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Urdu is Benazir's Achilles' heel now

December 04, 2007 14:55 IST

Oxford-educated Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto's clumsy speeches in Urdu, sprinkled with English words, have become a good way to pep up party conversations in Pakistan.

Jokes, and even videos, are being circulated on the Internet, which poke fun at the former premier's accented and grammatically incorrect Urdu.

Many Pakistanis are angrily linking the gradual demise of their national language to the inability of leaders like her to communicate in Urdu.

"Mimicking Benazir Bhutto's Urdu is a good way to revive the party when the conversation runs dry," Washington-based Yawar Herekar wrote in a letter to a local newspaper.

"It has been over 60 years since the end of the British Raj, but they left the English language behind as a curse and blessing for us. English might be the language of business, but Urdu is the language that holds our history and serves as our identity."

"As Pakistanis, we need to be proud of our mother tongue and get rid of our colonialist mindset before it destroys our culture from the insides," he added on a more serious note.

At a joint press conference with former premier Nawaz Sharif on Monday night, Bhutto struggled to put forth her views to the media in Urdu.

Cross-dressing TV host Ali Saleem, famous for mimicking Bhutto, plays the former premier in a video posted on Yahoo.

Though Saleem's "hum courage nahin loosenge" and "promises fullfillinge" are exaggerated examples of her Urdu, Bhutto often makes grammatical errors and mixes up genders in her speeches.

Bhutto's incorrect Urdu has been noticed by the western press, too.

"Her English may be fluent, but you can't say the same about her Urdu, which she speaks like a well-groomed foreigner: fluently but ungrammatically. Her Sindhi is even worse," said a report in Australian newspaper The Age.

Another paper described her as "an enlightened leader" who could bring democracy back to Pakistan.

"Part of her appeal is her westernness. This comes naturally. English is her first language. Her command of Urdu is far from perfect."

But it isn't just Bhutto who is being accused of killing the cause of Urdu. Her bete noire President Pervez Musharraf is also believed to be a sinner.

Ehsan Masood, a London-based journalist, pointed out that "the current generation of politicians are not at all comfortable in Urdu. For the 'Daughter of the East', that she claims to be, Bhutto penned her autobiography in English; as more recently did the General In the Line of Fire.

Musharraf's one-liners, especially the ones from his speech in Urdu after the imposition of emergency on November 3 -- "mera total control thha", "Islamabad mein extremist bharay houay hain" and "Extremism bahut extreme ho gaya hai" – have been widely circulated in internet jokes.

Criticising Pakistan's new language policy, which encourages instruction in English at a very early level, Masood said: "A world-class command of Urdu with an ability to appreciate the skill of its writers and poets is undoubtedly good for the soul. But what seems to count for more in 21st-century Pakistan is that fluency in English is good for
the CV."

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