Pakistanis like me blog and tweet in English because that is our comfort zone.
Pakistani private schools, many of which were legacy British colonial institutions (or pretend to be) had a bias for English. We were left to learn our Urdu skills by ourselves. Blogging in English also allows us to connect with an international audience and share views that counter the image of a singular “Pakistan” projected by international mainstream media.
There are however, tens of thousands of Pakistanis conversing on the Internet in Urdu, our other national language. These bloggers are the most popular within the country. Unfortunately, due to Google indexing and the difficulty of typesetting and coding Urdu's Nastaʿlīq alphabet, English language blogs from Pakistan dominate search.
English blogs will give you plenty of perspective on Pakistan; it is after all one of our official languages. But it misses the charm, linguistic depth and humor that exists in Urdu social media and blogs.
In Pakistan, English is spoken in the corridors of power, in the courts, and is the language of the rich or upwardly mobile. But Urdu, the other official language in the country, is spoken as a second language and understood by most Pakistanis.
Urdu blogs you should know about
Urdu blogging, despite the many technical difficulties it faces, is alive and well. The following five Urdu blogs and the amazing people behind them should give you a taste of the variety and depth of Urdu blogging today. (To prevent Urdu script from being distorted I included screenshots from these blogs, with translations, of course.)
1. Omar Bangash | Sila-e-Omar
The most popular posts on Bangash's superb blog Sila-e-Omar are short stories, called afsanay in Urdu. Narrative fiction has a strong tradition in Urdu, and Bangash captures his readers with youthful, vivid imagery, strong command of prose, and personal characters. Written Urdu can be a very formal language but Bangash's afsanay capture the the bluntness and rawness of colloquial speech.
Translation: Only a few people knew Shabana’s real name. Everyone knew her by her stage name Shab Chaudhry. She was always over-embellished with gold-plated ornaments, in snugly-fit silk clothes, with a smile on her face. One time, she was gracefully returning an escaped hair strand to the right place, the other moment she played with her golden bangles, while listening attentively to the producer. Whenever she listened to the producer she transformed herself; no one can know what was really going on in her mind.
2. Shoaib Safdar | بے طقی باتیں بے طقے کام
At بے طقی باتیں بے طقے کام (pointless talk and pointless work) [ur] Shoaib Safdar blogs about issues pertaining to culture, religion and the state of affairs in Pakistan. He also writes satirical and spiritually focused posts about the online world.
The following excerpt from his blog [ur] is a conversation between two friends. One friend invites the other, to a road trip to Thar, which is supposed to be part recreation and partly to help victims of a recent drought:
Translation: “Be ashamed. People are dying there and you are going to have fun.”
Sorry I asked you man. Please forgive me.
“You are no less than the people who went there for a fishing feast.”
Go and volunteer there if you want to help. But please stop acting like Geo TV and ARY News, because I know you, you'll just be passively watching them report in full volume tonight.
3. Duffer D | Dufferistan
This is the funniest Urdu blog I have ever read. Dufferistan is hilarious whenever you click. From blogging on social media and its antics in Pakistan to more serious political topics, Duffer D pokes fun at it all, in exemplary Urdu. Duffer D uses an alias, so he is not known by his real name online.
Duffer D writes as dishes piles up in his sink in this post called Dirty Boy [ur]:
Translation: Just thinking about washing the dishes gives me tension. When I eat, I convince myself to leave a few bites in my plate and put it in the fridge; justifying my action, by telling myself that wasting food is a sin. If two or three of my total collection of four plates need to be cleaned, then I get so tense that my mental condition is unstable for the next three days, at least. I start seeing Scotch Brite (sponge) and Vim (detergent) in the form of witches in my dreams, and it's like the horrors of the grave.
4. Fahd Kekar | Cricnama
In a country bonkers about cricket, Fahad created cricnama, the most comprehensive online forum about cricket in Urdu. The blog carries international and local opinion pieces and news features on this great sport. There is also an English version of the site. Unlike the other bloggers featured into this post who use Naskh, Fahad stays true to Urdu's Nasta'liq script.
Here's an example [ur] from a recent post about the T20 Cricket World Cup, “Hails stormy century helped England sink Sri Lanka”:
While cricket fans were waiting for Gayle Storm in the T20 world cup, “Hails Storm” came out of nowhere and wiped out Sri Lanka. England with the help of Hails and Morgan gunned down the record total of 190, where Hails scored a century. England’s victory in such fashion is an answer to all the critics who declared England the weakest team in the tournament. After their horrible performance in fielding and losing two wickets on zero; England pulled this unpredictable victory off.
5. M Bilal M | M Bilal M
This site is a treasure trove for anyone starting out in Urdu blogging. M Bilal M provides links to softwares that enable you to map your keyboard in Urdu, gives tutorials on Facebook in Urdu, and offers a variety of resources which enable you to establish your online Urdu publishing status within a few hours. The author has a pretty sharp pen when it comes to current affairs as well.
Here's an example [ur] from a recent post titled King of the Internet Google [ur]:
Translation: Google is famous for searching on the Internet. Because of its ability to search anything, there are lots of jokes on its very power to search, for example, a father tries to search for his lost son on Google, because Google can find anything. Well jokes apart, Google indeed has done many unique things. For instance their head office “Googolplex” is more of playground than a workplace. Indeed Google is the king of Internet and the Internet seems incomplete without Google. However, now Google's throne is in danger, because Google is spying for the U.S. government.
Bonus: Eight fun facts about Urdu
An introduction to Urdu Bloggers without an introduction to the language seems incomplete:
1. Urdu is spoken and understood by most Pakistanis and is the dominant second language in the country. According to the numbers, regional languages Punjabi, Pashto, Sindi, Saraiki and Balochi dominate as first languages in Pakistan.
2. When Pakistan was carved out of united India in 1947, it was decided that Urdu would be made the national language to unite all the different Muslim ethnicities in the new country, although it was only spoken by 10 million people at the time.
3. Urdu borrows heavily from Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic, and Turkish.
4. Everyday spoken Urdu and Hindi are intelligible with one another, but the written alphabet is completely different. Some linguists consider them to be a single language.
5. The origin of Urdu is disputed by linguistics. One popular story, which some call a myth, is that Urdu (which means army camp in Turkish) was created as a “camp language” by soldiers in the Mughal army that spoke Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Hindi so they could communicate amongst themselves.
6. Urdu is written in right-to-left alphabet. It is a modification of the Persian alphabet, which itself is derived from the Arabic alphabet. The 38 letters of the Urdu alphabet are typically written in the curvy calligraphic Nasta'liq script. Arabic is more commonly in the Naskh style.
7. Nasta’liq is notoriously difficult to typeset. The last handwritten newspaper in the world is in Urdu.
8. Nasta’liq is also difficult to code. Which is why Naskh is quickly pushing Nastaliq off the web. Most credible Urdu sites – BBC-Urdu, Dawn.com Urdu, Geo.tv Urdu, Urdu Voice of America, Alarabiya Urdu – use Naskh rather than Nastaliq. The same is true for social media sites -Facebook, Twitter, and most blogs – all use Naskh.