Tag Archives: Urdu

Embezzlement imbroglio: Urdu varsity campus head seeks chancellor’s help


A Rs150 million embezzlement scam at the Federal Urdu University of Arts, Sciences and Technology (FUUAST) Islamabad campus continues to plague the campus. Now, the campus in-charge has approached the university chancellor — the President of Pakistan — through a letter requesting that action be taken against the vice chancellor and treasurer over their alleged roles in the scam.

The money was allegedly transferred from a university account to a private one and then ‘invested’ in some private businesses, all of which purportedly happened under the noses of top management.

After learning of the illegal account, Karachi campus-based VC Dr Zafar Iqbal set up an inquiry committee headed by newly-appointed campus in charge Lt Gen (retd) Shahid Aziz.

Four university employees involved in opening the bank account were suspended following the inquiry report.

The committee found that Personal Secretary to the Vice-Chancellor Abdul Rashid Bangash, Accountant Hammad Kayani, Audit Officer Rana Asif, Deputy Registrar Shah Muhammad and another official were involved in opening the new account.

But later, the VC separated Aziz from the inquiry and formed another body.

Now, Aziz has written a letter to President Mamnoon Hussain to bring “corruption and malpractice being perpetrated by the university’s senior leadership” to his attention.

In the letter sent to the president, Dr Iqbal is accused of aiding in the illegal activity and later attempting to help cover it up.

“When the scope of the inquiry was broadened by the convener, the VC tried to administratively squeeze him into resigning from his post,” a brief to the president read.

On Monday, sources said that Aziz seemed ready to give in to pressure from top management to resign and quit the office, but other staffers urged him to stay till the saga is resolved.

“When the VC has rid of all my administrative powers, there is no use sitting here,” Aziz told The Express Tribune.

Meanwhile, over a hundred varsity teachers and other staffers continued protesting against the suspension of the four officials, claiming it was an attempt to make lower staff scapegoats. “Down with the VC and his aides” and “no more corrupt management” were among the slogans being chanted.

The top management has transferred three of the ‘active’ officials — deputy controller examination, assistant registrar and the personal assistant to the VC — to the Karachi Campus to fend off backlash from employees.

Fearing further ‘punitive’ action from top management, capital campus employees have obtained a stay order from the Islamabad High Court. The Deputy registrar said that till September 6, nobody can be transferred or suspended by the Karachi campus management.

A two-hour meeting was also held at Karachi Campus on Tuesday, but details were not provided by the VC’s office when contacted.

As for students, uncertainty continues to grow. “I am here for my project completion but the protest has halted every activity at the campus,” said Fawad Hussain, an Information Technology student.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 6th,2014.

Financial fraud: Responsible officials pass the buck at federal Urdu university


Since reports emerged of a Rs150 million scam at the Federal Urdu University of Arts, Sciences and Technology (FUUAST) Islamabad campus, top management has spent much of its time passing the buck.

The money was allegedly transferred from a university account to a private account and then ‘invested’ in some private businesses, all of which purportedly happened without coming to the attention of top management.

Five university employees involved in opening the bank account were suspended following an inquiry report.

According to university sources, after learning of the illegal account, VC Dr Zafar Iqbal set up an inquiry committee headed by newly-appointed campus in charge Lt Gen (retired) Shahid Aziz.

The committee found Personal Secretary to the Vice-Chancellor Abdul Rashid Bangash, Accountant Hammad Kayani, Audit Officer Rana Asif, Deputy Registrar Shah Muhammad and another official were involved in opening the new account.

The five employees were suspended immediately, but the VC later reconstituted the committee by removing Aziz for unspecified reasons.

Sources at the university said that Aziz was investigating the issue thoroughly and that the names of senior officials from the university’s Karachi campus had also popped up during the investigation.

