Since I was a child, I saw my mother struggling with English. I remember giggling when I was as young as 5 at her mispronouncing a word. Soon, it became embarrassed laughter, when it would be in front of a friend. “Mumma, what are you saying,” I’d say annoyed that she was trying to fit in.
The past of colonization of my country has impacted us so deeply that although our rulers left us and we became independent, we’ve tattooed “slave” on our bones and like trick ponies, we try to learn their language, their style, their clothes, hoping for them to notice us, to treat us for being good and eventually accept us. So much so, our own culture and identity is repressed down more often than the culture of the western world. We want to be white-washed. If we can’t rip off our brown skins, we should at least sound like we’re fair and lovely. We defend it by saying, it’s a universal language and everyone should know it. But we forget to ask who made it the superior language everyone needs to speak in.
A week ago, the captain of the Pakistani cricket team was mocked by his own countrymen and the rest on failing at speaking a foreign language. He panicked after winning a match against England in England’s home ground, when it came to his realization that all the reporters were English. “They’re all the English ones?” He asked and became the subject of social memes. Yesterday, the same captain managed to win us the ICC Championship Trophy against India; which was no doubt the leading team throughout. But we got the cup home. This time, there was a translator on board. The players, holding their victory in their hands and with their green flag wrapped around their necks, spoke comfortably, eloquently in the tongue they were taught at home. And how can something that flows that beautifully be a sign of disgrace.
I’ve realized that over the years, I’ve countless times made my mother feel lesser of a person in the house by making her feel humiliation for not understanding English and speaking it incorrectly. Not once has she made fun of how horrible my Urdu pronunciation is. Or of how Urdu was the one subject on my report card which always had a red line underneath it. How could she when we had constantly brainwashed her to believing that the words she spoke were somewhat lesser in essence than the words we spoke and it did not matter if we could not speak the language of our country; the language of the common man till today. Some days it’s cool. When the Ghazals and Qawalis and Coke Studio songs come out and the pretentious celebrities and influencers we follow start humming to new tunes, we embrace the words that are now foreign to our tongue. How we memorize Surahs from the Quran, we have memorized the lyrics, not understanding what the words mean, but our generation is a flock of sheep. We crave to be included in trends. We always want to blend in and scream out “we’re the same, we’re the same. Please do not hate us,” whether its a competition between the East or West or the social classes in Pakistan.
My mother writes down quotes that she finds interesting, while she struggles on Facebook, in a notebook she owns. One day she sat me down proudly and read them out to me. Stuttering and stumbling over punctuation marks she doesn’t realise also apply when the language is spoken, she smiled as she inserted awkward pauses and read. At many parts I’d cringe, often breaking into a chuckle. But then I saw the enthusiasm she entailed at that exact moment. Like she had unlocked an achievement by making me sit down and listen to her, speak in the language familiar to me. It felt like she did a victory snap with her fingers when she finished. She had communicated with me the way we had forced her to feel obliged to.
I help her in my time to learn the language of my generation, which has sadly become one of our generation’s while I try to ask her for translations of Urdu words. I’ve recently started to write Urdu poetry, hoping that the rhyme and rhythm I have learned to use isn’t restricted to a chosen language. Together we’re closing a generational gap and creating a comfort zone where we both can be ourselves, be friends and never stop ourselves from growing without any embarrassment. No matter how multicultural we feel speaking a foreign language, it is home based racism when we make another feel low for not being able to speak it.