the 1965 war, Hamid Jalal said, "If Shastri's mother were to die
suddenly, the story would be reported in the English newspapers in these
words: 'The hand that rocked the cradle of the man who launched naked
aggression against the sacred soil of Pakistan, kicked the bucket
last night."' It is not that we think in Urdu, Punjabi, Pashtu or Sindhi
and then say or write it in English. Were that to be so, our English
would have both bite and colour, freshness and music, vigour and joy. It
would have the tang of our earth and air. But what do we have? Cliches
and metaphors that lumber through our prose like something out of the
"Return of the Living Dead". We use idioms and proverbs that were
archaic when the steam engine was invented...'
English: The Pakistani Way
We in Pakistan write English as a dead language. Every piece of writing reads like every other piece of writing. Phrases and idioms long dead are used with predictable regularity and without thinking. It is automatic writing, lacking in freshness and a sense of life. What we write gives no delight and springs no surprises. If someone is doing his best, he has to do not just his best but his level best. While the use of English in the workplace and conversation has greatly increased, in inverse proportion, as it were, the ability to write or speak it correctly has gone down the tubes. If someone is saying something of which he is utterly certain, he has to precede it with ‘without fear of contradiction’. It is as if the entire world was waiting to contradict this person, the moment certain words leave his lips. A crime is not a crime unless it is ‘dastardly’ or ‘heinous’ and, preferably both. Commitment is not enough. It has to be ‘selfless’ as well. Simple duty won’t do, unless it was made into ‘bounden duty’, nor can a tribute be paid without it being ‘warm’ and/or ‘sincere’. And, yes, it always has to be paid in plural, not singular which would be the correct form. An honour has to be ‘coveted’ and a privilege must be qualified by ‘great’. Designs always have to be ‘nefarious’ and no matter what time of the year it is, we have to use that ugly word ‘eschew’ when a simpler substitute, easier on the tongue to boot, could have done nicely.
English in Pakistan, according to M. Rafiq, who has taught English in Pakistan and England most of his life, ‘needs just two things: an engine (grammar) and a body (diction and idiom). Like everything else, we are concerned with form only and not substance. Like houses and internal décor one runs into in Pakistan, it is a pile of bricks, a jumble of words, bleak and empty, with no design and no soul.’
During the 1965 war, Hamid Jalal said, ‘If Shastri’s mother were to die suddenly, the story would be reported in the English newspapers in these words: “The hand that rocked the cradle of the man who launched naked aggression against the sacred soil of Pakistan, kicked the bucket last night.”’
It is not that we think in Urdu, Punjabi, Pashtu or Sindhi and then say or write it in English. Were that to be so, our English would have both bite and colour, freshness and music, vigour and joy. It would have the tang of our earth and air. But what do we have? Clichés and metaphors that lumber through our prose like something out of the ‘Return of the Living Dead’. We use idioms and proverbs that were archaic when the steam engine was invented.
Just pick up a newspaper and read it at random. So and so is calling for such and such to be done on a ‘war footing’. So and so is ‘exhorting’ (another ugly word we can’t seem to banish from our lives) the nation to ‘eschew’ this and that. So and so has issued a ‘dire warning’ (always dire, like consequences, not just simply warning or consequences which are dire enough) to such and such. Miscreants (a word introduced during the civil war in East Pakistan in 1971 and used endlessly since about anyone who is to be got rid of or put away) are asked to ‘cease and desist’, a phrase that belongs to the Pakistan Criminal Procedure Code, not normal speech or writing. We are also always ‘hearkening back’ to the nation’s ‘glorious past’ (past has to be glorious, not just past). There is no silence which is not ‘pin drop’, a qualifier unknown to the English language. This is a Pakistani invention, the correct form being, ‘It was so silent, you could have heard a pin drop.’ Programmes are to be ‘chalked out’ as if they were tennis courts. Why can’t they just be ‘made’?
It is quite mystifying why the ability to write and speak English relatively correctly has declined in Pakistan over the years. There is no justification for it. There are any number of ‘English-medium’ schools. Millions of Pakistanis have access to external English language television broadcasts, including the BBC. There are far more books available today to anyone who wishes to read than there were thirty or forty years ago. Anyone with a VCR can rent pirated versions of English language movies at practically no cost. It is possible to receive foreign English language broadcasts on medium wave radios which means no longer is it necessary to own an expensive radio to tune in to BBC or VOA or other stations which put out progammes in English. Why has then the ability to write and speak correct English declined so abysmally. Frankly, I have no explanation for it.
There was a time when the most elegant language was to be found in, say, the judgements of the higher courts. Sadly, that is no longer true. I challenge anyone to produce a single judgement of the Supreme Court of Pakistan or any of the High Courts in Punjab, Balochistan, Sindh and the Frontier Province which is free of mistakes, both grammar and language. There are no Kayanis, Corneliuses, Shabbirs or Hamoods around any more. The same holds true of most of what is put out by the ministries and departments of the federal and provincial governments...