University officials requesting anonymity said that senior officials in Karachi did not want names from that campus to be revealed, so another five-member body was constituted headed by Faculty of Engineering Dean Dr Abdul Razzaq Memon. The other members of the new committee include Dr Masood Mashkoor, Dr Mehmood Khan, Dr Nazeer Ahmed and Syed Ibne Ali Jafri.

Money in, money out

The scam surfaced after a university official attempted to shift Rs10 million and was unable to provide bank officials with proof of authorisation.

Under Accountant General of Pakistan Revenue rules, opening a separate account without government authorisation is illegal.

On Tuesday, some university officials started protest against the administration for suspending their colleagues, claiming they were “innocent and just obeying orders of the higher-ups.”

Last week, the branch manager was also summoned by the Gen Aziz-led committee. He denied any role in the transfer of the amount.

A senior teacher at the campus claimed the suspended officials were just used as pawns and the real culprits should be arrested. “High-ups are getting away with the scandal because they verbally ordered the accused officials to open the account and there were no written instructions,” the teacher said.

Another official said that efforts were being made to remove the campus in-charge as he was the one who brought the issue to notice and a further probe could land senior officials in hot water.

The university spokesperson said he was not authorised to comment on the issue, while other senior university officials could not be reached despite several attempts.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2014.

For Urdu …press 1

Most denizens of the blighted city of Karachi have heard these few terse words at some time or the other, when contacting PTCL, Worldcall, Sui Gas, K-Electric and at least another 30 organisations that have discovered the benefits of employing a telephone answering service. I have been told that around 94.6 per cent of the population of Karachi now speaks a language which used to be known as Urdu, but which, in the fullness of time, has spawned another lingo referred to in certain circles as Engdu (or Urlish) which, after systematic and perpetual use, has now overtaken the original language. So when a caller discovers he has had no electricity for 14 hours, or that his landline is dead and he can’t use the internet, or he hasn’t had any water in the pipeline for a fortnight, he presses 1. In case you belong to the tribe that watches only cricket and football and the Turkish sitcoms on the telly, here is an example of Engdu in a talk show on a local TV channel distinguished for hosting discussions where participants don’t converse but scream and shout at one another … at the same … in the belief they are increasing the ratings of the channel. Moderator: Acha Siddiqui sahib, yeh criticism jo Qureshi Saheb nay farmaya against paragraph four of the recent amendments in the local government ordinance, jo recently launch huwa hai, us key baray main aap kuch kehna chahte hain?

There are, of course, notable exceptions to the finger-pressing exercise. In some organisations, such as the three five-star hospitals, the four five-star hotels, the three gentlemen’s clubs and certain banks and newspapers, English has been kicked upstairs as if it was the Senate. And you are asked to press 1. It doesn’t always stop there because, if you are lucky and don’t get an engaged signal and don’t have to listen to a lot of sales crap about how good they are and how many products that they have to offer, you still have to press three or four more buttons before finally getting through. Though I am equally at home in both languages, I invariably press the button for English, whether 1 or 2. This is because the operator often has a problem understanding my Urdu which somebody once described as the lingo used by the Rampur taxi driver. I don’t know if this was meant as a compliment or was just an observation. What I do know is that I still speak the Urdu I learned as a child in Bhopal from our neighbour who was a settler from Allahabad. I still refer to a door as a darwaza and not as a gate and a gate as a phatak and not as a gate. Sugar will always be shakkar and not chini. And a chapatti will remain a phulka.

All this reminds me of the remark allegedly made by another citizen of Allahabad, albeit a more illustrious one, who had a tryst with destiny. One morning shortly after the Partition, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru came to Delhi airport, to see off the two sons of his friend Sir Ross Masood, who were flying to Karachi. Addressing the young men he said, “Pakistan to ja rahai ho, magar Urdu mut bhoolna”. (You are traveling to Pakistan, but don’t forget Urdu). Nehru was bilingual and apparently couldn’t converse in Hindi. I wonder what his reaction would have been had he known that one day the stars of the Bombay Talkies would be speaking a new hybrid of the Indo-Aryan group of languages known as Hindlish. Your guess will be as good as mine.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 29th, 2014.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.

