Islamabad’s English problem

We have been programmed to feel insulted if we cannot master the skill of speaking a foreign language


Imran Jan December 02, 2021
The writer is a political analyst. Email: [email protected] Twitter @Imran_Jan

More than a decade ago, I remember watching some private Pakistani TV channel. There was a female anchor interviewing Jugan Kazim. She was talking about her return from Canada. The anchor in a light moment joked about Jugan’s inability to speak Urdu language properly. Jugan joined the laughter and said that she can’t help it, that is how her Urdu skills are. They both laugh it out happily. Now, imagine if the anchor person had said the same about Jugan’s English language skills. I am confident a physical fight would have ensued and the show must have come to an abrupt ending.

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 earns us no 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 given respect but are also taken seriously even if what we are saying is utter nonsense.

More than anywhere, the one place where I see this quite vividly is the beautiful city of Islamabad. On my street, if I ever venture out, I hear parents talking to their children in English. The most interesting noise is when on a Sunday, relatives are visiting them. All the cousins are talking in English. It is like a competition of who will speak more English. To my ears, it sounds like all the cousins are in a fight shouting ‘my father is a bigger slave of the British and the Americans than your father could ever be’. I am also left wondering: will they ever realise it or will they just eventually go to their graves just like that?

Out in the city, try going to a bank for example. Every employee is ordered to wear a dress pant and a dress shirt with a tie. They do get prayer breaks but the dress has to be western. The reason is simple: this attire makes one look serious and professional. It is because this is how we have programmed our perceptions. The sight of an employee in any office wearing shalwar kameez would make people reach for their phones to make sure the calendar said Friday.

The fact that English language speaking is no sign of talent or education would one day be dawned upon in this region, but Islamabad might be the last city to shine in that light. It is a Pakistani capital but there are countless number of citizens of America, England, Canada, and so forth. It truly is 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 an American and visiting or living in Islamabad, you’d be adored more than the other person who has returned from England or Canada. And if you can speak with an American accent, can name a bunch of shows on Netflix, and love dogs, you might even run for office and will win.

The city is a fan of Ertugrul during night time and Yuval Harari’s Sapiens during daytime. The show and the book cannot be more in conflict with each other when it comes to religion and God. However, the conflict helps rationalise using Christians for cleaning toilets and streets even though we promised them equality. There is a place in Islamabad called France Colony. It is a small community of poor Christians living in slums in the F-7 sector, which is otherwise a posh sector. However, if there is a slight hint of building a church or a mandir in Islamabad, all hell breaks loose. Perhaps if the pujari at the mandir and the Church’s priest give lectures in English, we may eventually allow it.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 2nd, 2021.

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COMMENTS (7)

Sanaullah samdani | 1 month ago | Reply

Actually some people hate their native language and they love foreign languages. Some people are trying to talk in English with their children and colleagues. That s pathetic should love with our native language. Urdu is the best and beautiful language in the world

Adam Saud | 1 month ago | Reply

This is the bitter truth of our society. We might have been a better society had we focused on our national and local languages instead of English. We might have not lost the values and traditions of our society if promoted our own culture.

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