Friday, February 5, 2010

Masla hi masla...

In the two years that we've spent in Pakistan, our Urdu vocabulary has improved considerably. We can differentiate between "wukla" and "khokhla"; we know that "masaail" is the plural form of "masla" and therefore we should not confuse it with "missile" and get worked up unnecessarily; and that when anything that can go wrong, does go wrong, its called a "bohran".

We've been witness to dozens of bohrans, including the bijli-paani-gas-aata-cheeni bohran, which we've learnt to take in our stride quite cheerfully.

When we came in we were sometimes tempted to pat our backs when we managed to decode Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi's high-flown and dramatic Urdu in speeches delivered with a flourish that would make a veteran thespian go green with envy. Now, it’s a breeze to understand his flowery speeches, even when he is referring to "Bharat ke vazeer-e-khaarja" or “Bharat ke vazeer-e-daakhla" or speaking of the need for the two countries to respect each other's "tawwaqwaat" and increase scope for "tawwun".

Sadly, we can’t say the same about our Hindi. Simple words like “sundar”, “kasht” or “krodh” sometimes sound so alien to our biological listening apparatus.

Ironically, the only time we get to hear good Hindi is when we meet Pakistan’s BBC Hindi correspondent Hafeez Chachar or a Japanese diplomat friend – both of whom speak our official language so well.

When I saw Hafeez’s “bhabhiji pranam” on my Facebook chat box some days ago, I almost fell off my chair. It was great fun chatting with him in Hindi for the next 10 minutes or so. He even encouraged me to download the Hindi font, but much to my embarrassment I fumbled with the akshars. So I stuck to the more familiar Roman script.

Hafeez’s account of his reportage of the terrorist attack at the GHQ in Rawalpindi, which he insisted on calling “Sena Mukhayalaya”, sounded so cute to all of us who were listening to him between bites of idlis and dosas at a friend’s home.

It was another matter that a Pakistani soldier who heard Hafeez recording his piece on the street in Rawalpindi wanted to know how an “Indian” had managed to enter a restricted area. Hafeez says he was able convince the soldier that he belongs to Sindh with great difficulty.

Hafeez told us that sometimes, when he is doing phonos in Hindi for the BBC on the streets, people mistake him for an Indian and ask him how he feels to be in Pakistan.

"Bharat sarkar ne Pakistan ke saath samagr vaarta phir se shuru karne ka prastav diya hai..." or "Amriki drone vimanon ne Waziristan par chaar prakshepastra fire kiye..." – how is that for good Hindi?

When Hafeez asked me the meaning of prakshepastra I drew a blank. "Missile," he said. Now that's a word I should have known.

Similarly, our Japanese friend was so endearing when he referred to leading Urdu newspaper “Jang” as a “samachar patra” and on how he enrolled to learn Hindi at Allahabad “Vishvidyalaya”, and ended up learning not in the “kaksha”, not from an “adhyapika or adhyapak” but “swayam prayas kar ke”!


  1. Seriously, it is the cutest post ever ....

  2. लमत, मैं ने भी कराची में आ कर उर्दू के कठिन शब्द सीखे और मैं ने तो इस भाषा को कभी पढ़ा भी नहीं था लेवल इतना की कोई समाचार पत्र या कोई पुस्तक पढ़ सकूँ. प्राथमिक कक्षाओँ से लेकर मास्टरस तक मैं ने भी सिंधी के साथ साथ अंग्रेज़ी ही पढ़ी और कई बार मैं ने बीबीसी उर्दू को रिपोर्ट देते समय गृह मंत्री को वज़ीरे-ख़ारजा लिखा... हिंदी हो या उर्दू सब भाषाएँ अपनी हैं-सब को सीखना चाहिए.. मुझे प्रसन्नता हो रही है कि आप ने प्रक्षेपास्त्र श्बद यहाँ याद कर लिया. मैं आप के जैपनीज़ मित्र से मिलना चाहता हूँ और उन के बारे में कुछ ओर तो लिखिए. I am sorry to those who don't read hindi script.

  3. Tazeen, I really value your comment, since you are the undisputed princess of wit.

  4. Hindibhashi pranam,
    Mujhe aasha hai ki aap mujhe meri rashtrabhasha ke aur naye-naye shabd sikhayenge.
    Main hamare Japanese mitr se aapko avashya milwaoongee.

  5. लमत आप की तो केवल राष्ट्रभाषा है. हमारी तो सब कुछ यही भाषा है और रोज़ी रोटी का मुख्य और एकमात्र साधन है. हाँ, एक दूसरे से आवश्य सीखते रहेंगे और यह प्रक्रिया चलती रहेगी. मैं दक्षिण भारत की कुछ भाषाएँ सीखना चाहता हूँ और उस केलिए मुझे सामग्री चाहिए. यदि मुझे कुछ पुस्तकें मिल जाएँ तो मैं आप का आभारी रहूँगा.

  6. Hindibhashi: Mere paas ek Telugu-to-English dictionary hai, main woh aap ko avashya doongee. Aur samagri bhi mangva doongee.

  7. You have a very nice blog here. Pakistan indeed has a better environment for learning and speaking Urdu than India does. I was wondering if they had different flavors of Urdu in different cities, for example a Punjabized Urdu in Islamabad, Sindhized Urdu in Karachi etc ?

    Btw, as per the Consti India has no legally specified national language, from wikipedia, "Neither the Constitution of India nor Indian law specifies a National language, a position supported by a High Court ruling."
    So I think you might have meant official language instead of national language.

  8. Vikram, you are right, I meant official language. Thanks for pointing it out.

    There is a Punjabi-ized Urdu for sure...will write about it soon -- should make an interesting read.

    Do drop by again.

  9. I loved this post on language differences. May you learn more!!

  10. Pakistani Urdu does seem different from the Urdu spoken in India- though in India there is a large difference between the Urdu spoken in the North v/s in Hyderabad and Decca v/s Mumbai and surroundings. There is definitely a Punjabi flavor to the Urdu spoken in Pak. Looking forward to reading your article about Urdu differences in Pakistan.

  11. ABCDE, hope our learning curve keeps going northwards.

    Taha, I will give it a shot.

  12. The word is mas2ala/masala, not masla! Note that all the 'a's are short. The 2 in the first orthography represents a glottal stop, like the ' in li'l(little), but is often replaced by an a for ease of pronunciation, especially by many people from certain regions of the country. The reason why you've heard the word pronounced masla is because most Urduphones in Pakistan are Punjabiphones by birth, and Punjabi has a tendency for de-elision. Recently I even saw it written maslaa without the Hamza and with a terminal alif, in lieu of the correct silent h.

    Hope you have liked running into your first grammar nazi from Pakistan!

    It translates to samasiyaa doesn't it in your language?

  13. Enjoyed my grammar class -- though this isn't quite the first in Pakistan :)

  14. mujhe yeh padhkar ati ullas ki anubhuti hui!!!
    Btw wats foreign minister called in urdu??

  15. Pichkari, vazeer-e-khaarja....

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