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Struggles of a Pendu studying English Literature


Hiba Hussain

Being Pakistani citizens, we all must have heard and used the term Pendu (a villager) for people who might not look so fashionable or for those who do not have modern habits. But I believe that the term Pendu is only applicable to the people like me who belong to a Pind (village) and when I am using this term in this blog, I will only be using it in this context.

What do you think happens when a Pendu gets an admission into an English Literature Department? I can tell you that we Pendu people have to go through many struggles once we step foot into an English Literature department. I had passed my FA exam from a local college and got the opportunity to study in the prestigious department of English Language and Literature of university of the Punjab. And that was the time my struggle began. I had come with different expectations in my mind regarding the lectures.I, like many others, had came there to learn English not literature. The word literature was as alien to me as cows flying in my small village. In my very first lecture of History of English Literature, I had both my eyes and mouth opened with shock when my teacher asked me to define literature.“Everything that is written on paper is Literature”, I replied. That is all I knew and that is all I “could” know. There were some other students who had done their intermediate in Literature and they gave such examples and references from the books and authors that I had never heard before, not even in my dreams.

The first difficulty thatwe Pendu have to go through is to speak in English in our classrooms. I was not used to of speaking in English at all. I was and still am a very fluent speaker of Punjabi. Our teachers had set this rule to speak in English while asking a question or raising a point during lectures. It was to improve our spoken English skills.But for the people like me, it proved to be a method of shutting our spoken skillsbecause many a times I had something to participate in the discussion but I did not know how to explain it in English. I couldn’t get over this fear till the end of my second semester and kept getting poor grades in class participation.

The second struggle began when I was repeatedly asked this question that why I chose to  study English Literature. I had a different answer each time. Once I replied that I chose English department because I couldn’t get into a law college and there was a huge laughter on that. I thought, well, everybody found it funny so I changed it the next time I had to answer this question. “I chose English Literature because I want to pass CSS exam”, I said and again there were smiles on the faces of our seniors and they were giving me the look that “You know nothing Jon Snow”. Well, after two days I thought I had found a perfect answer to this question. So the next time I was asked why I had chosen it, I replied with huge amount of confidence, “Ma’am! I chose Literature because I love to read books and Poetry”. That’s great, my teacher said and a huge smile spread on face but it only lasted for two seconds as my teacher’s next question almost made me faint. “So, would you like to tell us what kind of books and poetry you like to read?”She asked. And I had my mouth shut and my brain yelling, “twinkle twinkle little stars”. My teacher repeated the question and I uttered “Mr. Chips” is my favorite book ma’am because I had studied it in intermediate course. She nodded in okay and moved on to the next student and I had a sigh of relief.

I can tell you the real reason why I chose to study English Literature. I thought that I was  good at English and I could improve it and get a good job at the end. Never in my dreams had I thought that I would have to explain what Jane Austen was thinking while writing her novel “Emma”or what does that red color of strawberries in Tess’s hands suggest? I am a pure Pendu who had never really stepped foot outside my small town before coming to university. My village’s people thought if I could say “shut up”and “how are you” fluently, I was qualified to become an Angraiz Comment(The English). I had never ever read a book out of syllabus and neither anybody had ever asked me to. I was considered an intelligent student who could cram through each and every page of a text book. But here, I had to read books and explain the context, literary devices, genre and historical background. In the very first week, I heard many students talking about a book called, “Forty Rules Of Love” and almost everyone had either read it or heard about it. So I thought I should start reading it too and I did. I thought, well, it seems like a very light read judging from the title. Poor methought it would bea love story with forty ways to fall in love. Well, you all know how wrong I was.

The next struggle was harder and it still continues. People in my village ask me what I am studying in University and I have no idea how to explain it to them. What should I tell them? Well I am studying Shakespeare and Wordsworth and having insightful debates in my lectures. They don’t really care about it. So I tell them, I am studying English and there next question puts me in a dilemma again. But you already knew English, tell us what will you become after your graduation? A teacher hopefully, I reply each time. Haww, if you wanted to become a teacher, you could have gotten a job in the village’s school after Matric. Why are you wasting your time in University? they say. I honestly have no idea how to respond to this except a smile and I believe every Pendu studying English Literature has to go through this situation one way or the other.

Pendu or not, many people have to go through some difficulties during their educational experience. Eventually,most of us learn to cope up with their shortcomings but the struggle is real.However, I know some of my fellows who are still facing these problems and struggling to overcome their fears.I think friends and fellows can play a huge role in making things easy for each other. What we can do is help out such people in any way we can so they do not lose their spirit. I strongly believe that being fellows and colleagues, it is our duty to be considerate towards each other. Nobody is incompetent, it’s just that some of us have different backgrounds than the others and it takes time for some of us to get the hang of things. Let us just learn to go easy on one another and be helpful. After all, the best human is the one who helps another human being.

Hiba Hussain— The writer is English literature student and is pursuing her bachelor’s degree from University of the Punjab, Lahore