Yearly Archives: 2020

Magic of theatre

By Zubeida Nustafa

A REGULAR event from the pre-pandemic age that I miss a lot is the Children’s Literature Festival spearheaded by Baela Raza Jamil. Held regularly all over the country, it was designed to unleash the power of the mind.

From the treasure trove of memories I have of the festivals, there is one that never fails to delight my heart. That was recorded at the Children’s Literature Festival held in Turbat in 2018. It was the theatre session in which a bunch of inhibited, shy and reserved youngsters comprised the participants. The resource person was Atif Badar, who struggled to overcome the language barrier with the help of two Balochi teachers. There was also the challenge of drawing the boys out of their apparent reticence.

Atif was directing a play that was to be presented before the chief of army staff. Sociocultural barriers also made the actors nervous as they were required to deliver a dialogue that to many of them must have appeared to be mumbo jumbo — Urdu not being their native language. Then something happened. With prompting from their teachers and the excitement of entering another world, the boys perked up, demonstrating confidence. Atif, who is always encouraging and reassuring as a good teacher should be, got these youngsters to perform a wonderful play, projecting the importance of storytelling and reading. The impromptu actors were wonderful and received a loud ovation from their audience.

Above all, the performers enjoyed the new experience. That is the magic of theatre. That has always attracted Atif to theatre in education which he believes is important to teach children the skill of communication and improve their confidence. He acquired his own skills from Sheema Kermani’s Tehreek-i-Niswan whose contribution to theatre in Pakistan is unmatched. Although he has been teaching theatre for 10 years in some prestigious schools in Karachi, there are few who really appreciate the value of theatre in education. At the most, theatre is equated with the annual play performed on Parents Day in schools. It is not a regular subject used as a tool of learning. Article continues after ad

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Cows, sheep, lambs

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

                                         Could one dub the military establishment a sacred cow? Risky: the figure of speech could be taken as mocking or belittling Hindu theology. Offenders could hopefully plead not guilty for the expression ‘sacred cow’ is common usage globally in the Queen’s English. But there is another pitfall – what about the subject to which the epithet is applied? If that is taboo for critical discussion locally and you broach it; you, rather than the sacred cow, could become meat for dissection (figuratively of course). To put it another way — it is politically unwise to offend the military establishment. But circumspection carried too far raises socio-civic issues, can leave the public proverbial ostriches with heads buried in the sand, for, in another sense, prodding sacred cows might be corrective politicking no matter how politically incorrect. The sacred cow of freedom of speech here is curtailed by two enormous public perceptions of religiosity and national security.

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The people’s man

BY Zubeida Mustafa

HOW the Single National Curriculum is being formulated betrays a gross ignorance of the principles of public policymaking. As I wait for the final document I often think of my friend Javed Hasan Aly who passed away last month of Covid-19, leaving his family and his many friends bereft.

I can imagine him shaking his head sadly and declaring that policymakers in Islamabad were violating public interest blatantly.

Javed was in the government himself (1965-2005), engaged in policymaking. He rose to the influential post of secretary Establishment Division. But he could make no impact. Why? He was so unlike the crowd in Islamabad vying for the boss’s favour. Whenever I teasingly referred to him as a bureaucrat, he would feign annoyance to remind me that he was a ‘civil servant’. “I have always striven to serve the people and that is why my priority has been to learn about the interests of the public”.

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True false disloyalty….

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

        ONE could well think Pakistan is short of problematic issues, for the focal topic of unflagging heated discussion among politicians, anchors, analysts — ongoing from the closing week of October — is the perspective on something that happened at the close of February 2019.

        The peg is what Ayaz Sadiq (the even-toned and even-handed Speaker of the House in the preceding PML(N) spell) had to say about an attitude towards it in Parliament on 28 October. Until tutored into thinking otherwise, I would have said ‘referred to’ February 2019 rather than ‘said about’ for he was just being childishly rude about a fellow parliamentarian, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, FM then and now, who he depicted as scared silly by possible developments back then. It was a cascade of unduly disparaging personal remarks in bad taste. It could have been ignored or condemned as such, instead of being officially exaggerated into serious aspersions on the part of the PML(N) upon military ability and attitude.  

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Media and crime

By Zubeida Mustafa

SEX crimes and child abuse are reported to be on the rise in Pakistan. So are mental illnesses and the reach of the media. This is not a coincidence for the correlation between them has been widely recognised the world over. The fact that has however not been generally understood, in Pakistan at least, is that many of these evils have always existed but are now being reported more extensively, unethically and unprofessionally with a lot of bias. Since the reportage is generally flawed it can be quite disturbing for a young view/listener/reader.

