A book review of Zubeida Mustafa’s My DAWN Years – Exploring Social Issues.
I recently told Zubeida Mustafa that I had an issue with the subtitle of her memoirs. I feel her years at DAWN were more meaningful than simply the pursuit of social issues, important as they are and clearly close to her heart. With over 30 years at DAWN, many of which were in the position of a senior editor, Zubeida had a more significant impact on the newspaper than perhaps she cares to lay claim to – out of her inherent modesty. Her years at DAWN did see a shift in editorials, from ambivalence to clear positions on issues that matter – democracy, pluralism and rights of the marginalised, to name a few. If Ahmad Ali Khan (the editor for most of her years at DAWN), was her mentor, Zubeida too, in her own quiet way, exercised a significant influence on the newspaper’s journey. Continue reading “A woman of quiet influence”
THE infamous legacy of ‘enforced disappearances’ that the Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet left behind has, unfortunately, been picked up by Pakistan. This phenomenon is today a source of great human agony in the country with thousands believed to have been abducted, many for political reasons.
Balochistan has suffered much. One cannot be certain about who is behind this torturous form of suppression of the freedom of expression. One hears of the ‘agencies’, Baloch dissidents, RAW agents, religiously inspired militants and others being involved. Continue reading “Guns or books?”
IS Pakistan’s political process moving in the direction of Ayub’s basic democracy with its manageable electoral college of basic democrats? Senate elections– as quite dramatically opposed to results in bye-elections to PA and NA seats post-Panama– have shown how readily political satisfaction may be obtained for and by the wise who are convinced they know better than the broader mass when it comes to picking appropriate parliamentary personnel. Democratic purists may not describe senators as public reps, but perhaps the intention is to revamp the manufacture of suitable public representation.
Thus, given the shortcomings embarrassingly apparent in parliament, some have been touting proportional representation and party lists. Others recommend reducing the minimum voting age: the young have such a fresh untutored approach. A like-minded school would facilitate expat voters who are away from it all and so can be trusted to be more objective about things back home than locals with antiquated party preferences who live too close to the ground for the right perspective. Then take electoral procedure and preliminaries: Delineating constituencies afresh should be understood as necessary updating and revision: Not gerrymandering to compensate for earlier gerrymandering. Continue reading “‘The moving finger . . . ‘”
DIAGNOSIS of cancer in any patient is not only stressful to the patient but also the family who looks after the cancer patient. Here in our country the patient and the attendants receive no counselling. When the oncologist suggests the line of treatment — surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy depending on the type and stage of the cancer — the patient and his family have no inkling of the outcome. They are not told about the suffering the patient will undergo or his/her survival rate. Continue reading “The dilemma of cancer caregivers”
AS the forces of feminism grow in strength, it is heartening to see women mobilising themselves and rising to fight their own battles. It is clear that the seeds of awareness that were sown in the 1980s are now bearing fruit.
We see many young faces taking up the cudgels. They are the generation which reacted to the oppression of their mothers in Zia’s Pakistan and the heightened misogyny of the post-9/11 years. Continue reading “March of women”
THE disputes between India and Pakistan have cast a long and dark shadow over their relationship since the two countries stepped out of colonial bondage in 1947. The circumstances surrounding their birth made it inevitable that ill feelings would mar ties and make coexistence difficult.
But did it have to be so forever? This question is now being asked by sane and rational people on both sides of the border. Even after seven decades that saw a major reconfiguration of the map of South Asia through three wars and the breakup of Pakistan, this question has a strange urgency to it. Continue reading “Love thy neighbour”
In January 2018, Lahore, the seat of government of Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab, played host to the Children’s Literature Festival (CFL), a unique experiment in making education a fun activity. Thousands of children gathered on the scenic lawns of the historic Lahore Fort to hear stories, listen to music and songs, and watch plays and dances.
But this was not an entertainment event alone. It was more like a gigantic, unconventional school, and in many cases the children were their own teachers.
When a pioneering journalist pens her memoirs, you pay attention. Especially when she is Zubeida Mustafa of Pakistan, a long-time feminist and champion of social causes who, from her editorial perch at the daily Dawn, witnessed momentous transitions in the country’s media and political landscapes for over three decades. Beyond being a witness to change, she has also, as she realises with a thrill, “been a part of it, at times driving it and at times being driven by it.”
