of Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) Asif Shuja Khan in his exclusive talk with Pakistan Today said after the devolution of environment ministry last year, environmental issues in the country are getting harder to resolve. “Trans-boundary issues are vital to resolve with immediate effect but now it’s tough to know how it could be resolved and implemented as the powers of ministry are given to provinces,” Khan said.

“Trans- boundary effects are aggravating the air pollution situation in Pakistan posing threats to human health and environment. The trans-boundary air pollution from neighbouring countries further aggravates air quality in our cities,” Pak-EPA chief said expressing concern on high pollution levels, mainly due to emission from vehicles, industrial activities and fine natural dust and aerosols.

The DG said no country in the world could launch any project before its trans-boundary environmental impact assessment is thoroughly reviewed and other neighboring countries are taken on board.


After the environment ministry devolution, Pak-EPA is now an attached department of the Ministry of National Disaster Management and responsible to implement the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act, 1997 in the country.


Talking about its purpose, Asif Shuja Khan said an Act to provide for the protection, conservation, rehabilitation and improvement of environment, for the prevention and control of pollution, and promotion of sustainable development, Pak-EPA also provides all kind of technical assistance to the Ministry of National Disaster Management.

The training programme by JICA experts will enable Pak-EPA to maintain high reliability of data and take regulatory measures to offset the environmental problems, he added. Asif Shuja Khjan highly appreciated assistance by the Government of Japan to impart training through highly qualified and experienced Japanese experts.

The DG said Pak-EPA Pakistan is strategically located at the junction of Middle East and South Asia with a population of around 180 million people and over 80% urban pollution is caused by vehicles’ emissions because of poor road safety and congestion is the rapid growth in vehicles and poor fuel quality in Pakistan. “The vehicle emission is a serious public health and environmental problem in Pakistan, particularly in urban areas,” he said adding the agency has taken measures to minimize lead ratio in fuel.

“Unfortunately, people are least aware of environmental hazards and more unfortunate is it affects the health of every individual. In Pakistan, the maximum allowable limit of sulpher in High Speed Diesel (HSD) is 1.0%, which is the highest in the region. The combination of HSD with obsolete vehicle technology leads to unsafe levels of emission of smoke, soot, and Particulate Matter (PM). PM from vehicles is mostly fine and ultra-fine in size, and can be inhaled deep into the lungs resulting in respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, increased risk of lung cancer and premature death. But, now we have considerably come down the percentage of sulpher to 0.05, the DG maintained.

He said the government has notified the adoption of Euro standards introduction of Euro II compliant petrol vehicles, and Euro II compliant diesel vehicles, for this, Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources will ensure availability of Euro II compliant diesel with low sulpher i.e. 500 ppm by July 2012.

Talking about the project entitled “Greening the Steel Industry” carried out by Pak-EPA, DG said this project has made some progress as one of the eight steel mills in the capital installed equipment to control emissions of pollutants.

“The bag-house filter is a proven technology worldwide to control 99 per cent emissions of dangerous pollutants from chimneys,” said Director General Pak-Epa Asif Shuja who had given four months to the owners of steel mills in the capital industrial sectors to install the environment-friendly equipment.

After a lot of pushing by the government, Pak-EPA and the owners of the steel mills signed a resolution supporting the agency to make Islamabad pollution-free in general and the industrial area in particular. “Now the industrialists of I-9 and I-10 believe, I am very strict about the policies and few of them have shifted their industry to Hattar from Islamabad,” Khan said adding there is no compromise whatsoever.

“The equipments are to be installed in all the industries in Islamabad and later our focus will be on provinces. Those who do not want these equipments to be installed, better shut off their industry,” Asif Shuja Khan categorically said adding our officials and sometime I myself go to visit and monitor the interior of industries in this locality.

He said we are taking measures to stop the dust of marble as well tat turned into wet cutting now to stop the dust pollution. “Now a proper sledge is made first and then it is properly disposed off, though there is a problem in disposal of waste,” DG said.

Talking about the noise pollution, Pak-EPA chief said the agency has established continuous air quality monitoring system in five major cities, Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta with the grant assistance of Government of Japan. “This system is now generating air quality data through fixed and mobile stations and it shows presence of high suspended particulate matter in the air. Pak-EPA, with a view to strengthen technical expertise of Environmental Protection Agencies to independently operate recently established Air Quality Monitoring System and laboratories and the training programme would build capacity of Provincial EPAs and other concerned department,” he added.

The training programmes are target oriented whereby each EPAs will carry out monitoring of industrial units, municipal installations and ambient air in a specific time frame. The JICA expert will evaluate performance of EPAs and individual participant and its experts will propose uniform methodology for analysis of national standards parameters.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

INTERNATIONAL MOTHER LANGUAGE DAY (Feb21, 2012)

MAHTAB BASHIR
mahtabbashir@gmail.com
ISLAMABAD

It is not unusual to ignore one's mother tongue while learning a second or third language in other countries. All over the world, many languages are becoming extinct. And with language the history of the race too becomes extinct. Unfortunately the mother tongue is being conveniently forgotten by today's generation.

