Stories about words

‘Halal’ education in Pakistan: When ‘pig’ in a nursery rhyme is taboo

As certain words and concepts in English are out of their range of experience, my students, coming from an underprivileged background, find it difficult to understand or accept them. With English nursery rhymes for example, since Jack was remiss enough to break his crown, the girls thought he and Jill were king and queen, until I explained otherwise.  Humpty Dumpty on the other hand continues to be viewed with deep distrust, however much I pleaded his cause. It isn’t, after all, normal to be an egg person. The resultant doubt of his being quite kosher creates a degree of disquiet. If ever Humpty wanders ...

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War of the words

In 1948, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah said (in English, most ironically): “The State language, therefore, must obviously be Urdu, a language that has been nurtured by a hundred million Muslims of the sub-continent, a language understood throughout the length and breadth of Pakistan and, above all, a language, which, more than any other provincial language, embodies the best that is in Islamic culture and Muslim tradition.” In 1957, a decade after the partition of India, author Qurratulain Haider published her epic novel Ag Ka Darya (‘River of Fire.’) In which she stated, “In the demand for Pakistan, Urdu was most thoughtlessly ...

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Unspoken words

He watched her from the corner of his eyes as she tried to contain her long, impossibly curly hair into a bun on top of her head. His 5-year-old son was running around in circles making it absolutely impossible for her to put his shoes on him. As she finally grabbed him and started to briskly slide the shoes on his feet, a few wild curls escaped from the bun she had managed to make on her head and she muttered under her breath as she pushed them out of her eyes. He smiled to himself. As she was done getting their ...

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PTA bans, and words we cannot say

Dearly beloved and graciously naïve, The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has allegedly compiled a list of words that the directors have deemed obscene and want to ban for text messages. As laughable as this may seem, this list, if real, is a clear example of the extremist mentality that some of the office-bearers in Pakistan have. Sifting through these banned words, I discovered that even the word “Jesus Christ” might be forbidden, along with many other words of everyday usage. Why on earth has Jesus’s name been banned? Is it some kind of an abusive word? As much as rightists and McBurqas may like it, ...

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Why saying ‘Scene On Hai’ is more important than you think

July is here and I know this because my friend N came barging into my room and aimed straight for the fan. “It’s so hot, God you can only wear shalloos.” “Shalloos?” “Shalwars, obvi.” And Kay for kameezes, obvi (That’s obviously shortened). This same friend owns a Jenny (generator), gets picked up by her perpetually late D (driver) and has a severe dislike of “meylas” because, you know, they’re such “shady boiz”. Welcome to Burger-speak. We don’t laugh, we LOL. We take English words in Urdu context, and mix and match as we please. It started out as misspellings on the internet and on ...

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A 55-year-old security guard with a big dream

Sitting at the entrance to the computer lab, at the Aga Khan University (AKU), seemingly like the many other guards around, he wears the usual uniform as people passed by him. What not many notice is that on his desk sits a copy of Thomas Hardy’s “Far from the Madding Crowd” and during the breaks he gets, he sits and reads voraciously. Saleem Akhtar, 55 years of age, has picked up his books again, and he is on his way to becoming an Intermediate graduate. Standing at about five feet four inches, sporting a henna-stained beard with half-rimmed reading glasses ...

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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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NY’s reaction to Osama’s death: The other side of extremism

Growing up in Lahore, the monsoon was my favourite season – those muggy, motionless afternoons when the air suddenly exploded into a river of orange rumbling down from the sky, leaving jungles in its wake. In the Bay Area, every balmy day of the year was beautiful except for the miserable characterless spluttering they called “rain.” In Ithaca, my favourite season was Autumn – a fire dance in the sky, bold and blazing, curling flames at your feet. And, in New York, it has to be spring, the teenage of nature, blooming poetry from every stem, every lilting branch a breathtaking ballet ...

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When you run out of words

If you live in Pakistan, news mostly constitutes of bomb blasts, terror attacks, bomb threats, terror threats, threats in general, people dying, trying to die, failing to live and a whole array of soul-crushing unpleasantries. Why, then, the need for design? Why add the superfluous to poker-faced horrors? It’s serious business, news is. A pink coloured report on how many people died in a particular bomb blast trivialises its seriousness. How would you react if your ailing grandmother decided to wear a Hawaiian hula skirt on her deathbed? This is mostly what I get to hear when I tell people ...

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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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