Why are our students not avid readers?

By Zubeida Mustafa

SOME students were once asked why they read books — that is books other than their course books. Their answers were quite varied: to kill time; to increase their knowledge; because they were asked to do so by their teacher; to fulfil their social needs; to develop their personalities. Very few said that they read for pleasure. When young people are not reading books voluntarily or because they derive a sense of satisfaction from it, it is not strange that they are not forming life-long reading habits.

Obviously when a person feels under a compulsion or pressure to read, he will abandon is books as soon as he no longer feels the need for them. While a number of young people are reading books as a duty, there are a number of others who are not reading at all, their prescribed texts excepted.

A National Book Council survey conducted in 1981 found that 20 per cent of the students questioned said that they did not like to read. Even those who read, devoted most of the Continue reading “Why are our students not avid readers?”

Slow acceptance of a major breakthrough: Computerised calligraphy

By Zubeida Mustafa

IT IS now eighteen months that computerised Urdu nastaliq calligraphy has been in use in the country but it has yet to produce the impact on Urdu printing it could have been expected to. Only one machine is currently being used in Pakistan to bring out an Urdu daily from Lahore.

Why this delay in response? Not that the inventor, Mr Ahmed Mirza Jamil, has not Continue reading “Slow acceptance of a major breakthrough: Computerised calligraphy”

Woes of the printing industry: Need for duty cuts, cheap newsprint, incentives

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE TWO major problems facing the printing industry in Pakistan are the high cost of production and the poor quality of service provided. Identifying these two factors which determine the state of the industry today, Mr Ahmad Mirza Jamil, the outgoing Chairman of the Pakistan Association of Printing and Graphic Arts Industry (PAPGAI), points out that if the industry is surviving in the country it is because printers are operating in a seller’s market. The dismally low literacy rate, the poor reading habits of the people and the scarcity of low-priced books and literature are key indicators of the state of the publishing and printing industries in Pakistan.It is not surprising to find these industries in a poor state.

In a society where education is at a discount, the elements which go into the making of education also tend to be ignored. As compared with the publishing sector, printing is better off because it caters to multifarious needs other than those of the publishers and stationers. The printer gets a substantial part of his business from the orders he receives for the printing of labels, cartons, pharmaceutical literature (which the majority of consumers cannot read), invitation and greeting cards and calendars. There is urgent need to look into the problems of the printing industry not only to promote the cause of education and literacy. But also because printing is one of the major industries in the country.

According to Mr Jamil, it employs nearly 300,000 people and is the second largest industry in terms of manpower employment after textiles. In Karachi alone there are some 3,000 printing units. If nothing else, the size of the industry itself warrants that it be given due attention.

 A service industry

Printing is essentially a service industry, says Mr Mirza Jamil. But unlike other services, nearly 70 to 85 per cent of the sales proceed go towards meeting the cost of raw material. Hence it is difficult for a printer to reduce costs unless he is provided paper, ink, box board, graphic films and other such items at lower prices.

Mr Jamil feels that the government’s policies have not been very helpful in this respect. Import duties and sales tax on the raw material used in printing are exorbitantly high and, with the gradual appreciation of foreign currencies vis-a-vis the Pakistani rupee after its delinking from the dollar, the landed cost of imported machinery, paper and other raw material, as also the duties and taxes levied have shot up immensely.

Giving a few instances, Mr Jamil points out that in June 1981, the import duty on printer’s ink was 40 per cent on the c&f value. Over and above this there was a sales tax of 10 per cent which meant an actual tax of 54 per cent on the c&f value. In January 1982 the sales tax stood at 20 per cent and an import surcharge of 5 per cent had also been imposed. As a result the actual taxes went up to 73 per cent on the c&f value.

Tax burden

 In January 1983 a year after the delinking of the rupee when a dollar was valued at Rs 13, the duties and taxes on ink in effect amounted to 95 per cent on the c&f value as it was in January 1982 — an increase of 76 per cent over the June 1981 rates. Board grey on which there is an import duty of 50 per cent, a sales tax of 10 per cent and a surcharge of 5 per cent, now yields revenues amounting to 91 per cent of its cost in June 1981. The taxes on machinery and spare parts amount to 76.7 per cent, on graphic films to 58.5 per cent on printing plates to 76.7 per cent and on paper board to 46- 120 per cent depending on the c&f price of paper. In view of the fact that the cost of paper alone makes up a substantial part of the cost of the finished product (70 per cent in the case of books), the heavy imports on this item used in printing has not helped the cause of the industry.

