Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Truthful inaccuracy

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Folks do not like the new film Zero Dark Thirty. This film is about the 10-year long hunt for the most evil terrorist the world has known since Hasan bin Sabah, the Old Man of the Mountain — the two having much in common.


I am not a movie fan and know little about films, but the gripe of most reviewers is that this film features Arabic being spoken on the streets of Pakistan in the year 2011. One reviewer even ridiculed the scene of a camel train somewhere in Abbottabad. This poor reviewer may actually never have left his TV lounge where he writes his reviews because we have camels aplenty in this country.

I have no idea what director Kathryn Bigelow and her team had in mind when they put Arabic in the mouths of men who should actually have been speaking Hindko, but I fear this film may well turn out to be prophetic: that one day, we will totally succumb to Arab imperialism and actually make their language the official language of Pakistan. That we will then be seen running around with bed sheets for clothes with our heads bound with fan belts.

This is no unfounded fear, mind. The change has begun. In Punjab, it is creeping in. And it is coming by car. Or, at least, by car registration plates. Ever since the incumbent chief minister banned the official registration plates that came encrypted with every detail of the car and the owner, we have once again reverted to plates of all patterns and colours.

The new one, very likely paid for by the Saudis as they pay for most seminaries in this sorry land, is now in Urdu lettering. The red band on top is marked ‘Al-Bakistan’. Mind, it is not ‘Al-Pakistan’ but BAKISTAN. At the bottom, another red band reads ‘Al-Bunjab’. In between are the alphabets and numerals of the registration number in Urdu. By the way, that was how Ibn Battuta pronounced the name of this province.

While ‘Bakistan’ and ‘Bunjab’ have been sold, for some curious reason, alphabets like ‘p’ or the palatal ‘d’ continue to be written in Urdu as they should be. That is, they retain their sounds. I suspect the sluggish Arab mind behind this sneaky move to colonise us in terms of language did not realise this snag. But, sooner than we know, this will be changed with ‘p’ on the registration plate replaced with ‘b’. And if that throws everything out of kilter at the registration office, so be it.

Now, as this assault on language continues (and grows, as all evil must), we will soon have some idiot wanting to banish the hard and aspirated sounds that make Punjabi (and Urdu) the languages that they are. True, Lahoris from the inner city who simply cannot pronounce the palatal ‘r’, and with some difficulty, the palatal ‘d’, and for this handicap are made fun of by the rest of us, will be delighted. They may even claim that having embraced the one and only true religion, they knew the way the language would ultimately change and had adjusted their language accordingly centuries ago.

But why Bakistan? If ‘Falisteen’ (as it is pronounced in Arabic) can become Palestine in European languages, why can Pakistan not be ‘Fakistan’?

Every time I see a car with the ‘Al-Bakistan’ and ‘Al-Bunjab’ plates, I want to stop the louts to ask them why they should corrupt the name of their land. But the ugly, thuggish characters driving these cars make me desist. Because as things stand in ‘Fakistan’, it is impossible to attempt to talk sense to anyone, least of all to a yahoo.

In Karachi, they shoot you before you have delivered the first admonishing word. In ‘Bunjab’, they first abuse you and then ask if you are the mama (maternal uncle) of ‘Bakistan’. Since everyone except you is known either to some politician with a bogus degree or some thug of a police thanedar, you decide discretion and cowardice really are the best part of valour and withdraw.

‘Bakistan’ zindabad.

Related: Without pride, nations fail

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 5:53 PM,

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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand


Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days