A billboard in Karachi that picked on a hot topic. Wikileaks but Butterfly doesn't. Ingenious advertising for sanitary napkins (a wholly stupid name for pads)
The grammar may be off, but it makes sense: What goes of my father. This is the literal translation of an Urdu saying, ‘Mere baap ka kya jata he’. In American it turns into: I don’t give a shit.
We speak English in Pakistan, not just because it’s become a global language that no country has been able to avoid, but also because of our British masters who ruled the Indian subcontinent for 200 years. Anyone interested in brown sahibs and coolies, dysentery and howdahs can read ‘Plain Tales from the Raj’ by Charles Allen.
People in Pakistan’s major cities, Karachi, Quetta, Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar, Hyderabad, Faisalabad, Multan, Sukkur among others will understand if you speak to them in English. I was once happily surprised to meet a five year old boy in a bus, entering Karachi from a long journey from Peshawar to flee the army’s fighting from the Taliban, who proudly that, “I study at Ghazali Public School.” In fact, most of the young men and women in Peshawar speak excellent English because the province has a strong schooling system.
When I was in Canada, the US and Australia most people would comment on how good my English was. I’ve had a really privileged upbringing and education, but pretty much anyone who’s been to school will be able to manage in English in Pakistan. We have a huge secondhand book market across the country and young people buy everything from Enid Blyton to Nancy Drew, the Silhouette Sensations, Sweet Valley High, Jackie Collins, Sidney Sheldon, Marx, Samuel P Huntington, Edward Said, Karen Armstrong, GQ, Cosmopolitan, Vogue, all the classics such as War and Peace and Sons and Lovers. Heck, I just picked up a second hand copy for $2 of Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying the other day.
More than that, the English language script is used by Pakistanis in newspapers (Dawn, The News, The Express Tribune, Pakistan Today, Newsweek, Herald, Newsline, She, Women’s Own, The Friday Times), on television (BBC, CNN, al Jazeera, Express 24/7, Dawn News), on Facebook, YouTube, in advertising, while text messaging, on store fronts (Delhi Sweets, Baloch Ice-cream, Gul Ahmed home and ideas, McDonalds, New Quetta Hotel). All government correspondence is in English.
In fact, we have our own particular Minglish, or variations. We have our own use of the suffix “ify”, as if terrify. We use the verbs “ratta” and turn it into “rattofy” to talk about learning by rote.
We’ve created the word “upgradation”, which I will eternally be editing out of copy at the newspaper. We’ve stopped using the pure Urdu words for “bus”, “glass” and “jug”. I’m not sure we even have a word for “orgasm” in Urdu. We call diabetes “shoogur” (sugar).
Perhaps my favourite word is “suicider”, a pure creation by the crime reporters I’ve worked with. They call suicide bombers, suiciders and pronounce is ‘soos-cider’. It makes perfect sense grammatically, bank, banker, clean, cleaner, drive, driver, suicide, suicider.
We have speedy dumpers run kids over. We have ‘no any’ people attending the function for the upgradation of the basic health unit. People hold up play cards at poRtests. We take the train at the tayshun. We hop onto the moat-cycle. And I just came across Yale Professor Sara Suleri’s ‘no dort’ for no doubt in her stellar ‘Meatless Days’ novel, which I personally think is the best fiction to come out of Pakistan ever.
My father, a surgeon, is called ‘daak saaab’ for doctor sahib. We enter the backsides of buildings. We call Brazilian waxes ‘deep waxing’.
We love acronyms. Oh my God, do Pakistanis love them. The TPO (town police officers), the SHOs (station house officers), the PC1s, the DCOs, the KESC, the Wapda, the CCPOs, the KDA, the KATI, the PMDC, the APTMA, the PkSF, the MQM, the MQM-H, the Tehreek-e-Nifaz e Shariat-e Muhammadi (TNSM).
A hot chick will be “tight”. We ‘marofy’ dates. We have Christian wistian, date-shate, talk-shawk, video-shideo, car-waar, phone-shone, Taliban-waliban. We want Green Cards to go to Amreeka, Ing-lend, Aastralia.
Ok. Making fun of the accent aside, Pakistanis don’t ride on donkeys and live in trees. We keep a keen watch on international developments via the media. Go to any roadside tea stall and talk to labourers and construction workers who can’t read and they will have a fair idea of what is happening politically, what is the latest thing Obama said and how much trouble Pakistan is in.
At the other end of the spectrum we have a slim but vibrant arts scene with musicians keeping alive the traditional classical music of tabla, sitar and qawwali in places like Toronto (Farid Ayaz and Company). Our designers like Noor Jehan Bilgrami make exquisite cloth with the indigenous indigo that the Japanese love. Our novelists like Mohammad Hanif (A Case of Exploding Mangoes) and Daniyal Mueenuddin (In Other Rooms, Other Wonders), have won international acclaim. Type in Pakistan on Google Scholar and you will see millions of published papers.
We watch every Hollywood release, even the crappy ‘Season of Witches’ is playing at the Atrium cinema. We love House and Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives and the Billy and the Sundance Kid.
They love AJ as they call her here, Angelina Jolie. We all know about Michael Jackson and Madonna. Our radio shows play Ella and PJ Harvey. It’s hard to escape American culture exports with the Internet these days. And thanks to Guantanamo Bay, Iraq and George Bush, every Pakistani has an opinion on America and its foreign policy.
So, while I wouldn’t necessarily recommend you apply for a tourist visa to Pakistan just yet, there’s plenty of literature, film and music out there to enjoy that will give you a pretty good picture of the land of Pak.