Storytelling

If the storyteller is good, children listen with rapt attention

By Zubeida Mustafa

READING is an essential element of education, and textbooks are an integral part of the curricula of formal education that can’t shrugged off. But reading books other than course texts helps children enrich their minds and makes them superior to their ‘non-reading’ peers.

Yet the general impression is that our children are not into the reading culture. This is surprising because in the last few years children’s books have flooded the market and some of them are really good. They have all the qualities a book should have to grip the readers’ interest — a lively style, strong storylines and characters with which our children can connect.

To confirm this observation, I decided to test four books by a published author, Shahbano Bilgrami, in the Munna Man and Baby Lady series on two young avid readers aged 11-12, studying in two elite English-medium schools. I chose them as the subjects because their mothers offered their full cooperation in my experiment. This explains the secret of these youngsters’ interest in books — their mothers facilitate their hobby.

Schools do not motivate their students to read books.

Age-wise the girls seemed to be appropriate for the books. This was my conjecture. Both enjoyed reading the books which they finished very fast and understood fully. They could connect with the characters. The places mentioned were familiar to them. Significantly, they said they wanted more of such books to be available to them.

Why then, one may ask, are people still lamenting poor reading habits in our children? The fact is that the love of books is inculcated in childhood. In spite of the availability of good literature, young readers are not being provided incentives by their parents and teachers.

One must remember that increasingly our society is being bifurcated — those reading English books and the ‘others’ — the latter being the underprivileged majority. The English-reading children have too many non-book-related occupations to keep them engaged. Likewise their parents also have no time for them as they are busy with their own non-literary pursuits. The children of the ‘others’ hardly read storybooks because not all are enrolled in school and most have parents who are illiterate.

The schools — even those that have libraries — do not motivate their students to read books. They are too focused on textbooks, exams and results.

Another major dividing factor is language. Take the books by Shahbano Bilgrami mentioned above. My students from The Garage School where I teach, aged 15, couldn’t cope with them. In 20 minutes they read only one page with a lot of prompting from me. It was unfamiliar to them and the language was difficult. Fatema and Ursula, the students from the English-medium school, on the other hand, finished the entire book in 20 minutes or so.

What is needed is a measure of uniformity — even though graded — in the children’s literature market and more bilingualism in our schools. The children, whose mothers start speaking to them in English soon after birth, should be more familiarised with Urdu/ their mother tongue. A lady from a purely Urdu-speaking background sarcastically informed me that she teaches Urdu in English in one of the upscale schools.

Musharraf Ali Farooqi, our renowned author, who is bilingual, is trying to change this culture through the new books and pedagogy he has developed to make Urdu more familiar to children who are losing touch with their own language. What could be very meaningful in the context of the reading habit is the new approach Musharraf has developed towards storytelling.

He firmly believes that storytelling engages children’s imagination and emotions. These faculties create a bond between the child and the spoken word. When the child reads the text, she revisits that world of imagination — created during storytelling — to relive that experience.

The ‘memorise, connect and improvise’, or MCI, method of storytelling he has developed emphasises interactive storytelling and the formation of a comfortable bond between the storyteller and his/her audience. The pleasure of storytelling is amplified both for the narrator and the audience when it becomes a group social activity. Reading out a story does not allow this bond to be formed if the narrator’s focus is on the book being read and not the audience. Musharraf has developed many such books that are profusely illustrated and serve this purpose well.

Shahbano could rewrite her lovely books in very simple language for the non-English speaking readers so that the MCI technique could be applied to them too. Any story that engages the children’s imagination or their emotions can be narrated effectively. The storyteller can exploit its elements through theatrics or drama. It is time schools tried out this approach to get children to read books for pleasure.

PS: My apologies for writing Sohail Fida’s name as Sohail Zia in my last column.

Source: Dawn

 

Sorry, Dr Zulfiqar

Demonstrating against the death penalty in Islamabad

By Zubeida Mustafa

OBITUARIES should not be set aside for another day. But I am writing one after two years when I have summoned up the courage to write about a man who was hanged on May 6, 2015.

There was a time I wrote frequently about Dr Zulfiqar Ali Khan when he was living. I wanted to save his life. He remained in prison for 17 years — seven years on death row — before the hangman got him. The night before his hanging I had received a desperate message from Justice Project Pakistan if I could help get him clemency. I, a retired newspaperwoman, have no clout. The next morning, JPP informed me that Zulfiqar was no more and I felt I had let down his two young, motherless girls. I had also failed the cause of education in Pakistan. Continue reading “Sorry, Dr Zulfiqar”

New horizons

NEARLY 60 years ago, an epic Partition novel was published in India. It became an instant hit. Jhutha Sach narrated poignantly the epochal events of the time. Its author, Yashpal, a communist revolutionary who had spent many years in British jails, also captured the disappointment of the masses at their failed expectations. They had been promised much more than what they received.

