Short Note on “outsiders”

I’ll write a short note since my name has been taken in vain repeatedly in the past few days (I only believe we should take Muhammad the Pedophile’s name in vain).

Our resident hero, Kabir, writes:

 The demand for Persianization/Arabization is not coming from Pakistanis but mainly from outsiders on this blog. I fail to understand the logic of trying to change a country’s national identity when there is no grassroots demand for it.

Addendum: What have Pakistanis accomplished or achieved in the English language? I can only think of Kamila Shamsie, who won an award for Home Fire. Decolonisation must begin with the gradual displacement of English from prestige to merely technical.

What I find so disingenuous about this comment is that Kabir himself is an American and benefits deeply from the current status quo.

I also find the whole autochthonous question to be somewhat ridiculous since we all navigate multiple identities at any one time, especially on a blog like Brown Pundits (which is diaspora borne).

I could visit Pakistan but I simply can’t muster enough interest to do so because to my mind it’s a basket-case. A decade ago I had intense connections to the country, a decade on I have intense connections to India because like any good Kafirstani I sensed Pakistan is no longer a safe place for our kind.

At no point did I suggest that Persian replace Urdu but simply (and gradually) replace English. He is simply getting histrionic because he is eliding the basic fact of all South Asian societies.

English is EPEC – the language of the Elite – Polish – Education – Class

Macaulay has succeeded in making a single line of English weigh heavier than the entire corpus of all South Asian literature. We endlessly discuss Brown issues in English and even last night at our Guftagu-Gupshup; where there were South Asians of every hue & region, we all easily conversed in English endlessly.

Kabir, with his American English, is immediately catapulted to the top of Pakistani society and can instead “play local” to his heart’s delight (to be fair it’s a certain type of convent inflected English that ranks higher than the Diaspora twangs but it all sounds the same to the aspirational middle classes).

This is exactly what I encountered a decade ago when I met Ali Sethi, who was Harvard educated, but spoke in this ludicrously rustic English accent and was busy commenting on the death of Hindustani music. I have  a very heightened bullshit detector and I just could say that Ali was “playing local”.

I have a spotify play list and Tajdar-e-Haram is one of my favorite songs. It has 237mm views; below I’ve linked to Ali’s local music, which was 270k views.

I have nothing against Ali Sethi but he is a scion of the Anglicised elite that is trying to push out Urdu product. It simply won’t work since all the best “Urdu” work is in fact done by “locals of the Indus”.

Mahira Khan, Fawad Khan, Atif Aslam, Qurrat al Baloch,  Rahat Fateh, Farhan Saeed, Farida Khanum; I don’t spot a single Muhajir in this list. They are all from Punjabi or other backgrounds and were raised in chaste Urdu speaking households. I’m not suggesting we interfere in the ongoing cultural dynamic (Urdu has a stratospherically high prestige compared to any local language with the exception of maybe Pashto since the Pathans are stubborn but even they succumb).

I had written an analysis of the Pakistani social elite (the 1,000 families or rather the Patricians of Pakistan; almost all of whom have Muhajir origins/connections) but I decided to post it to my private blog.

Incidentally it was one of the scions of those families who first told me about Sab-ki-Hind (the Persian of India) and wished that Pakistan had instead revived it. He planted the seed in my mind, which has flowered into full bloom.

One could now argue that since I’m half Persian and have basic conversational Farsi that I’m simply trying to cement my own status. However English does happen to be my first language so I benefit from the same “South Asian English premium” and “Persian privilege” exists anyway (Persian in Pakistan, Parsi in India; it’s really sky-high).

I’m simply trying to correct the Macaulayisation of Pakistan & the related Indian Muslim elite and giving them a constructive suggestion in how to go about it.

Furthermore the quandary with the Pakistani elites is that they are Westoxicated but are not willing to absorb the more enlightened values of the West. So they are in a paradoxical situation whereby they are consuming and mediating Western culture to the rest of Pakistan but at the same time yearning and pining for the Middle East like the rest of Pak. It would enhance their credibility if they actually burnished those links and made an effort to revive our heritage (their grandparents probably spoke and understood Persian).

How stupid is it that the Pak elite only knows Iqbal or Ghalib through their lesser-known Urdu poems rather than actually taking the time to listen and understand their Persian verses (Ghalib wrote in Persian-Urdu 7-1). Also just as Arabic poetry impacted (and maybe even created Persian poetry); Persian poetry has had a similar effect on Urdu. All Pakistanis have deeply familiar with the Quran; they should start doing the same with Rumi, Hafez and Sa’adi in their own language.

