How it all began (1) 🇬🇧

On a sunny Sunday morning towards the end of May or beginning of June this year, I really can’t remember which day it was exactly, I went, as usual, to the Sydney Jones Library, at the University of Liverpool, where I was working at the time, to carry on with the first draft of my MA dissertation, which I submitted in September and the results of which will be make known in about two weeks’ time (stressful times!!!). Before getting down to it and in a desperate attempt to put off the work until you come to a sudden realisation (accompanied by an overwhelming feeling of panic) that it absolutely cannot be postponed any further, a phenomenon otherwise known as procrastination, I would always spend a little time doing something ‘fun’ before the feeling of guilt took over and forced me to focus on my studies. My something ‘fun’ at the time was listening to the BBC 4 radio which was food for thought, horizon-widening and witty.

I distinctly remember that late Sunday morning – sitting at a desk next to a massive window overlooking a garden square where on weekdays students would go and have their lunch, rest and/or study on lush green grass – the sky was clear blue, I was having coffee and listening to the radio – listening is perhaps a bit of an overstatement – I wasn’t particularly paying attention at the time – it was more like a background sound to me. I remember thinking that that moment was actually close to perfection. Little did I know that my life was just about to be turned upside down…

Though not really listening, I registered that a new programme, a Sunday Bookclub, was beginning. I like being read books to on the radio. You just close your eyes and if you let yourself go, within a couple of minutes, a mellow voice of a narrator takes you to places you have never dreamt of going to. This was, however, a discussion about a book, on the introduction of which I wasn’t focusing until I heard “Lahore, in Pakistan” (01:25 of this programme). It instantly drew my attention because the previous year I had a colleague from Lahore in Pakistan, and as I had met relatively few people from that part of the world, I found it rather fascinating and had read up on this city a while back. Going back to the BBC programme, the book that was being discussed was called The_Reluctant_Fundamentalist, and I found the whole programme  immensely entertaining, and most importantly – extremely intriguing, because they were constantly talking about its inconclusive ending and how much they wanted to know what really happened. It was so intriguing, in fact, that as soon as it finished, I browsed through the online catalogue to check if we actually had the book at the library. It turned out that we did, so I went one floor down to find it, another floor down to borrow it, went back to my desk on the second floor, and despite having made a solemn promise to myself that I would only start reading after I had done some work on my dissertation, I simply could not put it down; it was – as they say in the industry – totally unputdownable! I finished it the very same day!


I started digging deeper and the following day I discovered that there was actually a film based on the novel and under the same title. I watched and instantly fell in love with…the music. It was love at first sight and sound. The over-five-minute opening sequence featured one of the best songs and performances I had ever seen and heard in my life;  the song which ended the wedding sequence and then one towards the end – amongst the very best music I had ever experienced. A whole new world was opening before me. By the time I boarded the plane to Poland about ten days later, I had become perfectly familiar with the soundtrack and it was all I was listening to during the flight and when I was landing in my home country after an over three-year absence.


The holiday in Poland created a perfect opportunity for me to further indulge in this newfound passion. It took me only about 1-2 days of digging through the internet to discover the Coke Studio (Pakistan), a music television series which features live studio-recorded music performances by various artists, and build a bridge between traditional and contemporary Pakistani music. In the modern era of plastic pop and nudity in performances this music was like a breath of fresh air for me. Within a few days I was hooked. I must admit it was a slightly surreal experience: a Polish teacher of English living in Liverpool, in the middle of writing a dissertation on Latin American cinema, I spent two whole weeks whizzing through the wonderfully summer Polish countryside on the bike, covering between 25-50 km a day between my sisters’ houses and listening, and trying to sing along out loud, to Pakistani music, to such an extent that certain songs, for example  Tajdar-e-Haram,  Kadi Aao Ni,  Man Aamadeh Am,  Rangeela,  Yaar Vekho, just to name a few, even now instantly take me back in time to that holiday in Poland…How isn’t that surreal?

I wouldn’t have been myself, though, if I had stopped there. If you look at the videos which I’ve just mentioned, you’ll see that they are extraordinarily subtitled –  in three or even four different ways: the original language(s) (mostly Urdu), its/their Roman version, and finally –  the English one.  I soon became fascinated with Urdu – it sounded interesting and nothing like any of the languages I had studied before. I was curious about it – as a person who has studied (it 7-8 languages in my life (which by no means equals my ability to produce all of them), I thought I would be able to figure it out – find patterns, work out the grammar, etc. and was growing increasingly frustrated because I couldn’t!! I would spend hours trying to decipher it, but to no avail. As a result, when I was travelling back to Liverpool at the end of June, I had already made up my mind to … take up Urdu. The timing could not have been worse: I was just about to begin teaching on an intensive summer course at the university, had to seriously get down to writing my dissertation, but the urge was so strong that as soon as I got back home, I opened a student account on a website where I also have a tutor account, Tutor Hunt, and the very same day I received an email from a tutor who, in a very concise way, offered to teach me Urdu online. That tutor was B.


Little did I know that exactly four months later we would be driving in the streets of beautiful Islamabad listening to and singing out loud (B. more than me, he has a beautiful voice) the same (and more) songs with which it all began…

To be continued…









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