The narrative in this slim hardcover, My Dawn Years: Exploring Social Issues, is quintessential Zubeida Mustafa: direct, understated, deep, nuanced, thorough — and meticulously indexed. Black and white photos, though somewhat grainy, are well captioned, providing a pictorial reference to many of the events and people mentioned in the book. Continue reading “Integrity above all”
ON a bright sunny winter day of January in Lahore, Pakistan’s renowned poet Amjad Islam Amjad spoke to a huge audience of young people. “Karo jo baat karni hai. Haan sunn lo dosto/Jo bhi dunya kahay/Uss ko parkhay binaa maan lena nahin (Speak out what you want to … Listen to what the world says/But don’t accept it without weighing it),” he exhorted the listeners. Amjad was speaking at the inaugural session of the Children’s Literature Festival. In a few words he captured the spirit of the CLF.
Launched in 2011 to introduce children to the power of the word — how to think and how to express oneself — the CLF opens for them the fascinating world of books that are the natural kin of words and language. It is appropriate that young readers should also learn to use their mind, which, unfortunately, our education system does not encourage them to do.
Focused on rote learning, schools and teachers resort to a one-way flow of communication in which students are expected to listen and learn. Questions are taboo and, unsurprisingly, children are lulled into a world of conformism where they lap up whatever they are told. Education is not participatory and the students’ contribution to their own learning is minimal.
The festival opens up a fascinating world of books for children.
The CLF, which has had 45 sessions all over Pakistan in big cities and small, is now gradually emerging as a people’s movement offering an alternative narrative to what our education system presents. According to its founder. Baela Raza Jamil, over a million children have been reached in the seven years since its inception. Now schools in remote areas group together to hold such festivals, initially under guidance from Baela’s team. The idea has been taken up in some cities of India and Nepal from where interested people attended some CLF sessions in Pakistan and returned impressed.
The festival held at the Shahi Qila Lahore in partnership with the Walled City Lahore Authority had a different dimension which underlined the importance of such events for the children of this country. Thanks to WCLA’s restoration work at the walled city we have yet another piece of heritage to introduce to our children. The CLF wisely used this opportunity to connect the children with their past, their culture, natural beauty, music, art, et al. Not only would they have returned home on those two January days with serenity in their soul, they would have imbibed love, generosity and tolerance for a lifetime.
According to a widely cited poet, Dorothy Nolte, “Children learn what they live”. A day at the CLF was enough to instil in them all the positive qualities our education system fails to do in 10 years. This holds true especially if the exposure to such an experience is on a regular basis.
The key lesson the CLF offers to our education authorities is that the best form of learning is participatory and interactive. When a child is acting in a play or in a theatre, singing or reciting, experimenting with material related to STEM subjects as she did in Science Fuse and the pottery, sculpture, bookmaking workshops, she is learning many skills much faster than she would have in a classroom reading from a textbook. At the CLF children used all their faculties when they participated in a session.
Take Atif Badar, a passionate actor, director and drama teacher who describes himself as “a children’s person”. He held five interactive theatre workshops and story-singing and dance sessions with hand puppets which were the best learning experience the children could ever have had. Atif not only told his own stories, he also encouraged children to join in with theirs. His stories and puppets were lessons in the universality of love, peace and tolerance.
In a session ‘Socho aur Bolo’ (think and speak) children were invited to share their views and experiences on issues ranging from anxiety, anger and other topics taken from a narrative. Thus they learnt how to analyse and think critically.
With continuous research, the CLF should break new ground. It is important that the organisers do follow-up sessions with schools that have participated in a CLF to assess the impact it had on the students. Thus the CLF can be fine-tuned further. As it is, I found the 45th session that I attended in Lahore was markedly more participatory and interactive from the point of view of the young audience than the first session in 2011.
The Teachers’ Literature Festival was launched in 2013 when its need was felt but only three sessions have been held so far. It is now widely recognised that our education system would improve considerably if teachers were more motivated and committed. What could motivate them better than the TLF? Workshops, discussions, lectures, films and plays for teachers could do wonders.
What makes a life interesting, well lived? Doing something you love, despite the adjustments that have to be made, and doing it well; travelling to new countries; meeting new people; making professional contacts with a wide range of people — and then leaving the world on a high note. That would be the definition of a life well and fully lived.
Judging by that criteria, Zubeida Mustafa, journalist turned social activist, has led a truly remarkable life. In her book, detailing her 30 plus years working in Dawn’s editorial department, she brings her own unique perspective to how she started out, and how she – and the paper – evolved over the years, with the changing times and the fast-moving wheels of technology. My DAWN Years – Exploring Social Issues is not just an account of an individual’s life but that of an institution, and on occasion, it is difficult to extricate one from the other. Continue reading “A woman of substance”