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Indus Wali Archaeologist
Cambridge/New Delhi
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Just to clarify, the Hindi option ghāyal means wounded rather than ill, whereas the Punjabi option bimār means ill. I think it's more likely to stand for bimār which is why I suspect the letters are Punjabi rather than Hindi- that and the lack of a line above the letter for dead which corresponds to the Punjabi ਮ instead of the Hindi म
What an interesting post! One thing I noticed is that in the last image (IOR/L/MIL/5/825/6, f. 960) the 'symbols' you describe are actually letters from either the Devanagari alphabet used for Hindi or the Gurmukhi alphabet used for Punjabi. Rather than using symbols, Mela Singh is cleverly using shorthand or abbreviations to write home to Lyallpur, Punjab (now Faisalabad in Pakistani Punjab). I had initially thought it was Hindi because of how the letters have been transcribed and some similarities, but now suspect it might be Punjabi. I'll list both the possibilities here, with Punjabi letters first and Hindi letters second. He uses either ਬ (b) or घ (gh) for sick, presumably for either bīmār or ghāyal; ਗ or ग (g) for bullet, which I imagine stands for gōlī, and ਮ or म (m) for dead which most likely stands for marē or mrat. I'd add that the transcript describes him as a Sikh writing in Urdu, from which the letter was presumably translated by the censors, but those letters are not part of the Urdu alphabet (a Perso-Arabic script although it too can be written in Devanagari). He clearly wrote the large part of it in Urdu with coded messages in Punjabi, demonstrating perhaps some fluidity of identity as a result of the tremendous diversity in pre-Partition Punjab. The writer (or scribe, as Mela Singh may have been illiterate like most soldiers) was clearly bilingual at any rate. Hindi and Urdu were the official languages at the time. Fascinating how he used the vernacular (his mother tongue?) to subvert the censors at the time, leaving some aspects of his letters home indecipherable to the English 100 years later! It would be nice to know more about how widespread such practices were- WWI is not my research area and I don't speak Punjabi so I apologise for any lack of accuracy or mistakes here.
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Oct 21, 2015