Mission Delhi – Dr Ubaidul Aleem, Chiniot Basti
One of the one per cent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
As the lungi-wearing young man complaining of a sore throat leaves with medicines, Dr Ubaidul Aleem turns to the small TV placed beside his desk and says, “My dream is to speak fluent English” – a pause follows here – “… and correct English.”
Dr Aleem, 40, is a bachelor of Unani medicine and surgery from the city’s Jamia Hamdard University. The Delhi Walla met him one late evening at his clinic in Chiniot Basti, a neighbourhood behind Sheila Cinema in Paharganj, central Delhi. Named after a district in present-day Pakistan, the basti was started by Partition refugees. Today it has migrant laborers from Bihar who make leather bags and footwear in the area’s sweatshops. When they fall ill, they come to Dr Aleem’s clinic.
Dr Aleem, whose forefathers have been in Delhi for centuries, speaks flawless Urdu. A man of literary inclinations, he quotes Urdu couplets in ordinary conversations. Isn’t it enough to excel in that language alone? Why is he obsessed with English?
“Besides doctor, I’m also in legal profession.” Hearing Dr Aleem’s flawed English gives a sense of that language’s elusiveness in a land where it is highly esteemed but is not the first language of its people. “Every morning I sit in Delhi High Court and work for causes pertaining to Muslim community. There, majority of problem solving authorities belong to upper class who speaks only English and that is why English speaking is very much necessary to take your problems solved.”
Framed photos deck the clinic’s walls: Dr Aleem with Punjabi singer Daler Mehendi; Dr Aleem with Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit. A large poster of the Swiss countryside is pasted on the wall behind his desk. He sits facing the neighborhood’s street that is lined with heaps of muck, waiting to be disposed off by the municipality. Across is a store selling Hindi film DVDs.
“You can say that I want to learn English to hide my inferiority complex. It is the tendency of every Indian that he wants to be a good English speaker. If I’m not a good English speaker, then the inferiority complex is there. This inferiority complex is because of our system.”
Pointing to the television, Dr Aleem says, “Very big example of inferiority complex is in front of your eyes. You see a idiot box and see the coverage of the programmes hosted by Barkha Dutt and Karan Thapar.” Dr Aleem is referring to two of India’s most influential television newscasters who conduct interviews and talk shows in English. “On the other hand, see the Hindi news anchors. Difference is always there. The gentry that watches the English news programmes is always top class. I was invited twice to be a part of the audience in Barkha Dutt’s show but I did not go. My English is bad. What if I was insult?”
Dr Aleem who went to Anglo Arabic Senior Secondary School, Delhi’s oldest educational institution, has been winning debating competitions in Urdu since he was in 3rd standard. “My problem is I think in Urdu and Hindi, not in English. In 2006, I go to British Council and do a 3-month capsule course in spoken English. The classes were two times a week. The fees was Rs 7,000. In the end of the course, I was still same.”
What, according to Dr Aleem, is wrong with his English?
“First, I can’t explain myself what I want to say according to my wish in English. But if it comes to explaining myself in my language, then I can explain myself better than millions of people.”
Coming back to his dream, Dr Aleem says, “I think I can achieve it. I need some good friends who speak good English and I need some time with them. I can learn from them.”
[This is the 49th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Outside the English speaking world
Watching Barkha Dutt’s English show
In important company
Urdu isn’t enough