I write a weekly column for this newspaper, an English language daily, and at times it becomes difficult to comment on things with a perspective that is fresh, relevant and not dated – week after week. Not only that, but one is also required to be coherent and appear sane most of the time (there are some exceptions to the rule though).
I envy op-ed writers of Urdu newspapers; most of them are not encumbered with notions of relevance and coherence. If one reads Urdu op-ed pieces for a week, it becomes clear that art of writing an Urdu op-ed is quite straight forward. It mostly starts with a story of a brave kingof the days long gone and how he took care of his people and somehow linking it to governance issues of a country fighting a multipronged war, battling an energy crisis of epic proportions and is saddled with a population of over 180 million people. Most of the times, the king would not have name and even when there is a name, that particular incident would not be part of the history. I know, I have checked. At times, I have even looked into Dastan-e-Amir Hamza for references mentioned in one of the pieces but the stories were so fantastical that I could not find them in centuries old tales of Amir Hamza.
Introspection is alien to Urdu columnists. Pakistan is never to be blamed for its ills, it is always some foreign powers who are trying to sabotage the fort of Islam and our Islamic bomb (the last I checked, inanimate objects were not practicing any faith but I digress). The foreign country bashing is not limited to but is generally aimed at United States of America and India – depending on what the topic of conversation is. The really good writers do not just go ahead and blame India for all slights and transgressions – imagined and real – they invent a fictional white Caucasian character they have met in trips abroad and make him say that India is a horrible place where everyone is evil and Pakistan is the ultimate Shangri-La. After all, the hidden racist within us would agree more with a learned white man than a Pakistani, even if that Pakistan happens to be an esteemed columnist traveling to the foreign lands inhabited by learned white people.
Some Urdu columnists also like to reproduce the fan mail they get, usually from cities like Layyah and Narowal. English op-ed writers cannot do that because they generally do not get fan mail from Layyah. What they do get – and this generalization is solely based on the mail I and two of my columnist friends get – is hate mail for being (a) liberal fascist, (b) English medium elite or best of all, (c) an agent of the foreign variety.
At times I envy the Urdu columnists. I really like the idea of starting a piece with a fairy tale or two but it is not as simple. For starters, I like to be historically correct and even though I write for a newspaper, my editor is cyber savvy and always asks me to provide hyper links for the internet edition to provide context and to substantiate my argument which puts any fantasies I may harbor about introducing fictional characters in my op-ed pieces to sleep. As fantastical historical characters and fan mail from Layyah are not viable choices, one is only left with the option of blaming it all on the “unholy” trinity of India, Israel and USA. This is how one masters the art of becoming an Urdu columnist.
First published in The Express Tribune, this is the unedited version.
PS: After reading the comments on the Tribune website, I think I must point out that this is a satire and I do NOT (a) think I have the authority to declare any country/person/idea unholy/evil, it was just written to get a certain point across(b) intend to start a language war (c) represent every person who writes in English in Pakistan.
PPS: I have been trying to get published in Urdu, but failed, So before anyone goes and blames me for not writing in Urdu, find me an editor who is willing to publish me in Urdu.
PPPS: I envy Urdu op-ed writers. They get fan mail (postal variety) from Layyah and I get hate mail (electronic variety) from Lahore and Raiwind. I really really want to get postal fan mail from places like Naushki, Layyah and Kamaliya (meri choti choti khuwahishat).