I have enough familiarity with certain societies (Iran, Pakistan & now India) to issue commentary on them not only because of my mixed origins but because I happened to marry across national lines.

So when I see Indians, who have never been to Pakistan and have no idea what the country is like, spout analysis about Pakistan; I would first suggest to them to get to actually know the country because otherwise they are simply repeating their own biases and it looks funny & foolish.

If you can’t write what you know at least know what you write.

29 thoughts on “Short Note on “outsiders””

  1. Since you decided to use “Kabir is an American” as an argument, let me make it very clear:
    I am Pakistani-American and a dual national. My family lives in Pakistan. I probably have more stakes in the country than you do. If nationality and citizenship is an argument, one could say you are British and you are married to an Indian , so why should Pakistanis take your prescriptions for our society at all seriously?

    Replacing English with Persian is a total non-starter and there is no demand in Pakistan for that. English is a global language, which Persian isn’t. Yes, the use of English is a colonial legacy but it would be foolish to throw away something that can actually help Pakistan compete in the modern world.

    1. We are all Mleccha’s, Kabir, some of us more than others.

      How does English actually help Pakistan compete? Will it be the next outsourcing destination?

      Qualify and quantify the arguments. Is English useful in a technical or cultural capacity?

      The Chinese don’t speak English (East Asia by and large doesn’t have an English speaking tradition with few exceptions) but its outstripped the world.

      Now that you have accepted I’m not talking about displacing Urdu but English (finally after about 10 comments and a few posts) we can have a proper discussion.

      Persian is the language of our history and culture. Ferdowsi’s patron was Mahmud Ghazni (I always find his name difficult) after whom pakistan has named missiles.

      1. I am Pakistani not half anything else and not “mleccha” ( which I’ve already said is an offensive word).

        No one is going to replace any languages until and unless there is a genuine demand from Pakistanis themselves, which doesn’t exist. Everyone aspires to learn English to get ahead in the modern world. Persian is only of academic and historical interest. The fact that Pakistan chose to name its missiles after so called “Islamic” heroes is hardly relevant here.
        The Chinese don’t speak English because they weren’t colonized by the British. Yet they are learning the language in droves. No one is saying that English is the only way for a society to get ahead but it is certainly an advantage which Pakistan shouldn’t throw away.

          1. I’m not contradicting myself. I hold an American passport but my ancestry is completely Pakistani.
            Let’s not make this personal. You had no need to bring up my passport to discredit my argument. You are free to advocate whatever you like but I’m sure it will get no traction from people in my country, who are the ones who actually have the power to make such decisions.

  2. Also, on the whole “Pakistanis are pining for the Middle East” thing: I frankly have zero interest in the Middle East. I am South Asian and my ancestors were South Asian. Are there people in Pakistan who try to construct foreign origins for themselves? Of course, but most of us aren’t denying the reality that we are part of the subcontinent.

    1. Akbar and Aurangzeb would have spoken a persian among their own and Urdu to the help.

      Persian in so many ways is South Asian/Subcontinental.

      There is no need for hysterics.

      1. Persian was the official language of the mughal empire. That’s not an argument for why it should be the language of modern Pakistan. We are not Persian but Pakistanis. I deeply resent being told what my identity should be.

        On a lighter note, if we must switch languages it probably makes more sense for us to adopt the language of our new masters the Chinese.

        1. Subtract Persian, Iran & Turan and there is literally no Pakistan.

          The Mughals represented the dance of the three. Without the Mughals there really is no basis for Pakistan.

          Don’t Punjabify/project

          1. Pakistan was not created because of the Mughals. It was created because the Muslims of British India were worried about what would happen to them under “Hindu Raj”.

  3. Aside from the case for persian as an official language, in the very least it is one of the languages who’s academic study should be revived in both india and pakistan. So many primary sources for subcontinental history are in that language that researchers with a subtle understanding of it would bring a lot to the field. For all subcontinentals, greater iran is our civilisational neighbour, and a certain number of us should have a healthy interest in it, along with the tibet and se asia. Would be a shame for our understanding of the world to be completely mediated by english sources.

    1. I am all for the academic study of Persian. What I am against are attempts to engineer Pakistani national identity from outside. I suspect these attempts of having an agenda.