Promoting Pakistani literature: Urdu literature festival kicks off tomorrow


A two-day Urdu literature festival will kick off at Comsats Institute of Information Technology on Friday. The afternoon session will be held at Islamabad hotel.

The festival, being organised by Perveen Shakir Trust, will provide an opportunity to writers, intellectuals and academics to discuss the challenges being faced by Urdu language. Prominent personalities including Mustansar Hussain Tarar and Talat Hussain will also attend the festival. Poetry and short stories will be narrated in an interesting way. Talat Hussain will recite the poetry of Noon Meem Rashid. A gazal evening will also be arranged where famous singer Sara Raza Khan will perform.

“The main objective of the festival is to promote Pakistani literature and young writers,” Mazharul Islam, a noted writer and concept director of the event said sharing the salient features of the event at a press conference here on Wednesday.

“We want to give confidence to young writers, promote Urdu literature and creative values in society”, he added. The cultural heritage and legacy of our legendary writers should be transferred to the new generation. He regretted that English literature is being given more importance than Urdu. The festival aims to highlight the challenges to Urdu language and literature and devise concrete measures to cope with the situation.

A large number of prominent and young writers and poets from far-flung areas like Hangu, Swat and others areas are expected to participate in the festival. We have tried to ensure participation of writers from marginalised sections of the society.

He said that a young writer, Haleema Bushra, hailing from Hangu, will be given a special award as an appreciation of her work in Urdu literature. Another student from the Peshawar University will also be given a gold medal.

Perveen Shakir Best Fiction Award will also be given to Rosie Dastagir, a British writer of Pakistani origin, for her novel “A Small Fortune”.

Pakistani literature translated in Italian language will also be displayed at the festival, he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 29th, 2014.

Intermediate studies: Urdu exam cancelled over possible leak


Sahiwal Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education (BISE) Chairman Dr Anwar Ahmad cancelled the intermediate part-one Urdu examination on Wednesday over fears that the paper had been leaked. Students of intermediate part one were supposed to sit their Urdu exam on Wednesday.

Just before the evening exam, some parents informed the chairman about a guess paper (mock exam) which had been circulated all over the division.  They told him that several shopkeepers were selling the mock exam at exorbitant rates claiming that it was the actual exam that the students scheduled for the evening exam would take.

Dr Ahmad got hold of the mock exam at 1:30pm, just as the exam was about to begin. He compared it to the original exam and found up to 60 per cent similarities. He then issued orders for the exam to be cancelled. BISE announced that the exam will be held on June 3, after all the other exams ended. The BISE had also initiated an inquiry. Dr Ahmad said it was the BISE’s duty to ensure transparency and merit in the examination system. “We cannot discredit the hard work put in by most of our students,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 29th, 2014.

Tishnagi – for the love of Urdu poetry


Indian writer, singer and poet Mitu Bakshi, whose first language is Hindi and not Urdu, launched her Urdu poetry book titled, Tishnagi or The Thirst, in London at the Nehru Centre earlier this week.

She first started taking interest in Urdu at the age of 17; it was when she saw Indian ghazal singer Begum Akhtar perform in 1972. While speaking to The Express Tribune the writer said: “Unn ko sunn kar hum pagla sai gayai [when I heard her, I lost myself a little],” describing how she felt during Begum’s performance.

She revealed how she had become obsessive and was completely mesmerised by Begum’s personality and stature. She couldn’t sleep at night and tried her best to get in touch with the legend, which she eventually managed to do. “She called me and asked me to sing for her,” recalls Bakshi. Her passion did not go unnoticed by Begum and soon she garnered the opportunity of becoming her idol’s student.