Language is the most powerful instrument of preserving and developing tangible and intangible heritage. All moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongue serves not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.

Today (February 21) is the International Mother Language Day- a day that was proclaimed by UNESCO's General Conference in November 1999. The International Day has been observed every year since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

On 16 May 2007, by resolution 61/266, the General Assembly proclaimed 2008 as the International Year of Languages, to promote unity in diversity and international understanding, through multilingualism and multiculturalism.

Punjabi is the most spoken language of Pakistan. It is spoken as first language by over 44.15% of Pakistanis. Punjabis comprise the largest ethnic group in the country. Punjabis are dominant in key institutions such as business, agriculture, industry, government, army, navy, air force, and police, which is why about 70% of Pakistanis can understand or speak Punjabi.

With the western onslaught that has created a wide range of complexes among the people of Islamabad in particular among youth to speak English under every circumstances, the city dwellers are ready to mark International Mother Language Day today (February 21).

A large part of our children, our youths are missing out on the joy and pride of expressing themselves in a well versed mother tongue, Urdu, Punjabi, Pashto, Balochi, Sindhi, Saraieki or any other language. Most of these children are the students studying in the English medium schools. They have Urdu in their school curriculum but most of the schools keep the syllabus to a marginal level. That is more so because the other subjects in English come with lengthy syllabuses.
Apart from school some guardians try to keep Urdu or other regional languages practice at home through reading, writing or give them access to Urdu literature.

Students coming from Urdu medium schools also seldom delve into the Urdu literature apart from the school curriculum. There are a counted few who read Urdu books to help them strengthen their hold of the language and neither do they keep up with their writing.

In English medium schools learning English as a second language takes up a large portion of the children's learning capacity. Coming from Urdu or other provincial languages speaking families the children have a hard time learning the second language. At home parents try to supply them with English Language learning aids so the children can do well at schools.

There are children who are involved with extracurricular activities that concern the use of Urdu or other native languages but these are not large in number. Most parents would point out that the schools put much pressure on the children with a huge number of subjects and homework and that makes it quite impossible to engage them with extracurricular activities or to give them additional attention towards learning Urdu. The children's knowledge of Udru literature could get enlightened if they could join Urdu programs that include singing, poetry recitation, drama and other cultural aspects.

Reading Urdu fiction books and magazines through a weekly visit to the library may teach the children to value reading Urdu literature. In course of time they may catch up with Minto, Mumtaz Mufti, Bano Qudsia, Ashfaq Ahmed, and in poetry Perveen Shakir, Iftikhar Arif, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Iqbal, Mirza Ghalib, Mir, Faraz, Munir Niazi, to name few to enjoy the pleasure of Urdu literature one day.
And once a youth gets the beacon of those great works of Urdu literature he or she will be ready to soar to a much higher level of learning, the thirst for knowledge will drive the soul to unknown bounds. Why not guide our children to reach for the stars through their mother tongue?

The need to know one's mother tongue is no more felt by neither the children nor the parents. People living away from their native place are giving up their own language, preferring only English or other languages at home. One cause of this trend are the schools, which ask parents to speak in second or third language with the child at home, and not in any other language. Their opinion is that the child will otherwise become weak in the new language! This is a big myth. The mother tongue actually connects one to the roots and strengthens the imaginative powers.

Experts believe that preserving a child's cultural identity is the key to his or her success. And language is the first tool for a child to express himself or herself and is essential in preserving one's culture. In fact children find an emotional haven in their mother tongue.

Mother Tongue is a common language that is freely and comfortably spoken by adult generation both at home and outside to their successors in a community and reflect one's culture and ethnic backgrounds. It is the means by which different groups within the society maintain their identities. A child who had learned the mother tongue as his first language is more likely to be able to express himself first in the mother tongue and then translate the thoughts in other languages.

Other literary giants like Shakespeare, Keats, Dickens, Virginia Woolf ,Byron and the others writing in English language won their fame through their mother tongue. Tolstoy wrote “War and Peace” in Russian language. And there are many other literary master pieces that were fist written in the respective mother tongue and then translated into other languages.

We are to encourage our children to learn other languages, to strengthen their imagination and broaden their knowledge. However, it is our responsibility to guide the children so that they have a thorough knowledge of their mother tongue also. Why can we not dream of a day when another literary giant like ‘Iqbal’ or ‘Faiz’ will be born, of a day when the world will know more about the beauty and lucidity of our language?

Standing at a remarkable time when the world has recognized 21st February as International Mother Language Day, can we not promise that our children be illuminated with the beacon of their mother tongue and spread it worldwide?

The children are the nation builders of tomorrow. Let them have the touch of ecstasy that their mother tongue can bring for them. It is our solemn duty to enlighten our children, our youths about the sanctity of the day and guide them on to the importance of learning their mother tongue. 

Happy Mother Language Day to all!