Over the top - Masood Hasan - Sunday, April 24, 2011

Those of us who had the good fortune to be taught English by Mr Hugh Catchpole who was our principal at Cadet College, Hasan Abdal, were always hauled up for messing with the Queen’s English. Mr Catchpole would have none of that. From him we learnt – at least some of us did, the basics of English; not so much the rules which for instance I still don’t know, but the art of the language.

He taught us to think in English untainted by flags and borders, he taught us the language to equip us for the lives that lay ahead. I often wonder what Mr Catchpole would have thought of the language as it survives in a crumbling state in Pakistan. Not much I can tell you.

He once wrote a short piece called ‘Urdu Made Easy,’ which regretfully I am unable to reproduce in its entirety, but here are a few lines worth sharing.

“I’m sure that some must really be thinking/The learning of Urdu is easy as winking/But this is a matter where I don’t agree/For the writing of Urdu seems tricky to me.

In English the letters are just twenty six,/and the way that we make them has no funny tricks; but Urdu requires some nine letters more,/Though why they are needed I’m really not sure.

And the shape of each letter does seem to demand/On its place in the middle, beginning or end;/And some can be joined while others cannot,/Which certainly puzzles my brain quite a lot.”

And much as I would like to continue, I have to end this delightful little piece. Concluded Mr Catchpole:

“Now genders in Urdu are a puzzle to me,/A stool is a ‘he’ and a table a ‘she.’/But try all I can, I am quite unable/To imagine a stool making love to a table.’ So now, I suppose you are thinking/That in writing such nonsense I must have been drinking.”

Some years back, a friend of mine in a London pub smoking and drinking the nectar of the gods – this was when pubs were pubs and you could smoke, was accosted by a genial Sikh gent, who was quite merry. The gent said, ‘Where you are from behind?’ My friend thought this was a pick up line and nervously looked back at the grinning Sardar Jee and then turned and looked ‘behind’ him. Sardar Jee understood and thumped him cordially, ‘I am meaning where you are from behind? Lahore? Amritsar?’ Since then we have progressed much here and it is common to hear gems like, ‘The office is at the backside.’

And long after the Queen’s rule is over, we are still occupied with ruining whatever remains of that language. I was not distressed but simply puzzled to read a few winters back this large news item in a Lahore paper, which claimed that ‘Meeters and Greeters in for a surprise with a thud’. It was revealed a little later that people arriving at the Lahore airport on a foggy morning found flights delayed or cancelled.

Who were the ‘meeters’? Why, those who were at the airport to meet people! And the ‘greeters’ were merely those who had come to greet their friends or family arriving or leaving Lahore. The ‘thud’ was basically to tell the reader that all experienced a rude shock, the ‘thud’ sort of conveying the sound of someone suddenly sitting down in a chair or receiving some shocking news. ‘Jhatka’ in Urdu had been happily translated into a ‘thud.’

Most people are asking you to ‘touch’ them on their cell phones and insist that so and so’s ‘repute’ is superb. You are also often advised to ‘mind, please’ and people are leaving stones turned at what can only be called an alarming rate. The credit for ‘thanks be to Allah’ belongs only to the Pakistani cricket players and officials and many things remain ‘under your kind control,’ so many years later.

I am also convinced that Pakistanis are no longer able to tell apart words that sound the same such as ‘lose’ and ‘loose,’ ‘fare’ and ‘fair.’ These words and dozens more are in a happy cooking pot. The stew is served daily from the Presidency (where AZ apparently spelt God as ‘Gawd’) down to the clerical staff which requires you to ‘proceed through proper channel,’ or the equally loved, ‘concerned authority’. We all know from bitter experience that had the authority been ‘concerned’ we wouldn’t be in such a sorry state. The evergreen ‘I damn care’ is a classic as also this sublime message at the back of a rickshaw. Translated freely from ‘Aa mujj say payar karr,’ (Come and love me) it now read, ‘I Love Me’.

That being that, I can only share parts of another nugget with you to make your holiday a little less painful. This one comes from across the border.

“Deep in jungle I am went/On shooting Tiger I am bent/Bugger Tiger has eaten wife/No doubt I avenge poor darling’s life/Too much quiet, snakes and leeches/But am not feared these sons of beeches/Hearing loud noise I am jump with start/But noise is coming from damn fool heart/Taking care not to be fright/I am clutching rifle with eye to sight.

Should Tiger come I will fall him down/Then like hero return to native town/Then through trees I am espying one cave/I am telling self – ‘Rangaswamy be brave’.

I now proceed with too much care/From nonsense smell this Tiger’s lair/My leg is shake, I start to pray/I think I shoot Tiger some other day/Turning round I am going to go/But Tiger giving bloody roar/He bounding from cave like shooting star/I commend my soul to Kali Ma/Through the jungle I am went/Like bullet with Tiger hot on scent/Mighty Tiger rave and rant/Rangaswamy shit in pant!/Must to therefore leave the jungle/Killing Tiger one big bungle!!/I am telling that never in life/I will risk again for damn fool wife.”

The writer is a Lahore-based columnist. Email: masoodhasan66@gmail.com

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=43387&Cat=9

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