What language do you speak?
Our identity is not something many of us have been nurtured to accept, let alone be proud of. In this fight against ourselves, one of the greatest losses has been that of language, which lies hidden under the inherent shame of who we are and covered by the pretence of who we are not.
Many of us who have studied in private schools have been inculcated this sense of shame about Urdu. Back in school, it was embarrassing not being able to express oneself in English, despite the fact that it was not a language most of us were used to at home. Urdu grades never really mattered and Urdu teachers were always old and boring. Or maybe that’s just how we saw them because all we thought they really knew was…Urdu.
Like many other things, this systematised sense of embarrassment has had a ripple effect. Conscious efforts seem to have been made on many fronts to change the spoken language. Each time I came back to Pakistan from university I felt this resolve had further strengthened.
Over the years, the language at coffee shops and restaurants has changed. Now you will hardly find a place where you are not greeted and spoken to in English – although it’s fairly obvious that it is not a language the waiter is comfortable speaking. But together, we will pretend that he is.
The media “revolution” has also added to this game of pretence. There are few TV or radio shows now where a host speaks one language fluently, which has possibly increased the sense of deprivation for at least some people in society.
In this deliberate effort to distance ourselves from our identity, there is more than one loser. After all, since when is lack of knowledge something to be proud of?
Published in The Express Tribune, August 8th, 2010.
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