While singing, Bakshi would sometimes forget the lyrics and instead of stammering or pausing she’d confidently make up her own lyrics in the moment and continue and that is how her journey as a poet began. Her book comprises around 100 poems and ghazals that she has written over the years. It took her around two and a half years just to compile the book. “It has the story of my life and my journey, but mostly the book is about love. The first chapter is called Ishq Naama,” said Bakshi.

Speaking after the book’s Delhi launch, actor Shabana Azmi commented on the book and the poet saying: “Minu Bakshi’s poetry is steeped in love and even more importantly in romance  — a virtue fast-disappearing in today’s world.  There is a simplicity with which she surrenders to love and makes the reader yearn for more”.

Tishnagi includes transliterations in both, Hindi and English, thus, it reaches out to a wider audience. “The fact that a non-Urdu speaking has written in Urdu, is what makes the book stand-out,” said Bakshi. When she visited Lahore a few weeks ago she realised that many people are interested in launching the book in Pakistan.

While Begum was her main inspiration, she is a fan of many Urdu poets and it was difficult for her to name just a few: “I have read Momin, Ghalib and Zauq amongst others. Parveen Shakir is the only female poet I really know and like,” she said, adding, “To write you must read.”

The book was awarded the best book of Urdu poetry for 2013 by the Bihar Urdu Academy.

Bakshi is a woman of many talents: she is a Himalayan rally car driver, has recorded Punjabi folk songs commercially and is a professor of Spanish in Delhi.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 27th, 2014.

Like Life & Style on Facebook, follow @ETLifeandStyle on Twitter for the latest in fashion, gossip and entertainment.

Globalisation: ‘Urdu facing no extinction threat’


Noted writers and literati have observed that even though Urdu is not facing the threat of extinction due to globalisation, some scholars are unnecessarily painting a gloomy picture about its future prospects.

They were speaking at a one-day Urdu conference titled “Globalisation and Future of Urdu Language”, held at the National University of Modern Language (NUML) on Wednesday.

At the conference, arranged by the Department of Urdu Language and Literature, renowned scholars and academics from different universities presented their scholastic views on the future of Urdu as lingua franca.

Renowned playwright Dr Asghar Nadeem Syed, who was the chief guest, said that there are a number of myths and misconceptions about globalisation and its impact on languages, cultures and societies.  “Our intelligentsia and scholars have painted a doomsday scenario with regard to its effects on the Urdu language,” he said, noting that globalisation was a centuries’ old process of labour migration, academic exchanges, technology transfer, trade, and sharing of systems and philosophies.

Dr Syed said there was no threat to Urdu from globalisation, rather “we ourselves were responsible for its decline”.

University of Gujrat Sialkot campus Director-General Dr Anwaar Ahmed said, “Technological developments and modernity should not scare us. We should accept them to keep abreast of the changing patterns and times.”

Islamia University Bahawalpur Faculty of Distance Learning Dean Dr Najeeb Jamal said that Urdu will continue to exist till the time laymen speak it. He urged the need to translate books in other languages into Urdu to understand other societies, languages and culture for our own learning.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 15th, 2014.

60% fifth graders unable to read second grade English, Urdu or Pashto

KARACHI: Caught  between a declared education emergency and a change in the medium of instruction from Urdu to English, it seems the students of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) are losing ground and direction. This year’s Annual Status of Education Report (Aser) shows school-going children who are actually attending school are doing poorly in all aspects of learning.

Rural K-P

The survey, conducted in rural areas of 25 districts in K-P, targeted 14,705 households in 741 villages and assessed 45,290 children, aged between three and 16. Out of these, 39,923 children between the ages of five to 16 were evaluated on their ability to read Urdu/Pashto, English and solve basic math problems.

The report describes the assessment tools for language and arithmetic as “designed to cover up to class two and class three level competencies, respectively, as per the national curriculum.”

The private and state divide

According to the Aser report, 51% of grade five students enrolled in private schools were able to read at least one story in Urdu/Pashto, whereas only 35% of their class fellows at public schools were able to do the same.

