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”!