OBITUARIES should not be set aside for another day. But I am writing one after two years when I have summoned up the courage to write about a man who was hanged on May 6, 2015.
There was a time I wrote frequently about Dr Zulfiqar Ali Khan when he was living. I wanted to save his life. He remained in prison for 17 years — seven years on death row — before the hangman got him. The night before his hanging I had received a desperate message from Justice Project Pakistan if I could help get him clemency. I, a retired newspaperwoman, have no clout. The next morning, JPP informed me that Zulfiqar was no more and I felt I had let down his two young, motherless girls. I had also failed the cause of education in Pakistan. Continue reading Sorry, Dr Zulfiqar→
NEARLY 60 years ago, an epic Partition novel was published in India. It became an instant hit. Jhutha Sach narrated poignantly the epochal events of the time. Its author, Yashpal, a communist revolutionary who had spent many years in British jails, also captured the disappointment of the masses at their failed expectations. They had been promised much more than what they received.
This powerful book, written in Hindi, received a second lease of life after 50 years. The author’s son Anand translated the book into English. This is not that Dawn, the English title, has certainly introduced Yashpal to a new generation of international readership. In this journey, involving the crossing of borders that Jhutha Sach has undertaken, lies the importance of translation of literature. It is increasing as the book trade goes global. Though in the world market only 4.5 per cent of the books sold are translated works, in different non-English speaking countries the ratio is significantly higher. Thus a third of the books published in France are translations from other languages. In the Netherlands, this ratio is 45pc. Continue reading New horizons→
IN August, Pakistan will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of its independence. This has understandably spawned a spate of soul searching. It was in abundance at the Karachi Literature Festival. The session titled “Pakistan: a fragile state or resilient nation” focused entirely on the state and didn’t address the issue of resilience at all. The state was held responsible for all the evils that have befallen us.
Unsurprisingly, the speakers concentrated on identifying the villain of the piece that was said to be the ‘state’ — an abstract term. As the discussion proceeded, the state became the “invisible state” and then the “deep state”. The audience clearly understood that these terms referred to the army which has played a central role in determining Pakistan’s destiny. Continue reading Blame rests on ….→
A YOUNG mother recounted to me her harrowing experience of her daughter’s schooling in Lahore. The child was asked by her teacher to report on her classmates who spoke a language other than English in school.
When I heard this I was saddened but not shocked. Many parents have had a similar experience. Worse still, many believe that this is the only way to learn English. Continue reading Why English?→
WOULD you expect to see Qurratulain Hyder’s Aag ka Darya on the shelf of a public library in Glasgow? Probably not. But I actually found Annie Apa, as she was fondly called, in the Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL). The discovery was made more exciting by the fact that the library was a distinguished one as only a feminist library can be.
Set up in 1991, the GWL has grown and never looked back. In 2015, it celebrated the 25th year of its existence. Containing 30,000 books on women or by women (about 20,000 writers), the GWL is distinct from other libraries by the feminist ownership shown by those who manage it and those who use it. Continue reading Changing Lives→
Nadia (aged 14) is a typical victim of the tyranny of the English-language Hydra in Pakistan. Coming from an underprivileged socio-economic background, this girl is required to master an alien language if she wants to realise her dreams. Thanks to the easy accessibility of electronic media and a concerted movement for reform by concerned members of civil society, public interest in education has been stirred, and expectations are high. There are millions of teenagers like Nadia who want to acquire a good education to uplift their socio-economic status. But many are headed for disappointment. The facilities needed to educate such large numbers have not been created in Pakistan by the state, notwithstanding the growing demand. Worse still, the curricula and textbooks have not been designed to meet the specific needs of these children. Hence, aspirations and motivation will not prove to be enough to help Nadia and others like her to achieve upward mobility.
Although there are many hurdles in Nadia’s way, language − especially English −is a major one. Even though the government institutions may not be insisting on English as the language of education, their poor performance disqualifies them as trendsetters. Given the ambiguity in the official education policy, the English-language Hydra has become the driving force. This policy was announced in 2009 by the education ministry in Islamabad, as it was its prerogative to lay down the guidelines for the entire country. The policy defined in detail its vision and strategy, but it was vague about the language to be used as the medium of instruction. It was left to the provinces to decide whether they wanted to use the national or regional language in the public-sector primary schools in their jurisdiction. But it was specified that English would be used to teach science and maths in Years 4 and 5 in these institutions. Private schools were given a free rein. They generally opted for English. In 2010, constitutional amendments devolved powers to the provinces. To the detriment of all, the provincial governments chose to be equally vague and adopted an ad hoc approach to language in education. There has been no clarity in the governments’ policies ever since, on account of the policymakers’ ignorance of education and language-learning matters and their misguided belief that English promotes progress. Their failure to adopt a firm approach on the medium issue has allowed market forces, societal pressures, élite private-school owners (some with political clout) and the leverage of foreign aid givers to gain the upper hand.
A PARADOX of the modern age is that as the world shrinks to become what Marshal McLuhan termed a global village, borders that separate people from one another are proliferating and becoming increasingly impenetrable legally. This is happening in an age when mobility is on the rise and people are leaving home in larger numbers than before. Some have experienced migration thrice in their lifetime.
Generally, writers and analysts focus on the political, economic and sociological dimension of crossing borders. Attention is focused on governments’ policies of making foreigners’ entry difficult into their country, the impact migration has on the host nations’ economy/politics and the challenges of integrating migrants from diverse cultures into a cohesive society.
There is yet another aspect of crossing borders — the human aspect. Few take note of it though its impact on an individual can be poignant and generational. It is only the personal becoming the political that draws attention. Continue reading Crossing borders→
PAULO Freire, the Brazilian educator and author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, said education should aim at teaching students to think critically. They should work with the teacher in creating knowledge.
Freire believed that students should do a lot of “problem-posing” and then seek answers through their own experience and thought processes to discover the route to change.
Can we hope to achieve this change through the kind of textbooks used in our public-sector schools? For decades, critics have mourned the dismal state of textbooks in Pakistan. But no one has batted an eyelid. Continue reading Textbooks of hate→
FOUR years ago, on a leap day, a young man of 28 walked out of Haripur jail to his freedom. Now when he looks back at this great event in his life, he describes his feelings on the occasion as ‘confusing’. It felt surreal, he said to me, as he looked back to that day. “I was asking myself, ‘Is this really happening to me?’”
Sohail Fida was hauled into prison in 2000 when he was only 16 years. Allegedly false charges of murder were brought against him and a confession extracted by torture.
Despite his incarceration for 12 years — five of them on death row — Sohail did not lose hope. His story is one of grit and courage. It is a story that inspires. Continue reading After freedom what?→
CAROL Loomis, an American financial journalist, who retired in 2014 as senior editor of Fortune magazine, once wrote, “Writing itself makes you realise where there are holes in your thinking.”
She added, “I am never sure what I think unless I see what I write. I believe the analysis part of you kicks in when you sit down to construct a story or even a sentence.”
This is a succinct but profound statement which, unfortunately, our education system operating in a largely oral environment does not recognise. When we cannot even understand the link between language and communication how can we ever realise the significance of articulating our thoughts accurately and cogently. Obviously, no one cares because our education is not designed to inculcate critical thinking in our students. The less they think and question, the happier are the educators who can continue to operate in their comfort zone. Continue reading Joy of writing→