Similarly, 56% of private school students in class five were able to read English sentences, while the figure stood at a mere 34% for public school fifth graders. When tested on arithmetic competencies, 34% and 48% of government school and private school fifth graders, respectively, could work out two-digit division.

The ups and downs since 2012

Overall, learning levels of K-P’s students remained as unimpressive in 2013 with just minimal improvement across classes. Around 61% of class five children surveyed could not read a class 2 story in Urdu/Pashto in comparison to the 57% who could not do so in 2012.

However, 37% of third graders could not read Urdu/Pashto sentences, which is a significant drop from last year’s 55%, showing some improvement.

For 26% of first graders, Urdu/Pashto alphabets remained unreadable.

English language learning did not fare any better; only 39% of children in class five could read class-two-level sentences in the language. In the previous year, this figure was as high as 47%. Similarly, only 13% of third graders were able to read class-two-level English sentences as compared to 22% in 2012.

The number of children in grade five who could do two-digit division dropped from 44% in 2012 to 38% in 2013. Even at the level of grade seven, 34% of students were unable to solve two-digit division, highlighting inadequate learning levels.

Gender gap

Incidentally, Aser 2013 indicates boys outperformed girls in both literacy and numeracy skills. The survey comprising 62% boys and 38% girls noted 51% of boys could read sentences in Urdu/Pashto while only 40% of the girls could do the same. As far as the English language is concerned, at least 59% boys could read as compared to 40% girls.

In terms of mathematical abilities, 53% boys were able to do subtraction sums whereas only 41% girls could do the same.


Enrolment rates showed a slight improvement where 86% of students between the ages of six-16 were in schools.

The rate of children out of school has also marginally improved. According to Aser, in 2012 around 16% of surveyed students were out of school, while in 2013 the number stood at 14%.

Apart from learning levels of students, Aser also looked at attendance, school facilities and the qualifications of teachers.

In 2013, student attendance in government and private schools did not differ much at 86% and 90%, respectively. These were calculated based on a headcount on the day of the Aser team’s visit.

In government schools, 14% of the teachers were absent on the day of the visit while only 6% were absent in private schools.

In terms of teacher qualification, both government and private schools were roughly on par. Around 35% of government school teachers had Bachelor of Education degrees, as compared to 33% at private schools.

A roof on my head

Complete boundary walls, an essential for safety, were missing in 44% of government and 12% of private schools. Furthermore, 43% of the surveyed government primary schools did not have toilets while the facility was missing in at least 12% of private schools surveyed.

Drinking water was another basic necessity which was missing – 26% of government schools and 8% of private schools did not have potable water for students or staff.

Academic facilities remained largely deficient in both government and private high schools. Only 24% and 34% of the surveyed government and private institutes had computer labs, respectively. However, books were largely available in the libraries of both types of educational institutes.


The survey teams do not just limit themselves to rural districts. In urban Peshawar, the Aser team assessed 1,379 children (including 37 % girls and 63% boys) on the same tools used on children from the rest of the districts.

The result did not vary much ­­— private school students there outperformed government school students. According to the report, only 11% of fifth graders could read a story in Urdu/Pashto, while at least 31% of private school students could do the same.

In the city, the gender gap was less prominent – 41% girls and 44% boys could read Pashto/Urdu.

English learning remained a major problem for government school students as only 12% of fifth graders could read the language as compared to 37% at private schools.

When tested on basic math skills, only 9% of government school fifth graders could perform two-digit division while 22% of private school counterparts could do the same.

Curriculum revision

For the academic session which began this year, the government rolled out a changed medium of instruction for government schools; science and mathematics are now being taught in English to first graders. However, given the dismal results reflected in the Aser report, which has been surveying learning levels for the past four years, a significant improvement should not be expected immediately.

