Book, not Facebook

By Zubeida Mustafa

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.)

Bar-e-ShanasaeeThis is a significant revelation and in these five short words Musharraf betrayed a succinct analysis of the political developments in Pakistan in the nine years that he was in power. He also summed up, to me it appears, what has been Pakistan’s tragedy.

The country has been ruled by leaders who were not interested in books. If they were, it was very selective reading they did which did not help them draw sensible conclusions. If one’s choice of books is not well-rounded, he will be denied the benefits that books have to offer.

This could be one of the basic underlying factors that have reduced our politics and governance — and so, logically, the country — to its present state. We may have produced leaders who outstripped Machiavelli and Chanakya in political expediency and ruthlessness but never actually read The Prince and Arthashastra. That is why we have produced no statesman in our corridors of power. I wonder how many have read Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom.

Reading broadens the mind’s horizons and one can learn so much without actually living through the experience one reads about. Reading a variety of books gives one an understanding of the different dimensions of a personality and events, offering the reader a better perspective of the times one is living in.

It would be an instructive exercise to study the reading habits of our leaders. It would certainly unearth a wealth of knowledge and information about them to help us understand our own history and politics. Z.A. Bhutto was said to have been impressed by Napoleon and read books on him. Whether he also read books by the French leaders’ detractors or gave himself time to absorb what he read is not clear.

Not much has been written on the Quaid-i-Azam’s reading tastes. He was a seasoned lawyer and therefore he must have read books on law. His knowledge of constitutional law was also profound. An interesting reference to a book Jinnah had taken a fancy to was given to me by Sayeed Hasan Khan, an author and political commentator.

He said that a foreign scholar doing research on the founder of Pakistan was browsing through Mr Jinnah’s book collection in the Karachi University Library and found markings in his copy of Gray Wolf, Kemal Ataturk: An Intimate Study of a Dictator. This indicates that Mr Jinnah had read the book closely.

This is also confirmed by Rafiq Zakaria who wrote in his political biography of Jinnah that Armstrong’s book on Ataturk (published in 1932) had so impressed Jinnah that he never ceased speaking about it to his sister Fatima and friends who visited him in London where he had returned in the 1930s after he was disillusioned by Indian politics. His daughter Dina lovingly nicknamed him Gray Wolf. Zakaria records that in Ataturk, Jinnah found his ideal.

“He was fascinated by what the Turkish dictator did to reform his co-religionists and to overhaul and modernise their outlook. He [Jinnah] wanted to do the same for Indian Muslims.

He was no less keen to free them from the clutches of the mullahs and rid them of the stranglehold of orthodoxy.” But Jinnah felt that he didn’t have the powers of the Turkish leader.

Those who read books leave a legacy behind them — their personal library. More than that, their choice of books sheds light on the intellectual input that has shaped their thinking. But those who do not read books — those who go more by what they read on Facebook — remain an enigma.

Source: Dawn

6 thoughts on “Book, not Facebook

  1. "—–Those who read books leave a legacy behind them — their personal library. More than that, their choice of books sheds light on the intellectual input that has shaped their thinking. – —"

    Quote : “"Tell me what you read and I'll tell you who you are" is true enough, but I'd know you better if you told me what you reread.” by Francois Muriac

    “The greatest gift is a passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination.” Elizabeth Hardwick

    “In a very real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read S. I. Hayakawa

    “Tell me how you read and I'll tell you who you are.” ― Martin Heidegger

    " The love of books is among the choicest gifts of the gods."

  2. how would the thekedars of Jinnah and Pakistan feel about this??

  3. Interesting but not definitive. There is little gain repeating what has already been said. I accept some of it but none of it is absolutely correct in its entirety.
    I read a lot and will find fault with those who take any book uncritically. Kamal Ataturk was a dictator, which means what it says. I would not take any lessons from him. Just two glimpses from his long record: When Ankara was surrounded by his enemies he ordered his general to surrender, but the gallant general dis obeyed his orders and won the day. If the battle the other way we would not know of the changes in Turkey. The other one: When Ataturk was out of favour with the head of the state one of the generals Abubaker , who was commander in the north east of Turkey ,came to Ankara to meet Ataturk. Ataturk thought he has been traced and cornered. He was surprised when the general came and said that since Ataturk was without protection he thought he better give him some soldiers to protect him. Without which Ataturk would have sunk .
    There are many more ,I leave it to those who like reading books. Books are a window to the world past and present. Those who read them have a view.
    On my eReader I have around 40 books , from the Holy Quran to those who do not believe in God, many other philosophers and racy novels, that explore the human condition.
    I read Iqbal and the chap who wrote "tafheem -i-Iqbal" was a very dear friend. The narrative the Pakistani history present and the pakistani course books present is hardly history. Iqbal wrote the first poem of the "Bang-i-dra" named "Hamalia" nobody seems to remember it. If you are in search of the truth, the job is never ending but requires personal integrity and scrupulous honesty. There are not many in the upper echelons of Pakistan leadership.
    Do not count on Oxbridge educated or the bearded brigade to enlighten you .

  4. So Very True. Sad that the habit of reading is gradually dying out, the world over.

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