By Habib R. Sulemani
Kamila Shamsie (left) and Bina Shah are among the new faces
of Pakistani English literature.
Therefore, the government especially the powerful generals should accept English as a national language along with Urdu, Sindhi, Punjabi, Balochi, Pashto, Seraiki, Kashmiri, Potohari, Hindko, Brahvi, Gojri, Shina, Balti, Chitrali, Burushaski, Wakhi and other languages spoken within the boundaries of Pakistan. Don't hesitate to accept English as an Islamic and Pakistani language anymore!
|Fiction writers Nadeem Aslam (first from left), Mohsin Hamid,|
Muhammad Hanif and Daniyal Mueenuddin.
When people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds communicate in a global language like English, ultimately the gaps are bridged! With the popularity of English at mass level, there is hope for a new era of peace and prosperity in this violent country, and it'll affect the world at large too. What politicians, generals and the corporate world have lost in the thoughtless and mismanaged Global War on Terrorism globally, could be achieved by writers! That is the power of the keyboard (longhand-guys read pen!)
Therefore, there should be an end to the traditional bigotry of our ruling class especially the generals – the self-styled custodians of the ideological borders of Pakistan who have failed to defend the geographical borders of this country. The people of our terrorized land should now clear their collective mind that education in English will not lead their children astray! English protects the country and faith more than our pricy military (which only consumes our development budget).
A trilingual nation: Most of the people in Pakistan are trilingual. A person in Punjab speaks Punjabi at home, communicates in Urdu with the people of other provinces and uses English in official correspondence. English is also used for communication in the cyberspace and international level events etc.
Similarly, in the neighboring India many people in the South and Eastern parts use their first languages plus Hindi and English for communication. English is replacing Hindi gradually in the media. I can remember when a rare Southern Deve Gowda (from Karnataka) became Prime Minister of India in 1996, he used to speak in English on TV instead of Hindi. In those times some journalists used to say that as a Southern, Mr. Gowda hated Hindi, others argued that he didn't know the politically "union national language" of India just like other people of the region!
Pakistan's Founding Father M.A. Jinnah declared Urdu as the national language of the country but he used to speak English as his first language! It shows that English is deep-rooted in the fertile soil of the Subcontinent. Although it's really hard to speak three languages at a time for any normal human being but those who are well-versed in English are considered having an international passport. The English-speaking people get more chances of economic and social uplift than others anywhere in the world. So, the self-styled custodians of the vernaculars should think twice before speaking against the "international passport" in the global village!
Desi and Islamic literature in English: There is a treasure of Islamic literature in English. The works of Quranic scholars like Allama Abdullah Yusuf Ali and Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah (their life stories bring tears to eyes), and Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall (who was also a novelist and giants like E.M. Froster had recognized his creative genius) are historic in nature. After reading these Muslim scholars of the 20th century, intellectuals realized that English is also a language of Islam besides Arabic, Persian and Urdu.
|Alys Faiz (first from left), Bapsi Sidhwa, Daud Kamal and|
Taufiq Rafat. The grand old men and women of Pakistani
English literature include poets and fiction writers.
Similarly, the scene of desi English literature is becoming richer with the passage of time. Limiting myself to Pakistan, after the grand old men and women of Pakistani English literature – like Professor Ahmed Ali, G. Allana, Alys Faiz, Taufiq Rafat, Daud Kamal, Zulfikar Ghose, Bapsi Sidhwa and other pioneers – new writers and poets are mushrooming. Some writers have found their niche internationally. Pakistan isn't just the capital of global terrorism, the country can also be seen on the literary map of the world! Isn't it remarkable?
The most interesting thing is that those young guys who write in English are from different social classes of the segregated society. Amongst the published writers, there are people like the Urdu-medium-Englishman Nadeem Aslam whose first story appeared in an Urdu language newspaper in Pakistan; anglophile Kamila Shamsie's mother Muneeza Shamsie is a well-known literary journalist; Bina Shah has a feudal background; city-boy Mohsin Hamid rocketed to stardom and big fame with small books; village-boy Muhammad Hanif is very famous in Pakistan who seems at ease both in Urdu and English; acclaimed short-story writer Daniyal Mueenuddin's father is a Pakistani and mother an American. The list is long and it includes some hillbillies too who love to express themselves in prose and poetry by employing this sophisticated language!
