Category Archives: Books

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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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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A way out

By Zubeida Mustafa

TODAY is the anniversary of our freedom from colonial rule. Aug 14, Independence Day, is traditionally celebrated with much fanfare with messages from the top leadership. It is the same this year. Why should we not celebrate? After all, under the British Raj we were denied many freedoms. If the East India Company had not been given a charter, the course of South Asian history would have been different. But this is no time for speculation, for there are so many ifs and buts to be considered that it is best to put them aside.

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Teaching religion

By Zubeida Mustafa

M.H. ASKARI, my colleague in Dawn and an Urdu short-story writer of eminence in his youth, wrote about his experience of joining the Anglo-Arabic School in Daryaganj in the late 1920s. On the first day, his principal asked him, “Will you study Sunni Deeniat or Shia Deeniat?”

Not being aware of the sects, Askari went home and asked his father Mirza Mohammad Said, an outstanding scholar who was widely acknowledged and had been Patras Bukhari’s teacher at Government College Lahore. Prof Said promptly replied, “My son will not study any Deeniat at school.”

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An opportunity?

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN tandem with Islamabad, the Sindh government has announced that the students who were scheduled to sit for their Grades IX to XII Board examinations this summer will be promoted to the next class without being tested.

In the absence of an alternative, this can be deemed to have been a sensible step. Moreover, the fact is that the exams we have been holding for the last several decades are no less than an ‘immaculate deception’. They are rife with corruption, and candidates resort to unfair means while massive sums change hands to manipulate results.

As a consequence, the real learning outcome of the students is appalling. Education in Pakistan is exam-oriented and these exams are a farce, leaving no incentive for the students to study. For them, it is a paper chase for the certificate/degree.

Now is also the time for the government to come clean on its failure to educate the children of this country as it is required to do under Article 25-A of the Constitution. The pandemic lockdown and the disruption it has caused are a blessing in disguise. The government should now rise to the occasion to bring about radical changes in our education system.

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Review: Etienne and the Angry Dot

Etienne and the Angry Dot

FOR all the children of the world – be they in the West or the East, in Pakistan or in the US – the pandemic lockdown has been a trying time. Their lives have changed drastically. They cannot go out and play as they have normally done.

 Those who are young can’t even understand what is happening and why. Even those who are old enough to read books or listen to stories from their mothers are at a loss because this new phenomenon has not been written about much and definitely not from the point of view of young readers.

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Posthumous works

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE world would have been denied the richness and scholarship of some of Franz Kafka’s literary work — especially The Metamorphosis — had his friend and executor, Max Brod, not decided to ignore Kafka’s instruction in his will to destroy the unpublished manuscripts he left behind. Kafka died young in 1924.

Other writers have generally been pragmatic by not leaving a will. There are quite a number of them though we hardly note it. Albert Camus’ A Happy Death as well as Agatha Christie’s Sleeping Murder saw the light of day when the authors were no more.

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How we survive

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN these trying times of lockdowns, I have found relief in books. Currently, Michelle Obama has brought me the comfort I was looking for. America’s former first lady’s memoir, Becoming, grips your attention with its lucid style. It also gives you a graphic insight into the life of the African-American community, whose struggle has fascinated me since Martin Luther King made his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech more than 50 years ago.

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Those festivals

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN his keynote speech at the recent Karachi Literature Festival (KLF), historian William Dalrymple spoke of the litfests that have mushroomed in South Asia in a “fantastic” way. There is no denying that these literary events are crowd-pullers. Dalrymple estimates that India, which initiated the trend with the Jaipur Literature Festival — the most well attended in the world — in 2004, now has 60 litfests a year. He spoke of 10 being held in Pakistan, though I am not clear how he arrived at this figure.

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Digital vs books

By Zubeida Mustafa

FIRST it was television. Then came the internet. Our old and familiar friend — the book — has had many detractors. When television made its debut in Pakistan in the mid-1960s it was generally said that the idiot box had pulled away readers from their books. Now this charge is levelled against the digital medium. But the fact is that Pakistan has never been famous for its reading culture.

This has been my observation of decades that our society has an aversion for the printed word as testified by our high illiteracy rate. Ask any librarian, bookseller or publisher and s/he will confirm it. The only books that sell are textbooks and the key/guide books, that should actually be banned. What would teachers do then? Believe me, they are the ones who depend on them more than the children.

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