We have been retrogressing. In the early fifties, printing machines could be imported free of import duties. Today they carry an import duty of 40 per cent, a sales tax of 10 per cent and a surcharge of 5 per cent. Under present conditions, the local manufacture of raw material for the printing industry also has not helped. Thus 75 per cent of the printing ink used in the country is locally manufactured and it is given preference because it is readily available. But it is more expensive than the imported stuff because the import duty, sales tax and excise duty on the ingredients of the locally manufactured ink are so high that it costs more than the imported ink.

Similarly, the locally produced paper is unsatisfactory in quality and in spite of the heavy duty on imported paper, the local paper cannot really compete in price with the imported one.

 A damaging device

A damaging move taken by the Government was the imposition of sales tax on some d products in June 1981. This was done through the device of rescinding the Government notification of June 1951 which dealt with sales tax exemption. A new notification was issued which listed a few items such as account books, exercise books, maps, charts, stationery, cartons and calendars on which exemption was to be granted. All other goods were subject to sales tax. Since all the raw material used by the industry is already subjected to sales tax, such tax on the finished product virtually amounts to double taxation.

Mr Jamil notes that it is next to impossible for the printing industry to claim refund of sales tax, since the evidence of the sales tax paid on the raw material cannot be produced. Few printers import their own raw material. On a representation made by PAPGAI in October 1982, however, the government agreed to maintain the status quo in the matter of sales tax on finished products until a final decision is taken.

Mr Jamil hopes that the 1981 notification will be withdrawn. The other problem faced by the industry is the absence of quality. This Mr Mirza Jamil feels is to be attributed primarily to the scarcity of trained personnel and the absence of competition. Although services account for barely 15 to 30 per cent of the cost of printing, it is the key factor in determining the quality of the finished product.

Training in skills

 Mr Jamil compares the printing technician to the artist. Just as the quality of an artist’s drawing can either enhance the worth of a piece of paper or reduce it to scrap, similarly the printer’s skill determines the worth of a printed piece of paper. And yet Pakistan has no up-to-date training school for printers. The only facility available is at Lahore, but here Mr Jamil complains obsolete machinery is used to train students in outdated techniques.

Repeated representation by PAPGAI to the government to open training centres in up-to-date methods have produced no response. As a result, most big presses provide on-the-job training to their technicians. But according to the outgoing Chairman of PAPGAI, this has proved to be a costly process. The trainees initially lack the knowledge and skill to handle the machinery so that breakage and wear and tear are much more than normal. Moreover, the “Dubai Chalo” trend has hit the printing industry as much as other sectors and the most slcilled and best trained technicians tend to migrate to the Middle East.

How to improve quality?

 How can quality be improved? Mirza Jamil suggests that the Government should help to establish training schools for printers. The import of printing plants should be allowed free of duty so that those who wish to train technicians are not discouraged by the high cost of the machinery. PAPGAI itself has started a free correspondence course to train technicians. This will certainly help but will not suffice. Increasing competition can help to improve quality says Mr Mirza Jamil.

Although many printers would not agree, he insists that operating in a seller’s market the printing industry can get away with shoddy work. If the cost of machinery and raw material were to be considerably reduced, it would provide the incentive to new entrepreneurs to enter the field, thus giving rise to the much needed competition necessary for efficiency and quality. This would also create the compulsion for those in the printing industry to introduce modern management techniques and use the appropriate equipment for a particular job, which is not the case at present.

 Suggestions

 The outgoing Chairman of PAPGAI has specific recommendations to make. A commission should be set up to investigate the state of the printing industry and to fix standards of production. The levies on printing machinery and raw material be reduced or eliminated altogether. Facilities be organised for the training o{ technical hands. And finally, to encourage educational publishing, newsprint be imported duty-free for books and special printing machine be imported for the printing of textbooks.

Unless the printing industry is promoted as a low-cost concern, inexpensive books and reading material cannot be made available to the people. And when the tools of learning are beyond the reach of the common man, literacy and education tend to become the privilege of a few. The case for promoting the cause of low-cost and quality printing is a strong one.

If PAPGAI has failed to make an impression on the government it is not surprising. It does not constitute a powerful lobby since its present membership is just a fraction of the total number of printing • plants in the country. Since many of the printing presses are small concerns, they tend to be so occupied with their own management and operation that they have no inclination to participate in PAPGAI activities.

