The launch of the recent children’s book ‘Learn Pothwari with the Nana G show: The Pothwari Alphabet’ by the first ever South Asian Pahari Pothwari muppet-style puppeteer in the UK, aims to teach children a language that is slowly becoming extinct.
Born and bred in Bradford, comedian and puppeteer Tehseen Jay, who has previously gone viral all over the world with his comedic videos that are hyperbole screenplays of moments from his own real-life experiences, launches his debut children’s book.
After being told by parents who go to his shows and watch his content, that he should create something for children to be able to learn the language, he decided to search the internet for books for kids that are in the Pahari or Pothwari language.
Being unable to find anything online, he decided to create just that, incorporating his desi culture with a muppet style of storytelling as seen on Sesame Street, and taking on inspiration from Jim Henson’s style, he decided to create a book like no other.
The Indo-Aryan language of Pahari-Pothwari is spoken on the Pothohar Plateau in the far north of Pakistani Punjab, as well as in most of Pakistan’s Azad Kashmir and in western areas of India’s Jammu and Kashmir.
Pahari-Pothwari is the language that Jay creates his content in and is the language he used growing up, he spoke Urdu with his grandfather and Pothwari with his grandmother.
Although Pahari is one of the largest minority languages in the United Kingdom, the majority of Asians living in Bradford and Birmingham speak this language.
Speaking to Asian Sunday on his recent literary endeavour, Tehseen Jay said:
“Bradford is filled with Pahari and Mirpuri people and so is Birmingham, which is where most of my followers come from”.
He says “The videos that I make are an exaggerated version of my life and the things that I went through. I was raised by my elders, my grandparents adopted me when I was young, and I picked up all of the lingo and comedy from the elders in my family.
“I’ve been in the entertainment business a very long time, when I decided to get into comedy, I bought a puppet because cartoons and puppets for me were my escape from reality as I used to suffer from depression as a child and I still do.
He continues “I bought the puppet and started playing around with it and one day I decided to make a video based on something I have been through myself. I made the video, and it went viral, so I made another and that went viral, and the rest is history”.
Exploring his roots and culture through the characters he has developed for the show and now the book too, he says “Not losing one’s language is important and it’s important to remember where we came from at the end of the day”.
He says the response from the public has been good so far “I’ve sold quite a lot of copies so far around 50 or 60 copies, and I’ve had really good feedback from it, the only criticism I have got so far, is that it isn’t long enough”.
Jay says he made the conscious effort and decision to not have too much information in the book, as it is aimed at children and wanted to keep it child friendly.
Whilst he was doing his research for the book, he used the works of successful authors of children’s books, Dr. Seuss and Roald Dhal as literary inspirations.
Commissioning an illustrator from abroad to design his book, which he says was a lengthy process and there was “a bit of a language issue, to begin with like I don’t think he knew what a lota was so I had to send him pictures from Google,” which he says is why the book took longer to develop.
On why he chose this language he talks about the stigma attached to speakers of the Pahari-Pothwari language, and says “I wanted to show Punjabis and people that speak Urdu who look down on people that speak this language and dialect and treat them like uncivilised folk from the village, that, there are a lot of successful people out there, especially in Bradford and Birmingham who are businessmen and women from Kashmir and Mirpur”.
The recent efforts of the Pahari-speaking people of England to have this significant community language recognised in the UK have been to encourage people to state their language as Pahari in the national census.
Jay told Asian Sunday campaigners for the language have approached him in trying to get it recognised on official forms and get people to vote for it to be on the national census.
He says, “I think it is important not to lose our identity and the Pathwari language is basically becoming extinct, and we need to keep it alive because it is a part of who we are”.