Stories about language

Are you part of the ‘kewl’ club?

I solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. A couple, who happen to teach English Language, went to meet the love of their son’s life in order to proceed with the proposal the eastern way. When someone asked the professor afterwards, if he was happy with his son’s choice, he had only one thing to say: The girl was fine but her father kept speaking inaccurate English; his grammar and tenses were highly misplaced. This may come across as a rude remark to some, but it truly reflects a teacher’s dilemma. I, however, am no tutor ...

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Lush language: new words for a new generation

Time is short. Life is full. Too much to share. Let’s micro-communicate. Say it all, in a few words. The new micro-lingo seems to be a word-conservation drive, where you pack a lot of meaning into a few catchy memorable words; this language sticks in the mind like no other. It’s entertainingly expressive, creatively concise and just flows fast and runs deep. Read on to see how. It’s where the punch is “I dined out at this new restaurant. What wah wah food they had there.” “I went to this concert. What wehshee music. Uff I loved it.” For the uninitiated in the ...

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TR = Terror

You’ve heard the rumors: literature is dead, libraries are museums, reading is an outdated practice, and writers are beggars. But, gentle readers, let me assure you, the truth is as ever: people love their writers — and today more than ever. In fact, today’s readers love writers so much, so intensely that they want them to be more than just writers. They want them to be their mystics, oracles, psychics, visionaries, political experts, policy makers, cookie monsters, cuddly bears, bffs, everything — that is, everything but writers. And most writers are like attention-famished kids who have managed to trick everybody ...

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Who do we write for when we write in English?

So what is the second most oft-asked question of a Pakistani writer writing in English? Of course, the first most oft-asked one — ‘Why do you write in English?’ — is less of a question and more an insinuation, really meaning: ‘Why do you write at all?’ In its more severe (read: honest) manifestations it’s more like: ‘Why don’t you have a real job?’ and ‘Why are you this way?’ But that as it might be, the second-most-oft-asked question is — ‘Who do you write for if you write in English about Pakistan?’, and it haunts local writers writing in English. ...

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So what if Urdu newspapers use English words?

A friend recently called my attention to a headline in a credible paper – hamari mulki tareekh kay corrupt tareen vizier-i-azam. I was furious. Such slander of the country’s prime minister can in no way be considered decent. The friend stopped me saying it was not this aspect of the headline he was hinting at – slander being the inescapable fate of whosoever wields power. He was annoyed at the English ‘corrupt’ and Persian ‘tareen’ being forged together. “What kind of Urdu is this?” “My dear,” I said, “it may once have been an English word. But with the English it ...

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Editor’s life: Chopping block

In the course of my daily work, I have to do considerable amounts of editing. This involves not only deleting material, but also at times massively chopping it. This is done primarily for reasons of space, word count issues and sometimes policy as well. The idea is to make what appears in print clear and easy to read, and with no punctuation or spelling errors. I would categorise my editing process into five distinct phases. Denial: Having to cut a 1,000-word press release down to a 70-word brief? I’ll grow old editing this, I tell myself. Maybe if I just ...

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Not everyone who dies tragically is a ‘shaheed’

In Pakistan the suffix shaheed is frequently used for politicians, scholars, journalists, armed forces personnel and even militants depending upon how people or the media conceives that person. The use of the word shaheed is indeed another gift of Zia’s era when martyrdom was glorified during the Afghan war. Our armed forces have been engaged in conflict against militants since 2004. These militants claim that the killing of innocent Muslims, mostly women and children, doesn’t make soldiers  martyrs and, that in fact they are wajib-ul-qatal (punishable by murder) for this offence. So a militant is considered a shaheed among his ...

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Works on Faiz and other books

Were he alive today, Ahmad Nadim Qasmi would have found the current fervour and growing unanimity of acclaim for Faiz Ahmad Faiz quite intriguing since he thought that his own sidelining as a secondary figure of contemporary Urdu poetry during the latter’s lifetime had something to do with class and lifestyle. With class and lifestyle gone with the man, now what remains, Qasmi Sahib would have wondered, but his poetry and his memory? Is that worth making so much fuss about? In the realm of the arts, relative greatness cannot be determined with a measuring tape. Faiz Sahib himself made no such ...

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TV talk shows: Today’s violent idiom

Why do the participants of political debates on our TV channels shout so much? And why do they all talk at the same time? And keep talking? And why, while all of them are shouting at the top of their voices, does this creature called the anchor, jump into the fray? I happened to believe that a recent debate on one of the channels, which featured a minister, a political analyst and a very decent lady on the panel, may be worth watching. To my surprise, however, the participants had all come armed and prepared for a violent exchange. The opening ...

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Wayward verses

Let us talk today about a wayward creature. Waywardness, of course, is not a preserve of the humankind. There are countless verses in Urdu that merit the tag including some very high standard stuff. One hears and reads verses that would be credit to whoever they were attributed to and yet like some unfortunate orphans or our urban poor they remain ‘homeless’. I mean you don’t see them in a famous poet’s work or in a celebrated anthology of poetry. And yet, they are not quite unfortunate either. Given that you don’t see them in a renowned collection, they have a secure place ...

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