      1. I’m very open in my agenda; Pakistan is half-civilised.

        It is half-Hindu and half-Muslim; pick a side so we can move on

        An insufficiently imagined nation is wreaking havoc on the nation.

        1. The country is called The Islamic Republic of Pakistan. It’s hardly “half Hindu”. Hindus don’t have sole ownership over South Asian culture.

          Your agenda is to push Pakistan into the Middle East, which I will never accept. You have no right to impose a national identity on us.

    2. I think we should make Persian the official language of India too. Perhaps we can get more women fields medallists that way.

      1. Come on Slapstik, no need to be so insulting towards Indian and Persian women folk in one go. Just replace ‘Persian’ with ‘head scarf’ if you don’t see what I see.

        If you do see it, sorry about my triggered response, may Maryam rest in peace. 40 is too young. Her birthday is May 12.

        1. @violet
          I meant that comment in lighter vein. I do see what you see. Believe me, my wife trains me well.

          PS: terrible shame about Maryam. She had a kid as well if I recall. Heartbreaking!

        2. Not to worry – interestingly enough today is Women in Mathematics day

          I wonder what day they’ll call for Vidhi’s birthday (07 November).

          Incidentally she shares her birthday with Nobel Winners; the first woman, Marie Curie), the first to win two Nobels (Marie Curie) and the first Indian C V Raman.

          She also shares her birthday with a female winner (one of two) to win the Turing.

          So V just needs to clinch it and make 7th Nov a Day of Science!

  4. Why are we using words like “Mlecha” (not sure half of us can even pronounce it ) and all? Is this 4th century Punjab or something?

    Also Zach, lay off on Kabir 😛

    1. Just to set the record right, mlechcha is not only found in Hindi, it is a valid Urdu word too. It is found in Urdu dictionaries. Usually spelt as مليچهـ (malech).

  5. I have some sympathy for the view that the prestige English enjoys in the subcontinent discriminates against the many who are ill equipped to use it as their primary medium of discourse or learning. It is like forcing desis to eat with chopsticks.

    But if it is to be supplanted, better to pick a language already familiar to the many that we are trying to speak on behalf of. In Pakistan this would probably be Urdu or Punjabi.

    I feel susicious when Zach speaks of “the cause of Persian”. It is a language – and like a language (or a religion) has no causes or interests apart from those using or following it.

  6. By the way, Ali Sethi is a Punjabi so that disproves your whole Punjabi vs. Muhajir point. He has studied classical music from Ustad Naseeruddin Saami and from Farida Khanum. And I’m not someone who is particularly a fan of his.

  7. You might as well suggest that Pakistanis switch to Sanskrit. Nobody is gonna switch from the global lingua franca to a language that’s irrelevant outside of Iran and Afghanistan. Irish people can’t even revive their own language in the face of English, and their government pours millions of dollars into it.

  8. Mohsin Hamid, Mohammed Hanif, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Nadeem Aslam and Bapsi Sidhwa have all been fairly successful in literary circles and well-regarded as Pakistan-origin English language writers. Other than maybe Amitav Ghosh there don’t appear to be that many current Indian writers making waves which is unexpected.

    1. Agree there are a lot more Pakistanis writing successfully in English than Kamila Shamsie. That comment seems to come out of ignorance more than anything else.

      As for Indian writers making waves, Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy immediately come to mind.

  9. “Other than maybe Amitav Ghosh there don’t appear to be that many current Indian writers making waves which is unexpected.”

    Not entirely unexpected, lot of literary talent comes either form the upper crust of society or in Hanif case from the rural underclass writing about societal issues and all. In India (Ghosh et all) are from the former category which is also similar to Pakistan upper class. But for the latter category the literature in India is almost entirely in the vernacular language , which the western audience doesn’t have access to. For example, there could be a lot of good Pashto literature which we dont know about.

    Also the India society (compared to Pakistan) still has some form of democratic justice which acts as a release valve. As it is said some of the best literature is produced in the backdrop of congested and contested societal and political arena, India doesn’t have that to offer which Pakistan has(comparatively). So better writers in Pakistan

  10. English might be the language of the EPEC but it is also the language of upward mobility, at least in India. Doesn’t matter if you are a Muslim or a Dalit or a Brahmin.

    Capitalism and English make you equal.

    As Chandra Bhan Prasad says English is the Dalit Goddess.

    Not sure if it’s a similar case in Pakistan.

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