August 15th, 2018


One of my all time favorite albums is Amir Zaki’s Signature. It was almost eleven years ago, when I had first got my hands on this album, and I have since been addicted to it. It is more than an album to me, it is a part of my life. It brings back memories of days that were so long ago, and were perhaps some of the best days in my life. Frankly speaking, I have been blessed with a wonderful, wonderful life, and it seems unfair to label any part as better than others, thereby implying any part of my life was less than another. Perhaps, what I wanted to say is that those were the days when I was at my best behavior. Unfortunately, I lost my way too soon, and have since never been able to get it right.

I remember little of consequence from my childhood. Like all children in an average middle-class Pakistani family, education took up all my time. My parents are hard-working, honest and simple people. My father is a simple man, often accused of being too blunt and tactless. He is also the wisest person I know. For as far back as I can remember, I do not recall having seen him discussing politics, sports, or anything that did not directly concern him. Blabberers like yours truly, and passionate opiners like yours truly’s spiritual ‘misguide’ Jalali Baba know only too well the futility of those discussions. Yours truly probably knows the futility better than Jalali Baba, since yours truly is often subjected to those futile rantings by Jalali Baba, and through him and his rantings yours truly has been able to see just how futile and feeble yours truly must seem expressing those opinions, since unlike Jalali Baba, yours truly is not blessed with even the half baked theories that Jalali Baba passionately advocates … theories, which can only result from an indepth knowledge of superficial matters.  

My father had come into the UAE soon after he had graduated with his Bachelors, and had started working with the UAE armed forces. For almost three decades, he worked with the same employer. I am still not very sure what his job responsibilities were, but he was the only one in that office who spoke, read and wrote Arabic as well as English with about the same level of ease/difficulty. He had learnt the local dialect early on, and set about practicing whatever others he could. He even had a signature in Arabic, complete with the trademark calligraphic appearance of an arabic signature. Come to think of it, his signature looked better than those of our Arabic teachers at school. We used to show off his arabic signatures to our friends whenever we were required to get our poor scores in arabic tests signed by parents; those signatures came after much soul searching, the search part being undertaken in our souls by parents; a small price to pay for the moments of glory during recess.

It seems like it was in another lifetime…the listening to Aamir Zaki’s Signature, as well as the showing off of Walid Sahab’s signature.

I am old.

Linguistic broodings…15

I stare at the keyboard, my fingers poised to spring into action at the merest hint of a thought surfacing, a sentence forming, or a word appearing in the wilderness that is my mind these days; but nothng happens. I type a few disjointed lines, hoping to latch onto a stray idea for impetus, but delete them after I realize that any ideas unfortunate enough to be found straying in the vicinity of my brain’s activity, or lack of it thereof, are inadequate when it comes to providing impetus to a stagnant thought process.

Sure, there are issues all around me that I have an opinion about, and perhaps I would do well to build a post around all or one of them, but of late the extent of my own ignorance has dawned upon me, and I have realized that I am far too ignorant about everything to hold a public opinion about anything. Jalali Baba, bless him, and AP have taken it upon themselves to shield me from the consequences and repercussions of my ignorance. Subhan Allah for such amazingly wonderful friends. Between the two of them they know more about everything I had hitherto claimed knowledge or understanding of, and are better at everything I had fancied myself good at. It is like having Felicity around, split into two.

A kindred soul travelled to the land of the pure, and on her way back brought me a few books in Urdu. It has been long since I read a book in Urdu, and longer since I read anything in Urdu not written by Yousufi; and I had forgotten just how intoxicating the experience of reading can become when undertaken in one’s own language. There is none of that ploughing through, and laborious reading and still more laborious re-reading of passages to achieve partial understanding of the passage matter, and above all that consigning of words, dozens per page, to memory to look up afterwards – the looking up afterwards stage inevitably not ensuing anytime soon, which is characteristic of my reading a non-Urdu book.

The term “non-Urdu book” is employed with an express intention of implying that yours truly is blessed with a most exceptional linguistic talent, and when so desires can pick up a book translated into 163 languages in the original, and subsequently in any of those translations, and not only thoroughly appreciate the nuances of the translators’ brilliance, but also undertake to forward a critique, of the book or the translation as the case may be, in any of the languages in which the book has not yet been translated into, thereby not only doing a great service to the readers of the latter language in broadening their globalistic perspective, but also providing the translators of that language a most practical excuse to translate the book in language number 164. Such an impression, if succesfully conveyed, would not be altogether false, but one could scarcely fnd fault with a professional finger-pointer for publically pointing, or at least privately wagging, a finger at yours truly for stretching the truth beyond repair.

Crux of the matter, however, is that reading a book in Urdu has an ecstacy about it unrivalled and unmatched in the humble experience that is my reading life. This despite the fact that two out of those books were depressing to the choti ye, which is the last urdu letter in the urdu word for depression; and the third book while tackled the subject of Ishq-e-Haqiqi, did so in terms not entirely convincing for a self professed ‘Wahabi’ like me.

There was a fourth book by that great humorist, who set forth a tradition amongst the servicemen of Pakistan Army of humorous writing, Col. Mohammad Khan. It is called ‘Bidesi mizaah’ meaning foreign humor, and is comprised of translations of various English humorists, since for the simple minded lot of the ex-British colony the terms foreign, gora (white man), and English are interchangeable, and any of these can be employed to define a national of the Americas – North or South, or one hailing from the continents of Europe, or Australia. It is a general assumption that all goras speak English, and by that token all those who speak English are goras. Trivia, like the fact that outside of her majesty’s kingdom few Europeans, and in the Americas even fewer South Americans are likely to understand much English, or the more colorful fact that quite a few English speakers in the USA or UK could be anything but gora, are treated just like that – Trivia!

I read a few lines of the book, and put it aside, I have much too high a regard for the genius of Col. Mohammad Khan to read his translations of Wodehouse masterpeices. The content of humoristic mastepeices can perhaps be translated, and in case of lesser geniuses perhaps the humor too, but it is my firm conviction that the translating genious required to present the Wodehouse books in all their brilliance to the Urdu reader, or the Yousufi books in all their glory to the English reader is a rarity which will only surface when having an exceptional command over English and Urdu will not be mutually exclusive.

Unfortunately, for as long as Pakistani parents continue to seek, as they must for the well being of their children, educational institutes that make little Englishmen and ladies out of their children, who speak Urdu in much the same accent as the erstwhile colonial masters, the cause of Urdu cannot be helped, and for as long as Urdu continues to be undermined by its own people, the cause of its people cannot be helped.

This monologue has tread perilously close to a discussion, which AWK and Maranello had initiated in the comments section of Ad. woes, and much as I wish to dive into that discussion with my take on it, I must terminate this post here, and leave in the process a topic to come back to…

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