I write a weekly column for this newspaper, an English language daily and at times it becomes difficult to comment on things with a perspective that is fresh, relevant and not dated — week after week. Not only that, but one is also required to be coherent and appear sane most of the time (there are some exceptions to the rule, though).
I envy op-ed writers of Urdu newspapers; most of them are not encumbered with the notions of relevance and coherence. If one reads Urdu op-ed pieces for a week, it becomes clear that the art of writing an op-ed in Urdu is quite straightforward. It mostly starts with a story of a brave king of the days long gone and how he took care of his people, somehow linking it to governance issues of fighting a multi-pronged war, the energy crisis or overpopulation. More often than not, the king will not have a name but when there is a name, that particular incident is not found to be a part of history. At times, I have even looked into Dastan-e-Amir Hamza for references but the stories were so fantastical that I could not find them in the centuries-old tales of Amir Hamza.
Introspection is alien to Urdu columnists; Pakistan is never to be blamed for its ills. It is always foreign powers who are trying to sabotage the fort of Islam. Foreign country bashing is not limited to, but is generally aimed at, the US and India — depending on the topic of conversation. And the really creative writers do not just blame India for all slights and transgressions — imagined and real — but they invent a fictional European character they have met in trips abroad and make him say that India is a horrible place where everyone is evil and that Pakistan is the ultimate Shangri-La. After all, the hidden racist within us would agree more with a learned white man than a Pakistani, even if that Pakistan happens to be an esteemed columnist travelling to these foreign lands.
Some Urdu columnists also like to reproduce the fan mail they get, usually from cities like Layyah and Narowal. English op-ed writers cannot do that because they generally do not get fan mail from Layyah. What they do get — and this generalisation is solely based on the mail I and two of my columnist friends receive — is hate mail for being (a) liberal fascists, (b) English medium elite or, best of all, (c) agents of the foreign variety.
At times, I envy Urdu columnists. I like the idea of starting a piece with a fairy tale but it is not that simple. For starters, I like to be historically correct and my editor, who is cyber-savvy, even asks me to provide hyperlinks for the internet editions of any topics mentioned in my piece in order to provide context and to substantiate my argument. This puts any fantasies I may harbour about introducing fictional characters in my pieces to sleep. For Urdu columnists, however, if fantastical historical characters and fan mail from Layyah are not viable choices, they are left with the option of blaming it all on the unholy trinity of India, Isreal and the US. This is how one masters the art of becoming an Urdu columnist.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 19th, 2012.