There are times when a treasure trove of memories is triggered by some insignificant incident providing grist for my weekly Sunday piece. Rummaging through my study (a room, which according to my better half is a chaotic nightmare of books and papers) I stumbled (and I mean it in literal terms) upon a box of old audio cassettes. I quickly puffed away the dust coating the discovery (benignly allowing it to find a new resting place on nearby books and my favorite reading chair) and settled down to listen to the contents, pressing home the point to my wife that I had been one hundred percent right in refusing to throw the old and battered cassette player out of the window.

I must have dozed off (September mornings are very good for this strenuous exercise), when a long forgotten melody slowly brought me out of my well-earned rest. Seconds later, I found an ‘appreciating’ audience, consisting of two domestics and an irate female (who in spite of her fiery nature has been the best thing that has happened to me) gaping at me from beyond the glass paned door, as I happily added my voice to the song, “Oh! To be in Yingland, now that spring is heer” (the spellings are not typos, but exactly how the words are pronounced in the track).

Lord Curzon, the English Viceroy at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth century wrote an interesting story in his memoirs, the echoes of which could still be heard in the years of my childhood. In one instance his ‘Lordship’ appears to have been greatly chagrined by a petition which ended in the sentence, “You are the father of my children”. It must have taken quite some doing to calm the recipient down and convince him that the expression of devotion and humility should not be taken literally.

When people try to adopt words from a foreign language, the result is not only interesting, but often comic. Take for example the word ‘Laat Sahib’ used to denote a high ranking government official (the Viceroy or Governor in the pre independence days). I recollect the term being used by my late grandmother and some other relatives and always related it to a tower (with reference to the stone structure near the old city of Delhi known as Qutub Sahib ki Laat). I realised much later that the word was in fact ‘Lord Sahib’ and was then able to fully comprehend the true meaning of the rebuke “Laat Sahib ke bachchay” without googling fruitlessly to find out if and how towers reproduced. Take the word ‘Sahib’ - I have not been able to solve the riddle that if it was used to denote a member of the male sex, how come it got mixed up with the term ‘Mem Sahib’ for a Caucasian female.

Last year I happened to visit the local fish market in Rawalpindi in search of white pomfret, only to be confronted with a young man, who insisted on selling me ‘pamphlets’. Had I been of a frivolous character, I could have extended the argument that I was searching for a delicious member of the sea food family and not a piece of paper advertising something or the other. Nonetheless, I got my ‘pamphlets’ and returned home in a happy mood.

All said and done, English is a funny language where a wrongly placed punctuation can do awesome damage. One of my favorite books is one titled “Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation written by Lynne Truss. Readers may like to remove the ‘comma’ and see the result.

The lyrics of an old song probably rendered by the good old Lahoria Muhammad Rafi throws a question about how ‘put’ and ‘but’ are spelt the same, but pronounced differently. I will be much obliged if someone – anyone, of my readers can clear up the confusion.

Having spent hours mouthing the words “owe my toe” and “the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain”, under the eagle eye of my English teacher Mr. Alonso, I now realise the importance of learning a foreign language and learning it well. My advice to those intrepid ones trying to come to grips with this subject is not to give up hope, for not very far is the day, when they too will be able to pinch their tongue between their teeth, blow air out through the narrow space so formed and say “ssank” you just like an ‘yinglishman’.