Source: Dawn, February 27, 1983

 

Woes of the printing industry: Need for duty cuts, cheap newsprint, incentives

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE TWO major problems facing the printing industry in Pakistan are the high cost of production and the poor quality of service provided. Identifying these two factors which determine the state of the industry today, Mr Ahmad Mirza Jamil, the outgoing Chairman of the Pakistan Association of Printing and Graphic Arts Industry (PAPGAI) points out that if the industry is surviving in the country it is because printers are operating in a seller’s market. The dismally low literacy rate, the poor reading habits of the people and the scarcity of low-priced books and literature are key indicators of the state of the publishing and printing industries in Pakistan.

It is not surprising to find these industries in a poor state. In a society where education is at a discount, the elements which go into the making of education also tend to be ignored. As compared with the publishing sector, printing is better off because it c to multifarious needs other than those of the publishers and stationers. The printer gets a substantial part of his business from the orders he receives for the printing of labels, cartons, pharmaceutical literature (which the majority of consumers cannot read), invitation and greeting cards and calendars. There is urgent need to look into the Continue reading “Woes of the printing industry: Need for duty cuts, cheap newsprint, incentives”

Publishing industry’s travail : Book production a high risk business

By Zubeida Mustafa

 BOOK PUBLISHING is a high risk business in Pakistan, says Mr Shams Quraeshi of Mackwin & Co. who has been in the book trade since 1947. Returns are slow in coming, hence not many people with capital to spare wish to invest in it. They would rather opt for an industry with quicker and guaranteed returns.

Even banks regard books as poor risk. Thus one can get a bank loan of Rs 80,000. against paper reams worth Rs 100,000. But as soon as the paper is converted into a book, no bank is prepared to accept it as security to advance a loan.

Malik Noorani, whose Maktabe-i- Daniyal has published the works of Faiz, Mushtaq Yusufi and Josh, considers himself to be lucky if he breaks even. “You have to be an entrepreneur, gambler and philanthropist to be a publisher. You also need a Qarun ka khazana and Ayub ka sabr,” sums up Mr Noorani, “I do not have the first, though I have the second.”

He admits that he manages to sell off all the books he publishes because he prices them abnormally low, which would not be feasible were he not subsidising his publications from his income from the sale of law books through the Pakistan Law House, which he runs at the Pakistan Chowk. In law books it is a seller’s market, Continue reading “Publishing industry’s travail : Book production a high risk business”

Publishing industry’s travail: Narrow market, poor technology inhibit expansion

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN 1978, the year for which full statistics are available, 642,000 titles were published in the world. Out of these Pakistan’s share was a meagre 1,317 titles, whereas Japan and West Germany, with smaller population produced over 43,000 and 50,000 titles respectively.

This projects a rather gloomy picture of the state of our book world. Things are said to Continue reading “Publishing industry’s travail: Narrow market, poor technology inhibit expansion”

DOOMSDAY: year 2001 Beef Rs. 100 a kilo, chicken Rs. 90: tiny flat rent Rs. 8,000

By Zubeida Mustafa

What will life be like twenty years hence? If you read science fiction and have a lively imagination you might conjure up fantasies of space travel, computers and robots. But if you are a hard-headed realist your thoughts should turn to how 154 million — instead of 85 million —- impoverished people will eke out a living in an underdeveloped country.

Lite, at least in Pakistan, is not going to be easy at the turn of the century. Problems are to be anticipated if projections made by experts are to be believed, and there is no reason why they should not be. This is how life will be in the year 2001: Karachi is a city of 18 million.

A middle class family like that of the Ahmads lives at least 50 kilometres away from the city centre where accommodation is relatively cheaper the rent of a tiny flat being Rs. 8,000 per month.

Thatta is a suburb of Karachi and given the pressures on trains and buses it takes Mr. Ahmad three hours to commute between home and place of work every morning.

Transport is not the only problem. There is not enough food to go around so it is rationed and Mrs. Ahmed spends hours standing in queues. Food is expensive too beef sells at Rs. 100 per kilo, chicken Rs. 90 per kilo and eggs cost Rs. 25 per dozen.

