Islamabad’s English problem
Over a decade ago, I remember watching a private Pakistani TV channel. There was a presenter interviewing Jugan Kazim. She was talking about her return from Canada. Anchor in a light moment joked about Jugan’s inability to speak the Urdu language properly. Jugan joined in the laughs and said she couldn’t help it, that’s how her Urdu skills are. They both laughed happily. Now imagine if the presenter said the same about Jugan’s English language skills. I’m convinced that a physical fight would have ensued and the show must have ended abruptly.
We have been programmed to feel insulted if we cannot master the skill of speaking a foreign language, a language of people who ruled over our great-grandfather’s generation using sheer force. If we can show our dignity by preferring to speak our own language called Urdu, it doesn’t earn us any respect. In fact, we are not taken seriously. If we can display our power to act as mental slaves by speaking this foreign language, we are not only respected but also taken seriously even if what we say is utter nonsense.
More than anywhere else, the only place where I see this in a quite striking way is the beautiful city of Islamabad. In my street, if I ever do venture out, I hear parents talking to their children in English. The most interesting noise is when parents visit them on Sunday. All cousins ââspeak in English. It’s like a competition to see who will speak the most English. To my ears it looks like all the cousins ââare fighting shouting “my dad is a bigger slave to the British and the Americans than your dad could ever be”. I also wonder: will they ever realize it or will they end up going to their grave like this?
In town, try going to a bank for example. Each employee is required to wear dress pants and a dress shirt with a tie. They have prayer breaks but the dress must be Western. The reason is simple: this outfit gives a serious and professional look. This is because this is how we programmed our perceptions. The view of an employee in any office wearing shalwar kameez would require people to pick up their phones to make sure the calendar says Friday.
The fact that speaking English is not a sign of talent or education would one day be understood in this region, but Islamabad could be the last city to shine from this angle. It is a Pakistani capital but there are countless citizens of America, England, Canada, etc. It is truly a city of immigrants. And the city has its own device to measure respect with. The United States commands the highest level of respect. If you are American and visit or live in Islamabad, you would be loved more than the other person who came back from England or Canada. And if you can speak with an American accent, name a bunch of shows on Netflix, and love dogs, you might even run for office and win.
The city is a fan of Ertugrul overnight and Yuval Harari’s Sapiens during the day. The show and the book cannot conflict with each other more when it comes to religion and God. However, the conflict helps rationalize the use of Christians to clean toilets and streets even though we have promised them equality. There is a place in Islamabad called France Colony. It is a small community of poor Christians living in the slums of the F-7 sector, which is also a posh sector. However, if there is a slight suspicion of building a church or a mandir in Islamabad, hell breaks loose. Maybe if the pujari to mandir and the priest of the Church gives lectures in English, we can possibly allow that.
Posted in The Express Tribune, December 2sd, 2021.
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