I spent two years studying Urdu. It was by turns tiring, fascinating, and tedious, but the result of those two years of study is that I can converse with more or less anyone across Pakistan about more or less any topic that comes up. It was worthwhile, and I would recommend it to anyone.
Yet modern Urdu is a flexible beast and has taken on a great deal of English vocabulary. Many Pakistanis will, in the course of conversation, flick English words into the mix – even words they don’t actually understand themselves: “actually”, “safety point of view”, “sincere”. Some even flick back and forth between English and Urdu at dizzying speed, one sentence in each language, like some linguistic version of alternating current.
The other day I was trying to explain to our electrician that I wanted to install mosquito lights in our new house. I took a deep breath and explained, in flawless Urdu:
“You see, dear brother, they are lights which are attached to the ceiling and which give out a strange sort of blue light. When mosquitoes and other flying insects see this light they are attracted to it, and when they fly into the light they are killed, and our home is protected so that my children can sleep soundly at night. Tell me, what are they called?”.
He thought for a moment and nodded.
“Ah yes” he said in Urdu, and then, in English:
Why did I bother?