CAN we hope to hear news from Pakistan that brings some light to the end of the tunnel? It is a red-letter day when we do and one such day came recently when I read about a group of creative artists who have shown the courage to counter Pakistan’s biggest existential challenge — the indoctrination of youth by religious extremists and militants.
These artists have ventured to produce rational literature which they are disseminating among young readers to inspire some soul-searching within them. The graphic novel titled Pasban is designed to encourage the readers to ask questions on basic issues of the day and help them seek sensible answers.
This no doubt will be an uphill task considering the government’s own failure to counter the extremist threat. All it was required to do was to introduce liberal values through curricula reforms. The primary need is to teach children tolerance and Continue reading “Teacher in exile”
RUMANA Husain’s recently published Street Smart: Professionals on the Street comes as a reminder of how we are losing the city where many of us have lived and worked for most of our lives. Karachi is no more what I remember of it when I was a child.
Some categories of the blue-collar workers, as Rumana calls the people who are the subject of her book, no longer exist. Mechanisation, technology and lifestyles have made them redundant. That is change, as the new replaces the old. But the tragedy is that the street professionals no longer knit the community together as they once did. Continue reading “Save Karachi”
TALKING about prisons, the chief justice of Sindh said last Saturday that more than retribution and deterrence the main purpose of imprisonment should be reform and rehabilitation. In Pakistan, where the prison system is by no means in ideal shape — Karachi jail has 6,000 prisoners when its capacity is for under 2,000 — the need to address the moral correction dimension is conspicuously inadequate.
To step into this unsavoury situation with the idea of bringing about reform is in itself an act of courage. Saleem Aziz Khan, the founder of the Society for Advancement of Health, Education and Environment (SAHEE), has nevertheless decided to meet the challenge. Along with Azhar Jamil, he launched the four-step Criminon Programme in the Karachi jail in 2007. The two now want to expand the project as they feel they are making an impact.
Having borrowed the concepts from internationally recognised and tried projects, Azhar defends the project as being “a secular programme that teaches common-sense values”. Continue reading “Changing mindsets”
I met Moinuddin Khan, the author of In Search of Readers, in 1962 when I joined the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA), Moin Sahib, as we have always called him, was the librarian at PIIA. He is mainly responsible for kindling in me an interest in libraries. Books have been my passion all my life but previously I did not see the library as anything more than a room to stock the books in. The librarian was the person who manned this room, rubberstamped dates on the inside of the back cover, and arranged the books in their places on the shelves when readers scattered them thoughtlessly on the table. He also supposedly kept an eye on visitors to ensure they didn’t pinch any volume! Continue reading “Where are the readers?”
HASAN is a special child. He is autistic. Music inspires him and had it not been for his love of classical music which he shares with his grandfather, his mind would have continued to be caged. ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) prevents Hasan from connecting normally with the world around him because his communication skills have been impaired.
The magical effect of music on children has now been scientifically documented. Preschool teachers testify that sound — including language, poetry and music — positively helps a child’s mental and emotional development. Continue reading “Inspired by music”
IT is a pleasant paradox that in recent years literature festivals have taken Pakistan by storm when our society is not exactly famous for its reading habit. For long we have mourned — and do so even today — our failure to inculcate the love of reading in our children who grow up to be adults with no interest in books.
Hence the flood of events related to books and literature for people of all ages is something to celebrate. They are designed to promote the book culture. Continue reading “What’s in a book?”
PSYCHIATRISTS in Pakistan have been crying themselves hoarse about the rise of mental illness in the country. Ever since militants and religious extremists have unleashed their terror on the hapless population, the incidence of anxiety and depression has been on the rise. But these disorders are stigmatised and are not publicly discussed.
There is much talk about poor governance, corruption and even the falling level of tolerance in society but no one wants to mention the impact of these problems on the mental health of the people and how the latter’s attitudes and mindsets reinforce the conditions that gave birth to the problems in the first place.
In an article in the New Internationalist Magazine, Samah Jabr, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist in Jerusalem, pointed out that worse than the 2,133 deaths, 11,000 injuries and the destruction of countless homes caused by Israel’s brutal attacks on Gaza in July-August 2014 was the psychosocial damage inflicted by the war. She said, “the destruction of life at a physical and material level is also the destruction of a way of life, the destruction of a point of view: physical warfare brings with it psychological warfare”. She warned that violence will “beget an unending spiral of victimhood and revenge, of polarisation … [and] of further trans-generational trauma”.
This is precisely what is happening in Pakistan. Most upsetting is the psychological warfare taking place and the ground has been softened for it by the ineptitude and corruption of successive governments. The destruction of our education system, moral Continue reading “Breaking the cycle”
It was quite an extraordinary way of celebrating the 67th anniversary of Pakistan’s independence last week. Believing that they could usher in freedom/revolution by bringing their supporters out on the street, Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri succeeded only in creating polarisation and instability in a crisis-ridden country.
The two marches organised by these leaders have evoked strong reactions from political observers. A large segment of pro-democracy opinion views this show of force as an extra-parliamentary move by the opposition that could derail the democratic process and open the door for military intervention. There have also been allegations of collusion between the agitators and elements in the military. Others have defended the people’s right to protest against government excesses. The speculation of regime change has been intertwined with an ongoing discourse on the military-civilian role in politics. Continue reading “Rules of the game”
IN his newly published book, Baar-i-Shanasaee, Karamatullah Ghori, a retired Pakistani diplomat, recounts incidents from his professional life that make an interesting read. The book comprises character sketches of nine personalities who are dubbed in the book’s sub-title as the “history makers and history breakers” of Pakistan.
The book is by no means an objective historian’s analysis of its subjects — all of whom were politicians/military rulers, with the exception of Faiz Ahmad Faiz, the Lenin Prize winning poet, and Prof Abdus Salam, the Nobel Laureate scientist. The publication is more in the nature of reminiscences and the author vouchsafes for their authenticity as he was witness to or participant in the events narrated.
An anecdote from Ghori’s account of his encounter with Gen Pervez Musharraf struck me as worth recalling. Soon after seizing power in October 1999, the general visited Turkey where he had spent seven years of his childhood. The author was at that time Pakistan’s ambassador in Ankara. On seeing the ambassador’s personal library and on being told that Ghori was an avid reader, the general commented, “Mujhay parhnay ka shauq naheen”. (I am not interested in reading.) Continue reading “Book, not Facebook”