At the end of the working day Mr. Ahmad walks down fifteen floors rather than wait for a lift. When he returns home at 8 p.m. there is no recreation to look forward to. Continue reading “DOOMSDAY: year 2001 Beef Rs. 100 a kilo, chicken Rs. 90: tiny flat rent Rs. 8,000”

What our students get by way of history and social studies

By Zubeida Mustafa

Lubna was not even .four when Bangladesh was born in the midst of blood and tears. She was obviously too young to understand what was happening. Today Lubna is nearly fourteen and is appearing for her class nine examination this year. She still does not understand what happened in 1971. And you cannot really blame her for her lack of knowledge and understanding. Lubna is an intelligent and widely-travelled child who is definitely brighter than the average student of her age. All that her Pakistan Studies textbook tells her is that in December 1971 “half the country had been separated”. Fortunately she does not remember that in Class Five she had read in her Social Studies textbook, ‘Tne defeat of 1965 war did” not bring any change in the attitude of Bharat. It went on trying to harm Pakistan. This time it tried its luck on the eastern front. East Pakistan was surrounded by Bharat . . . A great number of Hindus lived there. Through its agents and other self seekers Bharat at first caused great troubles in East Pakistan and then attacked it from three sides .  The war continued for three weeks and ended in the creation of a separate state called Bangladesh.” Continue reading “What our students get by way of history and social studies”

Dr Schimmel & her sufis

By Zubeida Mustafa

“THE BEST ambassador Pakistan could ever have in Germany.” That is how a West German official described Dr Annemarie Schimmel. She is a lot more. In her quiet but keen manner she projects what is so beautiful and mystifying in the East. In Pakistan, Dr Schimmel needs no introduction though in West Germany her admirers are confined to a small circle of orientalists and, of course, those who are in any way interested in Pakistan.

Dr Annemarie Schimmel
Dr Annemarie Schimmel
The research she has carried out on Iqbal’s works and her publications on Mir Dard, Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai and on Urdu literature generally have made her a familiar figure in literary circles here and even otherwise. Her frequent visits to Pakistan – in November she was here on her fifteenth trip – have also brought her in close contact with the land and the people.

A visit to Dr Schimmel’s home in Bonn’s Lennestrasse is quite an experience. It is like a journey to the orient in the heart of the West. Her living room and study are full of big and small souviners she has carried back with her from the east. The huge rilli piece pinned on the wall, the silver scrolls containing her honorary degrees from the Universities of Islamabad, Hyderabad and Peshawar, the Kufic and Naskh styles of calligraphic inscriptions and the paintings by Chughtai and other artists give an oriental touch to her home.

As she enthused about Pakistani handicrafts, Dr. Schimme! brought out a Sindhi kurta embroidered in rich hues and held it up admiringly. This little gesture, more than anything else, revealed her love for all that is traditional here.

Dr. Schimmel lives in Bonn for six months, where she is busy writing books, and for six months she teaches in Harvard. But she draws inspiration from the East as was clear to me from the discourse she went into on the colour combinations used in Sindhi embroidery. Why has someone not researched on this fascinating aspect of Sind’s handicraft, she stopped and wondered.

Dr. Schimmel’s interest in Pakistan, its languages, culture, and religion is quite fascinating. It was the Turkish language which first attracted her to the East. Gradually she was so taken up by her study of mysticism that she soon found herself learning other languages – Persian, Arabic, Urdu, Pushto, Sindhi – to keep up with “her sufis”, as she calls them. It was not just the sufis who drove her but also a quest for knowledge.

A friend had asked her to write an introduction to his book on the Makli Hills. While looking for material to acquaint herself with the subject, she discovered that most of this was in Sindhi. She simply went on_to_ learn the language. And that introduced her to yet another Sufi – Shah Abdul Latif.

Islam is another passion with Dr SchimmeL She did her doctoral research in Islamic studies. Not only the religion but also Islamic art and calligraphy fascinate her. Blended with her deep interest in sufism, her insight into Islam and Islamic culture has helped her to produce some of the best literature on Islam. One of her most outstanding publication is Mystical Dimension of Islam which was published in 1975. Her works Islamic Calligraphy and Islamic Literature in India had appeared earlier. Then came books on Dard, Shah Abdul Latif and Maulana Rumi. Her latest works which have just been published or are forthcoming are Islam in the Indian Subcontinent, Mystical Poetry in Islam and Veneration of the Holy Prophet in Islamic Literature.

 Given her deep interest in Islam, it is not surprising when people, especially Germans, ask Dr. Schimmel what her own faith is. She replies without much. ado: “I am a moderately born Christian.” And then she goes on to explain how she can look objectively at Islam without being sentimental about it.

 

feels this absence of subjective involvement gives her greater credibility and she can project more convincingly than a Muslim can all that is good in Islam. And there she is right because Islam, Sufism, Iqbal, Shah Abdul Latif and others acquire a new meaning when seen through Dr. Schimmel’s eyes.

From Dawn Archives

Published in Dawn, February 17, 1982