Aser K-P Manager Afzal Shah told The Express Tribune the government’s effort is laudable, however, improvement in academic performance will not come overnight. According to Shah, for children starting first grade, studying and learning in a new language can be a difficult task as they have only been exposed to their native language at home.

“It further compounds the problem if the teacher is also new to the change,” explained Shah, adding there was a need for smart, long-term and sustained planning on the behalf of the government for the step to be successful in the long run.

Shah, who has been working in the education sector for nearly 10 years, said one-time trainings for teachers are not sufficient to familiarise them with a new syllabus. “In order to bridge the gap been formed after years of teaching in Urdu, the government needs to ensure that it regularly conducts capacity building exercises for teachers and trains them to become proficient in the new course,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2014.

Urdu Times: The news room

In the basement of a brightly lit South Asian video and DVD store situated in a busy thoroughfare of Jamaica, Queens, 61-year-old Khalilur Rehman adjusts his print glasses as he feverishly edits a hand-written Urdu article, which has to be sent to Lahore, Pakistan, where it will then be typed out.

On the opposite side of the cluttered table, his Hyderabadi wife, Anjum Khalil, patiently sifts through sheets of printed Urdu stories and scratches out and re-writes sentences. Old issues of newspapers, a few pens and highlighters, calendars and other office supplies lay carelessly strewn over the L-shaped desk setup, surrounded by four chairs and two desktops. A handful of overhanging wires connecting the computers with a router, scanner, fax-machine and printer dangle from various shelves and walls, giving the place an almost warehouse-like feeling. This is the New York newsroom of the oldest and largest weekly Urdu language newspaper, The Urdu Times. Run by the husband-wife duo, this Pakistani weekly is the most widely read Urdu language newspaper in North America and has 14 print and online editions in the United States, Canada and Britain. It also enjoys the largest circulation for an Urdu paper outside of Pakistan, according to its owners. And the paper’s free availability makes it even more unusual compared to other publications.

To keep up with a rapidly evolving news market, Khalil has also set up a website which allows him to cater to a wider audience. PHOTOS: PURVI THACKER 

Le(a)ding the market

Raised in Islamabad by an upper-middle class family, Khalil says he had “no real job” before he migrated abroad. “It was around 1979 and I worked in the floor covering or carpet business,” he reminisces. “I had no intention of publishing or doing any newspaper business.” His trajectory from an odd-job immigrant to the founder, editor and publisher of The Urdu Times has been remarkable for someone without any journalism background or publishing infrastructure.

At the time, Indian immigrants in New York had started publishing newspapers centred on South Asian news, which usually had a negative angling towards Pakistan. “Now I am a liberal person, but misrepresenting my homeland and community is not justified,” he says. He also recalls that during the 1980s there was a vacuum in the market for Pakistan-centric news. Both reasons spurred him to start his own newspaper, The Eastern Times, an English language weekly, as there was no typesetting or calligraphy for Urdu at the time. The paper eventually folded, but Khalil had set the wheels in motion. He had single-handedly “self-taught and self-made” a publishing business, in an environment where he had to rely on borrowed teleprinters from the Pakistani consulate.

The New York newsroom for The Urdu Times where news is procured from various sources and reworked for a Pakistani American audience. PHOTOS: PURVI THACKER 

This venture eventually paved way for The Urdu Times in 1991, at a time when there was a dearth of Urdu journalism. “I moved shop from Manhattan to Jamaica, Queens, and stopped carrying bags containing sheets and rolls of faxed news from the Pakistani consulate,” he explains. Instead he started toying with existing technology to get him his news. With his number 286 basic computer, he managed to churn out stories for the tabloid-sized Urdu publication from Pakistani newspapers and utilised the then newly developed 12-point font Urdu typecast and stencils for headlines. Every week he booked a call to Lahore, where he would have had someone record five or six Urdu stories emerging from the local media and phone record the clips. He would then transcribe those stories, develop new angles and re-write them. “My subject matter was anything to do with Pakistan, South Asia and Muslims,” he says. He would then distribute these papers in a bookstore that existed by Grand Central (now by the MetLife building) in Manhattan. With a staff of 18, consisting of four typists, he tried to sell the paper, but with scant luck. With limited Urdu newspaper readers in the community, who didn’t fully understand the business or anything about local advertising, Khalil had no other choice but to make his paper available for free so he could improve readership. 