One may ask what has mental health got to do with it especially in children? There was a time when adults were very careful about what they spoke before children. Parents actually exercised ‘censorship’ on images whether in print or projected electronically. The simple reason for this caution was that a child’s mind is sensitive to all that it is exposed to till quite an age. How it behaves in life is to a great extent determined by childhood experiences. For instance, it is well-known that many of those who commit sex crimes have suffered sex abuse themselves in childhood, have experienced violence or have witnessed it. Add to this list the youth and adolescents who are exposed to pornography habitually.

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Tense in political culture

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

THE PTI government which has now been in office for more than two years still approaches the discharge of good governance primarily in the past and future tenses. It focuses unblinkingly on the black legacy of the tenures of the PML(N) and PPP that remains the prime mover (Pray, why not disenabled?) in Pakistan’s current dire civic and fiscal straits; and the rhetoric then moves into the future that the PTI will assuredly make golden. The trouble is the electorate tends to dwell more in the present.

The government is not unaware of this and, seeking to alleviate present distress, the PM reassures citizens by reiterating there will be no NRO: Once accountability puts paid to the PPP’s and PML(N)’s rotten dynastic party platforms and wickedly selfish unpatriotic leaders, national progress will be unimpeded. The political opposition is unmindful of public weal, and limited to saving its leaders’ skins. It is even heedless of national security. If this were indeed so the PTI would not need to point it out – the vote-banks would. No matter how they may be cheated, voters are not fools. For ordinary people the bald fact is the PTI commands present political space and is strongly affecting political culture.

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Get issues right

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE discourse on language in education has taken the intelligentsia by storm in the wake of the Single National Curriculum (SNC). The polarisation between various points of view is so intense that a meaningful debate is impossible. It is intriguing why the supporters of English distort some issues beyond recognition. Hence here is another attempt to clarify issues.

First it must be restated that the discussion is not whether children should learn English or a local language. Those who support the local languages as the medium of instruction have always added ‘and English must be taught as a foreign language’. I have yet to figure out why we are accused of pushing out English from our education system to make our children backward and incapable of handling technology. It seems to imply that even if we are failing to teach English correctly it is fine so long as we stick to our mantra of English and English alone.

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Which language?

By Zubeida Mustafa

ONE aspect of the Single National Curriculum that has yet to be resolved is the medium of instruction. It came under the spotlight when the National Curriculum Council announced in March its outlandish idea of making English the medium of instruction from preschool to Grade 5. Strangely, many in Pakistan have argued endlessly in support of English. They believe that without fluency in English one cannot get a job.

On the other hand, there are some who want Urdu, the national language, as the medium of instruction. But Urdu is not the mother tongue of 90 per cent of the people even though it is the language of wider communication. That leaves the mother tongue (a native language) as the only feasible option for the medium of instruction. A decision has to be taken. For six months, the government has been wavering and the consultations are becoming endless. Yet another conference was held on Wednesday. Here it was decided to set up a committee to take a ‘final’ decision on the medium issue.

Not having conducted any research/ surveys on the matter, the government has no firm ground to stand on. It would help if the education ministry would look up its own archives and dig out Javed Hasan Aly’s massive White Paper on Education (2006). It is the only thoroughly deliberated official policy document on education that I have read in Pakistan. It is a pity that the education minister at the time (an ex-army general) rejected it because Aly had proposed that the mother tongue be used as the medium of instruction.

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Art and peace

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN her poem Children Learn What They Live, Dorothy Nolte writes that if children live with hostility they learn to fight and if they live with acceptance they learn to love. What parents, teachers and all in a position of power need to know is that they must protect children from exposure to violence and trauma if they are to be peace-loving and tolerant.

Are we doing that? Not really. Look at what television shows its viewers, or worse still what is circulated on WhatsApp or posted on social media, and you will understand why we are becoming so belligerent. Even the much-touted Single National Curriculum prefers silence on this issue and the words ‘peace’, ‘love’, ‘rawadari’ or ‘amn’ figure nowhere in the eight files posted on the federal education ministry’s website.

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Anniversaries

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

Anniversaries serve a purpose – they remind of what was. We Pakistanis have just marked Independence day arrived at 73 years ago. And then, almost exactly a fortnight later, in accordance with the Hijri calendar, the whole Muslim world as Muharram commences, honours—as it has through centuries—with the profoundest reverence the martyrs of Karbala: Despite their lineage they were martyred by people who ‘shared’ their faith, but betrayed it and conflicted for temporal gain in personal ambition to wrest political power. What gives an otherwise common enough conflict sublimity is the martyrs: their personal identities and steadfastness to the right course. Resonating along with commemoration of their historic courageous stand is the love all Muslims feel for ‘Al-i-Rasool right across and through the bitter sectarian divide(s) the aggressors at Karbala unwittingly originated . . .  And so back to Pakistan at 73 and its declared Muslim identity: Divided, exclusive, inclusive, mangled, antagonistic, devout, fanatical, misunderstood, exploitative, exploited . . .  Could we dare this August 14 look into the mirror without flinching?

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