Mohammed Hanif: “Twist of the Mother Tongue”

Mohammed Hanif in Tehelka:

MohammadSometimes fellow writers and journalists ask me how I choose whether to write in Urdu or English or Punjabi. I usually start my answer with a self-deprecating remark: I can write badly in three-and-a-half languages. Like most self-deprecating remarks this one barely conceals a boast: I read and write Urdu; I can also borrow my ideas from ancient Punjabi, unlike you posh prats who rely entirely on English. But why would someone boast about their ability to read and write in their mother tongue (Punjabi, in my case) or express themselves in their national language?

I guess you show off because most people who write in English cannot pick up a newspaper in their local language to find out what yesterday’s riot was about. It’s not their fault. They went to good schools, sometimes schools so good that the main purpose of their education was to ensure their talents remained unpolluted by local languages and cultures.

When I was growing up in Pakistan, the complete inability to read or write in your mother tongue was a prerequisite for upward mobility. Pakistan’s founding father — the self-made aristocrat Mohammed Ali Jinnah — could barely string a sentence together in Urdu, a language that he imposed on Pakistan as its national language with tragic consequences.

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