Stories about language

Some generalisations about the French just aren’t true

Before I left for Paris this January, a horde of advice was thrown at me from aunts, uncles, cousins, friends – almost everyone had an opinion on how I should handle living in France. I got all sorts of cautionary remarks such as: “Un se ziada dosti mat kerna, boht racist hain.” (Don’t be too friendly with them – they are very racist) I was repeatedly warned about the language barrier, and how the French are very arrogant about their language. A lot of friends advised me to learn some basic French before I left. “The French are very unfriendly and they won’t ...

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The Chairman’s speech

After reading a recently published article about Bilawal Bhutto Zardari being made to learn Urdu and Sindhi before leading the Pakistan Peoples Party, I began wondering how important language is to culture and politics in Pakistan. Is Bilawal any less worthy of leading the PPP if he is not fluent in Urdu or Sindhi? Is language an important factor in determining whether one is capable of being a good leader? In a culturally diverse country such as Pakistan, language is definitely an important factor for everyone because the majority of the population cannot speak or understand English, which is listed ...

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11 rules for the Pakistani do-gooder

There’s much to be said about the spirit of volunteerism and philanthropy, so deeply ingrained in desi culture. In a material world, it’s great to see people making the effort to venture beyond their personal spheres.  Before leaving one’s comfort zone, however, it might be important to be a little prepared. This is true not only for the good-hearted burger-bachas, but also their proactive supervisors, armed to the teeth with terrifyingly good intentions.  After squirming in my shoes watching just such an army of angels at work, I thought it might be useful to have a Community Service Orientation Pack, ...

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Colonized minds: Are we English Pakistanis?

In front of me was the land I was dreaming of – my new home for five months. The aerial view of Tokyo gave me butterflies in my stomach. I was there to study at the very prestigious Waseda University, but studies were the last thing on my mind. I thought there was much more to the trip than academics and I was proven correct as soon as I landed and was received by a group of university students. We tried to communicate. I didn’t know Japanese and they didn’t know English (Urdu, was conveniently out of question). They told me I was the ...

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Is The Express Tribune a government mouthpiece?

Do you know what a PC-1 is? Or a summary? Or the facilitation of the upgradation of the basic health unit? This is how our newspapers sound because this is the language bureaucrats and politicians use. And because our reporters are by and large getting their news stories from these people, they end up using the same dusty language. As a result, what the reader gets is ’employment opportunities’ instead of jobs, ‘concerned authorities’ and ‘authorities concerned’. As a desk editor I have shouted and screamed, begged and pleaded with the sub-editors and reporters to write for the reader, in ...

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Speaking imperfectly among the perfect

She said “core”. Not “choir” but “core”. The person she said it to was perplexed for a minute, before it dawned on them that the word “choir” had been mangled. As the story made the rounds in school, for a little while, everyone listened, chuckled and was amused by the girl who said core not choir. It was an easy enough mistake to make in a country where English is not a first language for many. It was cruel and mean-spirited to make fun of that girl. Some people would argue that they were just school kids. But would you ...

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Sindh’s schools don’t need Mandarin

Historically, Pakistan and China have enjoyed cordial relations. China is our all weather friend and one of the biggest investors in the country. In 2007 Chinese investment in Pakistan was valued at $4 billion, and it was estimated to have grown to $15 billion by 2010. Therefore, when Chief Minister of Sindh Qaim Ali Shah announced that Mandarin, could become a compulsory subject across schools in Sindh from 2013  it seemed to be a very practical proposition. After all, China is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Having expertise in Mandarin, China’s official language, will certainly help Pakistanis in getting ...

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Urdu, English, and our collective inferiority complex

When I was eight years old, my family returned to Pakistan from the United States and a lot of things in the world suddenly changed for me.   I remember (and my relatives won’t ever let me forget) that one of my very first statements was: “Why is everything broken?” I’m pretty sure I was referring to the buildings and streets at the time but today, I believe many other things are broken too. I remember thinking about the prospects of going to Pakistan; a place my parents taught me was home. I remember being worried about whether I was going to be easily ...

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Delhi belly: Bollywood’s successful attempt at adult humour

Much has been said about the expletive filled language used in Delhi Belly. However, there are very few films which make you cringe with delight, and this movie happens to be one of them. In Aamir Khan Productions’ latest venture we meet three roommates, living in the filthiest bachelor pad ever in Delhi: 1. We have journalist Taashi (Imran Khan), who is stuck in limbo and has to decide whether he really wants to marry his annoyingly shrill OCD airhostess girlfriend Sonia (Shenaz Treasury) and sought after by his sexy co-worker Menaka (Poorna Jagganathan). 2. Photojournalist Nitin (Kunal Roy Kapoor) who suffers one ...

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Urdu vs English: Are we ashamed of our language?

Most Pakistanis have been brought up speaking our national language Urdu and English. Instead of conversing in Urdu, many of us lapse into English during everyday conversation. Even people who do not speak English very well try their best to sneak in a sentence or two, considering it pertinent for their acceptance in the ‘cooler’ crowd. I wonder where the trend started, but unknowingly, unconsciously, somehow or the other we all get sucked into the trap. It was not until a few years ago while on a college trip to Turkey that I realized the misgivings of our innocent jabber. A ...

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