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Language blues: Persian, Arabic and Bengali

Karachi, Sep 3: Farhan Ahmed is pursuing a Master's degree in Persian at Karachi University (KU). He explained that it was his love for the language that made him opt for this discipline. After getting his degree, he plans to do a PhD and later teach the language.

Another student from Farhan's class, Saleha Nazish, shares the same enthusiasm for the language. "Persian is such a sweet language that it gives me pleasure to speak and read it. Urdu has an abundance of Persian words and I feel that if someone wants to be proficient in the language they must have a working knowledge of Persian. The same can be said about French, which is equally important for students of English Literature," the student said passionately.

Other students share similar sentiments and added that although they may not be able to make a lot of money through their chosen discipline, they at least have the satisfaction of studying a subject of their choice. Regardless of this, however, there are a few students who are studying the language simply because it is the only department they were able to get into, having secured second division in their intermediate examinations. "We had no choice but to come here. In our second year of the Bachelor of Studies (BS) programme, however, we will switch over to subsidiary subjects," said one student.

Persian was once the language of the courts. It was favoured for education and used by the elite of the Mughal Empire until Lord Macaulay replaced it with English in the mid-19th century. Since then, it lost its importance and after Independence, Pakistan was unable to do justice to the language.

Dr Rehana Afsar, the Chairperson of the Department of Persian, obtained her Master's degree from KU and obtained her MPhil and PhD degrees from Tehran University. She is able to speak the language like a native speaker. "Persian is the love of my life. I was captivated by the charm of the language and still am today," she said. In reply to a query about student enrollment, she explained that "Currently, 40 students are enrolled in the first-year BS class and 30 students are in the second year. Most students tend to obtain their Bachelor's degree and leave the department for greener pastures. There are five students in the third year, however, and as expected, they will join other departments. There are only two pupils in the final year of Master's."

"Whether we accept it or not, students all over tend to look for job-oriented subjects. It is the same with our department. Students seek admission with diverse ideas in their minds. Not all come here for the love of the language," Dr Afsar responded with regard to the high number of students dropping out of the programme. She explained that 15 years ago, Persian was taught in 22 colleges but now there are only six colleges that teach the language, most of which are for women. The Khana-e- Farhang (Iranian Cultural Centre) helps out by contributing books and journals but the Iranian government usually does not provide much support.

The University of Karachi also has a Department of Bengali where the total number of students is 12 - two of them are in the Master's year, six in the first year, two in their second year and two in third year. Muhammad Abu Talib Khan is the head of the department and according to him, most students in this department are either Bengali or have come from former East Pakistan (commonly called Biharis). When asked about the large gap between the number of students and the number of Bengalis actually living in Karachi, he said that "they are mostly poor, do menial jobs like fishing or work at homes. They cannot afford the luxury of a university education." In response to the question about job prospects, he explained that "The Bangladesh Deputy High Commission in Karachi employs some, while others struggle to find work."

Arabic at KU, however, is in a comparatively better state as the department has a total of 170 students that include 15 PhD and 35 Master's students. Dr Abdush Shaheed Nomani, the chairman of the department, is optimistic about the future of Arabic in Pakistan. "The number of students joining our department has increased over the years. There are different reasons for this interest. The general feeling is that Arabic, being the language of the Holy Quran, should be learned in order to read and understand the Holy Book. Moreover, the numerous job opportunities in the Middle Eastern countries encourage people to learn the language in order to gain an edge while applying for jobs there," he said.

The students of Arabic have fairly good opportunities as they get jobs in schools as teachers and in consulates as interpreters. The news

Your Comments
"Interesting article, I came across this article while browsing through ner to know, whether it is possible for me to learn persian? Because after Arabic Persian is the language which knits muslims and islamic culture together because a good amount of treasure of Islamic Learning is in persian language. Besides, the official language of muslim rulers has always been Persian, especially in my district, Chitral, this language was dominanant and still spoken in some parts. All official documents before partician are in persian, even history of the district, Shahnama e Siyar, written Baba Siar, a reknowned poet, musician and historian, of whose family i myself am descendant, was also written in Persian Language. During my early education i myself studied basic persian as elective subject for two years and passed with excellent marks. But, unfortunately, after secondary education i could not remain in touch with persian, though i can read and understand persian to a good extent yet cannot speak however, i understand i need a little hard work to learn this language. The problem is now, in my age, 53, i cannot go to formal institution, i was trying to find some place where short courses are conducted. The idea came to me while i was listening to the very inspiring speech at UN, (Unnecessary Nuisance)of Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadi Nijad, i sgtrongly wished had i understood his speech. Thanks and Stay Blessed Muslim Ummah"
Name: Yousuf Khan
City, Country:Karachi Pakistan
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