Angreji Me

The English language is according to facts and figures the 2nd most universally spoken language. It is spoken by one out of five people in this planet. It is the language of technology and the information age as well with more than 75% of all web pages on the internet being in English.

Various countries of this world have contributed to this language in many ways, i.e research, addition of words, literature etc. However Pakistan has done for this language what none of them could achieve in 100’s of years. It has given the power of impression, persuasion and the air of elitism to it; quite simply it is the language of power in Pakistan.

Let me elaborate in case I am accused of making broad sweeping generalizations. Walk up to any counter of importance in our country, this could range from the immigration desk to the counter of any customer service department of any organization and speak in vibrant fluent Urdu, explaining your woes or request. You should get a medal if u generate more than a lukewarm response of total disdain. Do the same in fluent vibrant English? And you are instantly transported into a position of power, your requests are tended to, your ideas appreciated. It is as if you are another person altogether, as if you suddenly matter!

The CIA fact book on our country, and I refer to this because they happen to know more about us usually then we do say’s and I quote “English” the official; lingua franca of Pakistani elite and most government ministries. Confusing is it not? Since our national language is supposed to be a much neglected thing called Urdu?

In order to examine this hilarious premise we must look at our school system. Starting with their names. More than 90% of all Preschools, Intermediate schools and Universities in Pakistan have their names in guess what? English. Right from the start of a child’s education here, and I am speaking on a general parent level (as I am no educationist) the national language is Urdu, but the stress in curriculum these days is on acquiring a smattering in guess what again? English I wouldn’t even bother mentioning the posh schools where anyone speaking in Urdu is relegated to the ugly dustbin where the social pariahs of the joint family system and farsoodah khaiyalat reside.

Would you not be confused if say you arrived In Karachi for the first time and just drove around its various areas trying to get a feel of the place? You would see shops and shopping plazas with English names, restaurants which have menus in English, Road signs which are English first(Urdu at the bottom) heck even your parking receipt in most areas would be printed in English. You would switch on your radio and tune in to a now amazing array of FM music stations available with each VJ trying to outdo the others in the purring out of English. Speaking of Vj’s I think these people should feel some responsibility for the number of accidents they cause by their shall we say alluring accents? Normally it’s all good fun but when some of them specially the females start vexing eloquent about sensuality in oh so foreign accents, it is a mite distracting for the driver to say the least.

With each passing phase and event in our part of the world, I see Urdu being eroded in its use day by day in every sphere of activity. I really do not understand what importance our national language is being given in any of our social, political or business structures? If one has to write an application to any government department and see it past the chaprasis dustbin it has to be in English. Our utility bills are printed in the same language. Our business contracts are also drawn up in the same language. Our new generations are so disassociated with Urdu they do not even know how it started, of its history and magnificence. All one has to do is ask a 16 year old if he knows Minto or Shakespeare and I bet, 4 out of 5 will say Shakespeare was a great writer. Even the news channels these days or one of them at least have opted for English as their only language. Who are they catering to I wonder? With our literacy rate in English being what is is. In fact the only area I see which still gives its total focus and importance to our language is our music & poetry, kudos to our great artists for remaining true to their own, to their roots.

It really blends in with our national perspective as a whole. Total identity crises and confusion. We are forever chasing the dreams of others, imitating their accents their languages and their intents. Living in a reality which is so far removed from theirs its mind numbing. Why are we so hell bent on destroying a culture which is generations old, in ignoring art and poetry which is so rich in its meaning, the English language could not even comprehend it. Why do we not feel pride in our language? In our ways? In our style of life? I am not saying English is not a good tool in the world of today! Heck this article is written in it, but at least let’s try to encourage what is ours in the generations coming next. All I ask from each one of you dear readers is to pick up any verse of Ghalib or Iqbal and then translate it into English, you will see what I am trying to explain, the transition may be cool but it loses all its beauty in it! Perhaps by doing this we can understand what English lacks, the power of our own expression!!

(Published in the Nov 24th/ 2007 Issue of AAGAHEE with “The News”)

  1. Hmmm well as it happens i think all nations go through the same processes in the start… however its been about 60 yrs for us.. so we need to get our act together 😉

  2. Faisal,I agree with you in that the language of power in our good ol’ country is certainly ENGLISH (and nothing but!) and we have got to come out of our inferiority complexes regarding our own national language…but about your concluding remarks: ‘English lacks the power of our own expression’, I’d have to disgaree!(It also depends largely on what you’ve been reading!)

    Translating Ghalib or Iqbal into English might not bring about the desired effect – and that would, again, depend upon ‘who’s’ translating, anyway – but try translating Shakespeare or Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ into Urdu!!!

    Don’t you think, the point here is not which language carries more depth but rather how we should treat our own?

  3. That is the whole point… and the fact remains that there is a lot more beauty in urdu kalam and shayeri at least in my opinion than Shakspere.

  4. There’s beauty and depth in writing that comes from the heart, whatever the vehicle for expression. I think comparing the ‘vehicles’ would be an insult to the content! Comparing works of different artists (writing is an art form, after all) might be a better approach. An artist only represents his/her own perspective on what he sees/feels strongly about.

    Creative works are generally judged subjectively too – any particular reason for preferring Ghalib?

  5. Great post man. But our people seem to suffer from this neverending inferiority complex that somehow everything foreigh – including English – is better and good. I find Urdu to be miles ahead of English in terms of its eloquence, beauty, sweetness and smoothness of expression. It is really something to be proud of as a nation, and the best way to propagate that feeling is through the media and the education system IMO

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