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Friday, July 20, 2018

Lingua Fracas

How Mandarin, briefly, was Pakistan’s third official language and the overload of prettiness in the Trudeau portraits.

Written by Pratik Kanjilal | New Delhi | Published: February 24, 2018 12:57:10 am
Snubbed rather churlishly by the government in the early days of their visit, the Trudeau clan gamely tried to keep up appearances with excessively cute family portraits in Indian clothes. (Express photo)

In a bizarre game of Chinese whispers, sparked off by the cross-border infiltration of fake news, Indian media reported that the Pakistan Senate had adopted a motion making Mandarin the third official language of the nation. The mischief was started by the Karachi-based news channel Abb Tkk (numerology mania appears to operate freely across borders), which also complained that a foreign language was being promoted while indigenous tongues languished. Indeed, Punjabi speakers on the other side must have been mighty upset to learn this. They make up 44 per cent of Pakistan’s population, but Punjabi is not an official language.

The fake story was swiftly picked up by Times Now, ANI, Zee and India Today, and the last carried a smart headline beginning with ‘ni hao’, or ‘hello’. Though most of the news providers which were taken in have retracted their stories, the Pakistan Senate clarified that the motion in question had been of a specific, practical nature. It only recommended that “in light of the growing affiliation between Pakistan and China under CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor),” facilities to learn Mandarin be immediately made available to human resources involved in the project, to prevent expensive losses in translation. The Senate had only clarified the point, but since the Indian press has not exactly been mature in reporting relations between the neighbours, Pakistan Today retaliated with a cheap-shot headline: ‘Senate snubs Indian media’s claims.’

India Today believes it’s a hit in Switzerland. Apparently acting on its tip-off, the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship has sundered ties with Nirav Modi and Firestar Diamonds. It has to do with the photograph which will hereinafter, for all time, be known as The Photograph, which Nirav Modi is said to have muscled his way into. Klaus Schwab is founder of the World Economic Forum, and the suggestion is that Nirav Modi did not need the Indian government’s invitation to be in Davos and in The Photograph. However, the argument does not explain why he was not kicked out of the line-up, since the prime minister presumably has some agency in the matter. While India Today is claiming credit, Republic TV played up the story just as loudly, accusing Nirav Modi of “photobombing” the session.

Snubbed rather churlishly by the government in the early days of their visit, the Trudeau clan gamely tried to keep up appearances with excessively cute family portraits in Indian clothes which are very charming but never seen outside TV serials and banquet halls. Until Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh stepped in with his hostly duties, the most interesting story to come out of the visit was the arrest of two Dharavi kids, reported by Times Now. They were bikers who apparently couldn’t resist the open spaces in the roads in the wake of Trudeau’s convoy, and entered the security zone to show off their stunts. They are now in judicial custody, charged under three sections of the Indian Penal Code. And sadly, no one is going to agitate for their release.

Long after the debate over American exceptionalism is over, a chat on MSNBC tried to recapture its lost glory. Nicolle D Wallace’s Deadline White House had Jim Rutenberg of The New York Times for a guest, and the programme concluded that the US meddling with other countries was morally distinct from other countries meddling with the US. That hoary old line stands a little apart from the current discourse in the US, which is recalling the number of tyrants that US foreign policy has propped up and how many elected leaders it has pulled down, for geopolitical reasons rather than the pursuit of freedom.

And finally, a short-lived ‘Big Question’ on Times Now: “In 2015, court asked Choksi to file application each time he leaves India; did Cong govt follow up on this?” The only competition comes from an Associated Press photograph (by Carolyn Kaster) of a note that President Donald Trump holds in his hands at a session with schoolchildren and parents at the White House. The first few points are questions. The last is a reminder to appear to be forceful and receptive at the same time: “I hear you.” Loud and clear.

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