Don't fear English language writers: Those who write in the vernaculars and oppose the desi English writers, they are advised to jump on the bandwagon instead of burning their precious blood in jealousy or otherwise particularly those writers who are no more young!
If you want to know the main reason why English has become a lingua franca in the world then listen calmly! Native English writers never opposed new things and absorbed good literature from anywhere and everywhere. Thus they made English an asset of the human race on planet earth! We make fun of Persian language in Pakistan [Parro Farsi, becho tail] but the history of English language says that the Englishmen adopted Persian classics as their own, and today, Khayyam and Rumi are among the most-read poets in the West.
Quranic scholars Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall
(first from left), Allama Abdullah Yusuf Ali,
Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah, and Islamic
televangelist Dr. Zakir Naik.
Urdu and regional language writers should broaden their mind and canvas! In the globalized intellectual world, I think, those who have written both in Urdu and English or have translated their works into English, are also part of the Pakistani literature in English. Among these writers are (don't be surprised by some names) Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Professor Ralph Russell, Qurratulain Haider, Intizar Hussain, Abdullah Hussain, Muzaffar Ali Syed, Gilani Kamran, Dr. Anis Nagi, Dr. Saadat Saeed, Dr. Abrar Ahmad, Yasmeen Hameed, Sadullah Shah, Harris Khalique, Asif Farrukhi, Dr. Muhammad Ali Siddiqui, Dr. Rauf Parekh, Muhammad Umar Memon and others.
Plus, those who have written in Urdu but their works have been translated into English, they're also a part of Pakistani literature in English. Among them are giants like Manto, Ghulam Abbas, Shaikh Ayaz, Enver Sajjad, Hasan Manzar, Kishwar Naheed, Fahmida Riaz, Farkhanda Lodhi, Zaitoon Bano, Dur Mohammed Kassi, Masood Ashar, Zaheda Hina, Amer Sindhu and many others. So, the typical narrowed perception of language and literature should change now! No matter what the traditionalists and conservative writers, poets, critics, linguists, philologists, political and social scientists say—change is eminent!
Change the syllabus: The policymakers at government level should change the current outdated syllabuses of English, Urdu and other languages and literature particularly at university level. Desi English writers should be included in the syllabuses properly. The vernacular writings must also be a part of the English syllabus. The traditional teachers/professors should also change their typical mindset and method of teaching in the changed world. In this way many languages and literature departments (Urdu, Punjabi, Seraiki etc) could be saved from total destruction!
To make a long story short — Pakistani and Muslim writers, along with other creative people from all over the world, are enriching English language and literature as their primary medium of expression. The once a language-of-the colonial-exploiters is now the pride of the whole world! Thus proper communication will reduce global conflicts. This is strategically and intellectually very important for sustainable peace and prosperity in the polarized world. The intellectual arena needs more attention than the military.
Message to the youth: I've a very simple message for the youth: learn English not as a "foreign language" but as your "own" language. Think in English, dream in English, talk in English, read in English and write in English...
To understand this very simple message, you should listen to the Pakistani man on You Tube, who tries hard to learn English with some helpful foreigners. Don't laugh at him... just see his devotion... no matter who makes fun of him, he is determined to learn the global language... he is armed with confidence and wants to adopt a "foreign" language as his own! With similar zeal and determination, people should send their children to English medium schools. Thus the whole generation will change! If you want to learn English, then make this funny-looking man your hero! Feel free to make mistakes... without errors, perfection is just a wild dream!
Let's revolt against the traditional bigotry of our rulers! The ruling class should stop cashing ignorance and poverty! The puppet politicians and almighty generals should pity the nation! There is a clear message from the people especially youth to the ruling class: like religious polarization, stop segregating the society on linguistic basis for your sinister motives! Let English be a means of communication at public level without any prejudice.
(From an unpublished essay of the author)