Now retired, Saqib Mir meets Peer Sirajuddin Shah, who picked up 13 different languages while working in a Mughal garden
Imagine a person who speaks more than a dozen languages without learning either of them formally.
A polyglot, Peer Sirajudin Shah speaks 13 languages. He picked these languages from tourists whom he would guide during their Kashmir visits. Sirajudin believes that Kashmir’s chain of gardens are like educational institutions where he learnt many of these languages.
Sirajudin, a resident of village Breenti Dialgam (Anantnag) is more than 70 years of age. He still has not forgotten even though he is restricted to his home.
The languages Shah speaks include Kashmiri, English, Urdu, Hindi, Japanese, French, Egyptian-Arabic, Russian, Chinese, Persian, Arabic, Thai and Romanian. He said he took almost 45 years of his age to learn these languages though he faced a lot of difficulties in learning many of them. “I did not give up,” he said. His learning process was during the years when modern gadgetry like the internet and improved IT systems were yet to be discovered.
After completing his bachelor’s in Arts stream in 1966, Shah got an ordinary job in the Floriculture Department of the Jammu and Kashmir government. In the beginning, he was posted at the Mughal Garden Achabal. It was there he would routine meet the foreigners, who spoke different languages. It urged him to learn some of the major foreign languages so that he could interpret things to them in their own language.
In the beginning, he picked up some commonly used sentences of day to day life and used them while meeting the visitors. The visitors paid him for his service, which encouraged him to learn some foreign languages to the extent that he could interpret things as desired by the visitors.
“I was encouraged to learn some major foreign languages at the time when I was paid a meagre amount of money by a group of tourists whom I communicated things in English language and gave them information about the historical background of the Achabal garden,” said Sirajudin. At that time, Sirajudin knew only English, Arabic, Hindi and Kashmiri languages.
In order to gain command over English and Arabic languages, Sirajudin contacted his teachers who used to teach him in his college. Then he attended several classes and gained more command over English and Arabic.
When he understood that learning more languages will add to his income, his interest in learning more and more languages increased day after day. Shah was not supposed to master the languages because he had not done anything in academics. His entire requirement was that he should be able to present the Achbal Graden properly and responded to queries about Kashmir and the life around him.
Though he cannot speak fluently in major foreign languages, he still picked up enough skills to communicate in most of them.
Sirajudin got his tourist guide license after his retirement in 2011. He has a very unique way to attract tourists to him. “When I come to know about the country the tourist belongs to, I start speaking his or her language,” Shah said. “After the tourist hears me speaking his language he enjoys it and feels comfortable with me. Then he continues to speak with me and I give him the required information and at times I take the photographs of the tourist. Eventually, the tourist feels pleased to pay me for this service.”
Sirajudin was not inspired by anyone for choosing this profession but he became an inspiration for others, particularly for the unemployed youth. “I wish to speak many languages like Sirajudin and want to become a tourist guide like him,” said a youth Mudasir Ahmad of his neighbouring village. “ I sometimes think to quit my job as a cab driver and want to learn some languages from Sirajudin so that I can also become a tourist guide.”
Sirajudin spends less time at home and more time in different Mughal gardens and other tourist destinations of Kashmir, in winter and summer. Every day he meets dozens of tourists including native as well as non-native tourists and makes them happy after speaking in their native language.
“I was busy clicking photographs in this garden when someone came from my backside and greeted me in the Persian language,” said Ebrahim Ervin, a resident of Iran. “When I looked I saw an old Kashmiri man in a typical Kashmiri dress. I was surprised after hearing him speaking in the Persian language. Then we talked for about half an hour and Sirajudin told me all about this Mughal garden.”
Now spending most of his time at home, Shah is mostly busy in prayers and a spiritual connection. He has performed Ummrah twice.