Khalilur Rehman and his wife Anjum Khalil, the duo behind The Urdu Times, the most widely read Urdu weekly newspaper in North America.  PHOTOS: PURVI THACKER 

The Big (B)ad world

For Khalil, combining passion with technological advances was one thing, but using his entrepreneurial judgment to sustain the business was the need of the hour. Post-1995, the newspaper market expanded due to the rising number of Pakistani immigrants to the United States. Using the budding community as a resource, Khalil started procuring local advertisements ranging from halal meat in ethnic grocery stores, local South Asian travel agencies advertising for Haj, to Islamic community centre ads. He slowly progressed onto corporate ads, which consisted of Western Union money transferring, long-distance phone cards and cell phone ads. The engineers and doctors in the Pakistani community were prospering, and so local business advertisements also proved to be lucrative.

Khalil’s team in Lahore sends him a selection of daily news which he then uses his editorial judgement to pick, angle and handwrite into an article. The articles are then scanned and sent back to Lahore where they are typed out and resent to Khalil. The final assembled paper is then sent to a printer in Long Island City.  PHOTOS: PURVI THACKER

“Corporate ads brought in some decent revenue and our position as the only Urdu language paper appealed to the community,” he says. For the non-computer savvy older immigrant community that was used to reading Urdu papers, The Urdu Times served as a dual resource — for them to get news in their mother tongue from Pakistan along with staying updated with the local happenings and deals in New York.

Old editions of the newspaper can be found at their office in the form of hard copies. PHOTOS: PURVI THACKER 

Muhammed Farooqi was appointed editor of The Urdu Times, just when Khalil moved to Jamaica, Queens. But soon, he too realised that it was important for the community to get a taste of the day-to-day issues and incorporate hyper local elements. To fill that gap, he started The Pakistan Post, which focused on in-depth, long form community-centric news. “For the older generation, reading a newspaper is a basic, it is a necessity,” he explains.

While Farooqi and Khalil have long since consolidated and set a standard advertising rate so that both papers can mutually coexist, other small-time Urdu papers have sprung up to contend within the South Asian community, which has caused a divide in advertising revenue. Both, The Pakistan Post and The Urdu Times can be found stacked side by side atop racks at several of the city’s community newspaper distribution spots, but often smaller Pakistani weeklies will be strategically moved to the top. Popular spots of distribution are outside mosques, community centres, South Asian grocery stores and ethnic neighbourhoods like Jackson Heights, Murray Hill and even outside the Empire State building.

Overseas sources, local angle

Both papers have moved their major operations to offices in Lahore. This outsourcing has been strategically done in keeping with the rising costs and lowering readership. “Do you know that one man’s payroll here covers the cost of employing four people in Pakistan,” explains Khalil. He says he made the conscious decision of hiring a 10-man team in Lahore, simply because it was more economical to cover staff as well as printing and production expenses.

Free copies of The Pakistan Post and The Urdu Times can be found on various street corners in Queens and Manhattan. PHOTOS: PURVI THACKER 

His crew in Lahore usually sends him a selection of daily news, which he then uses his editorial judgment to pick, angle and handwrite into an article. “I pay heed to the American point of view and what my community here would want to hear,” he says. The articles are then scanned and sent to Lahore where they are typed out, sent back and reworked before Khalil and his wife send in the final pages for layout and graphics back to Lahore. The assembled product is then given to Linco Printers based in Long Island City. This process is repeated weekly and both of them even work through the weekend. “I don’t even know what a Sunday is anymore,” his wife admits.

