Hewad Shalamkhel Khan, a Pashto Teacher in Delhi

In conversation with Hewad Shalamkhel Khan, a native from Afghanistan teaching Pashto in Delhi 

Hewad Khan shifted from Kabul to Delhi 15 months back…looking ahead for a better future. He is trying to adept to the new lifestyle in Delhi, and is quite happy with it. He is teaching Pashto in one of the language institutes, Zabaan located in Kailash Colony.

Delhi has always been the hub for émigré population. Even in the medieval times,Delhi attracted people from all over the world with its lucrative career opportunities,wealth and fame. Delhi still remains the most sought after destinations,especially for Afghan’s. The United Nations High Commission for refugees surmises that there are 9000 Afghan Residents in Delhi and its suburbs.

Everyday nearly 600-2000 Afghans travel to India from Kabul: Students, traders, asylum seekers, tourist and most of all patients looking for medical treatment. Most Afganis,who come to Delhi, face a language barrier, due to which they hire a Tarjuman, a translator. Infact Hospitals in South Delhi have customized themselves for this influx of Afghan patients.

This sturdy stream of Afghans in the city has generated a burgeoning chain of restaurants,hotels, translators, academies, guides etc… Lajpat Nagar caters to a sizable Afghan community, both long time residents and visitors. There are many restaurants in Lajpat Nagar and gradually in Hauz Rani that serves Afghan food. There is also an Afghan Church in South Delhi.

Hewad Khan shifted from Kabul to Delhi 15 months back…looking ahead for a better future. He is trying to adept to the new lifestyle in Delhi, and is quite happy with it. He is teaching Pashto in one of the language institutes, Zabaan located in Kailash Colony. In a conversation, he shares his knowledge with us about the language and the land,Delhi and Pashto, myths about the language, learning Pashto for beginners, the traditional stereotyped image of an Afghan society and the Afghan norms.

Pashto is the mother tongue of the Pakhtuns who comprise nearly half the population in Afghanistan. There are other ethnic groups in Afghanistan like the Tajiks, the Uzbeks, the Hazaras, the Chahar Aimaks,the Turkmen, the Baluchi and others who have their own languages. The two officially spoken languages in Afghanistan are Dari and Pasto. Pasto is also the provincial language of the Khyber Pakhtunwa region, Pakistan.

Hewad informs that there are atleast 5-6 different dialects of Pashto. The most common form of dialect is the one that is used in Kabul area. In areas like Kandahar, Pashto is spoken differently. Precisely, in Kandahar, ‘hey’ is spoken as ‘shey’. While in eastern part of Afghanistan ‘hey’ is pronounced as ‘khey’.

Hewad says that most of his students learning Pashto as well as Dari are Americans and Indians who are somehow engaged with Afghanistan or are looking forward to an engagement with the country- like researcher, sociologist, anthropologist, diplomats, traders and others. As the Afghan Pastun society is an insular society and so to interact with them, one has to be apt in Pashtun or Dari.

Hewad recommends ‘Speaking Afghan Pashto’ by Randall Olson’ as one of the good beginners book for Pashto, designed for English speakers. For learning a language online on You Tube etc, he says that though it can be quite effective,but then it’s always better to learn Pashto from a tutor as the pronunciations are quite typical. And it’s most effective if a native learned teaches.

Hewad recalls that he came to Delhi with conjectures about the city. Back in Kabul, there was a notion that there are radio channels in Delhi that runs in Pakhtu. He had also heard about the BBC project on Pashtun and the efforts made by Shilpi Batra to preserve Pashtun in India. India has had connected histories with Afghanistan, and has mutually influenced each others language and culture. But when he came here, he was surprised to see such lack of interest and research in India on Pashto. The only two institutes in Delhi that I came across teaching Pashto are JNU and Zabaan. However, there are many local institutes spread across south Delhi that teaches Pashto /Dari.

Also, there are many similarities in Hindi and Pashto. Hewad states that “when I am watching a Hindi movie, I get really surprised at the use of some very old Pashto words like paise. Paise is a very old Pashto word.

The influence of Bollywood has not escaped Afghanistan. “If you walk down the lanes of Kabul, you will be surprised to hear mostly Hindi songs. Its almost like a street in Delhi. A lot of our women also see Hindi daily soaps, so much so that some of them become quite adept in Hindi”, says Hewad. He says that Pashtun movies are mostly made in Pakistan and frequently in Afghanistan. They are so strongly influenced from Bollywood that-they mostly fail to exhibit local Traditions and culture. In fact, many Bollywood movies run in theaters of Kabul and are often translated in Dari or Pashto, they are mostly shown in Hindi itself.

There has been recent revival of the Pashto language, with many newspapers, magazines coming up in Pashto. Most of the new generation people have started using a lot of Pashto words in the vocabulary. Many new newspapers, magazines, online sites etc… have come up in Pashto. This can be called a new phase for Pashto language…
However, Both Dari and Pashto are so interlinked and inseparable that efforts to make a distinct identity for Pashto have failed in Afghanistan. Families in Afghanistan has ties with both dari and Pashto (Unlike in Pakistan where Pashtun has a distinct culture and traditions)

Hewad says, ‘Since the 21st century a new style of speaking has developed in Afghanistan. People have started mixing Dari and Pashtun, and this has become the new trend of speaking mostly on T.V interviews, news etc…” It is interesting to note that nearly 80 % of the population of Afghanistan is bilingual; most of them would know Dari and Pashto…. as well as Urdu.

If you look up on google, there will be some ten traditional principles that a Pashtun should display: Melmastiya- Hospitality, nanawatai- Giving hostage to people who needs it,Badal – to seek justice by taking revenge, Turah- Bravery, sabat- Loyalty,Imandari- righteousness, Isteqamat- Trust in God, Ghayrat- Respect, Honor andcourage, Naamus- Protection of women, Nang- Honor.

However, this is not to be understood as the ones really followed… these are only idealistic and eroded with time. In fact,in one of the writing of shilpi Batra, who is from a Pashto decent herself,living in Jaipur, she says how Pathan’s are loosing their Pathaniat… They no longer are the ones who can be called as the ones who would do anything to keep a promise … ‘Pathan ka waada’. Hewad however chooses to disagree with Shilpi batara, he says, ‘…with all my respect to her I disagree… still pashtuns are following the same principles in their lives, there are some people that might not obey these rules, but we have a saying in pashto that just with speaking pashto you can’t be a pashtun you have to do these things to be a pashtun.’

Hewad also talks about the an age-old group called the Jirga or jarga that is a tribal assembly of elders which is crucial for any decision making- social, political or economical.It is a pretty good system that has elements of democracy, but it needs to incorporate new elements as well.

Asked about how much of Afghanistan hanged the fate of the country he said, “I think American intervention has had both positive and negative impacts, but more positive than negative. Like women rights, media, education etc… But we still have security problem, and that’s the biggest challenge of the future that Afghanistan faces”.

He says Delhi gave him an opportunity to teach Pashto and introduce the Afghan culture and break the stereotypes that have been formed of an Afghan person- that of being extremely intolerant,religious, Talibani etc…