For the first time I get to experience gyms in Lahore. It is a new a novel experience for me. It’s also an industry which I think is growing, certainly from having virtually none to very few gyms, there is now a visible interest in one’s health. And so the health conscious and maybe body conscious people go over to work out in the gym. Even by international standards, my joining fee was not cheap; it is comparable to some places in the UK, if not actually more.
So I go along, I join up and make a mental note of the ladies’ time. This is another new revelation to me, separate times for men and women. Although the time allocated to women is somewhat restrictive to be honest. There are two gyms, a small one and an even smaller one; side by side. So if I want to go along to the small gym, I have to be there between 3-5pm. But it does the job I suppose. There is enough there to get on with what is necessary. One wonderful benefit has been the personal trainer who put together a programme for me to get back into shape! And I certainly need it with the food I’m eating here.
The PT has been most helpful in advising me on which exercises I should be doing and how I should do them. So whilst working out and chatting I came across something incredible sad and hard to believe. She was intrigued by who I was, speaking in my broken Urdu and English-accented English. So I told what I do for a living and that I specialise in Punjabi history. I then reciprocated and asked her about her background and discovered that she is born in Lahore and has Urdu/Punjabi speaking parents. However, she doesn’t speak Punjabi much, but understands it. Moreover, the staff at the gym are strictly told to speak to customers in English or Urdu only which means no Punjabi! If they do, they would be fined.
Knowing full well that the status given to Punjabi in Pakistan Punjab is not great I was still rather astounded that a company feels compelled to advice its staff to refrain from using their own mother tongue. Since when did Punjabi become such a vilified language? Why is there so much stigma about speaking in Punjabi? There is evidently a problem that Pakistan has with the use of Punjabi in public spaces. It is often heard in homes, particularly by the older generation. But years of suppressing Punjabi have led to generations now unfamiliar and uncomfortable with speaking in their own mother tongue. Before long, much of the rich literature and culture associated with Punjabi will be lost. Much has already been lost, but surely we must encourage people to be proud of their own mother tongue? Youngster need to own the language themselves, subverting stereotypes that Punjabi is a language of the uneducated and the peasant. And so what started as a new experience into modern day Lahore ended up as an exploration of Punjabi in modern day Lahore.