Farooqi follows a similar pattern of PDF, e-faxing and proof reading. “I am the biggest labourer in my office,” he jokes.

The Urdu Times also has its share of regular columnists and contributors in every city where it is distributed. Professors, students, community leaders and even one-off writers vie to send in a piece. “Look, our contributors do this purely out of passion, we hardly pay them more than 0 a month, so there are minimal op-eds or original content,” says Khalil. He mentions an older gentleman in New York who provides a nazam (poem) on current affairs every week.

Imran, a Pakistani American, skims through the classified section of The Urdu Times. The paper enjoys a large readership in the New York desi community. PHOTOS: PURVI THACKER 

The newspaper’s burgeoning readership across cities such as New York, Washington DC, Miami, Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta, Toronto, Bradford, Montreal, Manchester and Birmingham is a testimony to its outreach and influence. While the paper’s Toronto and London office have a staff of 10 each, most of the American office branches don’t have more than a team of two. “Our Canada and UK issues are flourishing,” he says. Hence, there are more pages in their issues as compared to New York. Khalil is blatant about the fact that “ads are the master” for a market like New York where circulation is estimated to be around 15,000 copies weekly. Sometimes if there are more classifieds (featuring property and rent ads or marriage ads), the pages can even go up to 16 or 17. Canada, on the other hand usually has an issue of 25 pages as the city pages featuring community-centric events and news are far more popular than the international news items.

All 14 editions of The Urdu Times are scanned and posted online as PDF versions. While the front page lead story for each issue is the same, because it is usually an international news item, a marked difference when comparing issues online are the changes in advertisements on the cover page and minor headline alterations, which cater to the local audience in each country. The masthead also remains uniform, with changes to the flag, depending on the country of issue.

A digital future

To keep up with the pressures of a rapidly evolving news market, Khalil has started a website that “puts all the news under one head”. He admits that it has become more about survival in such a struggling market and feels that the other 10 to 12 Urdu language papers are also ailing under the staggering pressure of digital and online world of news. “My wife is my biggest anchor and it is only two of us here in New York who are sailing this ship,” he says. His long-term vision is to develop a site with daily news updates or “pure news” and then devise various regional and hyper local verticals. “I want it to be like BBC Urdu and VICE.”

Farooqi concurs with the demand for online news, but feels that language-oriented newspapers have a bigger chance of surviving in a declining print market vis-a-vis English papers, which he feel are “already finished.”

Khalil has even incorporated the naskh script from the existing nastaliq script in an attempt to keep up with the recent changes made to the Urdu script and make it more searchable for mobile devices and the web. The nastaliq script is more cursive and ornate, and is still used in The Urdu Times, whereas the naskh script is more angular and straight. “My print reader is confused with this change, but it’s something they have to get used to. Anyways I am only giving myself another 10 to 15 years in this business,” he says.

The fax machine starts beeping and Khalil calls for his marketing manager. “Right now, this man is the most important part of my business,” he playfully adds as he archives yet another old issue in a back room where years of history lies stringed together in yellowing pages.

Purvi Thacker is a graduate from the Columbia Journalism School and currently works as a freelance journalist in New York. She tweets @purvi21. 

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, April 20th, 2014.

Unexplained absence: Urdu daily’s reporter goes missing

PESHAWAR: A reporter of a Urdu daily newspaper has been missing from the city since Friday night.

Reporter Safia Naz’s father told the police that she left for work on Friday morning but when he called her office at night to enquire about her whereabouts he was told she was on leave.

“We have starting looking for her,” said an official of the Yakatot police station while talking to The Express Tribune. “She was working as a reporter for Urdu daily Ghazi for the past year after completing her BA,” he said.

The official added the newspaper is not very well known and its offices are located in Sikandarpura. “Her father told us she left for the office in the morning as per her routine and told him to get her a rickshaw but it turns out she had taken a leave from the office,” he said.