This powerful book, written in Hindi, received a second lease of life after 50 years. The author’s son Anand translated the book into English. This is not that Dawn, the English title, has certainly introduced Yashpal to a new generation of international readership. In this journey, involving the crossing of borders that Jhutha Sach has undertaken, lies the importance of translation of literature. It is increasing as the book trade goes global. Though in the world market only 4.5 per cent of the books sold are translated works, in different non-English speaking countries the ratio is significantly higher. Thus a third of the books published in France are translations from other languages. In the Netherlands, this ratio is 45pc.

Though translations have helped popularise authors, this genre is one of the most challenging but least appreciated. I spoke to Anand, who is a literary translator and is fluent in English and Hindi, about how he feels about his work. He shot to fame after the publication of his elegant translation of his father’s book in 2010. He lives in Montreal and has just finished translating Alice Munro’s Runaway into Hindi which is in the press now.

Anand says that his ultimate goal is “the comprehensibility of the final text”. In other words, a translation should be so natural that the reader should not feel that what he is reading is a product of the process of transmission from one language to another. “I try to get into the author’s mind,” he remarks.

Why do we not have more translations in Pakistan?

That can be tricky, he admits, because every language has its own syntax and rhythm, and to impose those of the source language on to the target language seldom works. Many translators may not agree with that. But no one would question Anand’s assertion that the translator must have equal mastery over the two languages involved. It also means that the translator must be familiar with the culture, geography and history of the place where the story is set. Anand has an advantage in this respect as he lives in Canada and visits India every winter.

Personally I feel that the translation is best when the translator identifies himself with the author. In the case of Jhutha Sach, Anand had a ringside view of the writing process. He was a teenager in the late 1950s when the book was being written. He says, “I saw it being written. I knew some of the people who shared their experiences of Partition with my father.”

The book was first serialised in a magazine and hundreds of letters poured in. Anand helped his father by responding to them. He felt close to the book and it became a part of his being.

But most important is Anand’s statement, “I agree with what my father writes about post-independence India failing to deliver the expected sort of egalitarian society that was promised during the freedom struggle. The promises made about social and economic freedom, women’s rights and empowerment, were either sabotaged or inexcusably delayed by hidebound reactionaries.”

This is precisely what Yashpal captures in his book. When two minds think alike the result will inevitably be powerful.

This has left me wondering why we do not have more translations in Pakistan. We have a number of good translators, no doubt. Yet Ameena Saiyid, the MD of OUP, once told me that the translations they published do not sell. Is there such a chasm between the English-speaking elite classes and the non-English speaking masses? Conversely, are the Urdu readers rejecting English so conclusively that they do not want to read even the translated work of English writers? Or is it simply that the mindset and literary tastes of our society have diverged so sharply that there is no meeting of minds between them?

I have noticed this in the media of the two languages. Their worldviews are poles apart. Their social, cultural values do not meet at any point, nor do their literary tastes.

This alienation is a product of our social inequity. Language barriers have been erected to keep the poor beyond the pale. Or is it simply a case of our education system failing to inculcate the book-reading habit? If people don’t like to read books, translations will not sell either. Take Iran as an example. Iranians are avid readers and translations are also popular. Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner has 16 different versions of Farsi translations available in Iran. They must be selling.

Source: Dawn

Blame rests on ….

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN August, Pakistan will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of its independence. This has understandably spawned a spate of soul searching. It was in abundance at the Karachi Literature Festival. The session titled “Pakistan: a fragile state or resilient nation” focused entirely on the state and didn’t address the issue of resilience at all. The state was held responsible for all the evils that have befallen us.

Unsurprisingly, the speakers concentrated on identifying the villain of the piece that was said to be the ‘state’ — an abstract term. As the discussion proceeded, the state became the “invisible state” and then the “deep state”. The audience clearly understood that these terms referred to the army which has played a central role in determining Pakistan’s destiny. Continue reading “Blame rests on ….”

Why English?

By Zubeida Mustafa

A 9781783095841YOUNG mother recounted to me her harrowing experience of her daughter’s schooling in Lahore. The child was asked by her teacher to report on her classmates who spoke a language other than English in school.

When I heard this I was saddened but not shocked. Many parents have had a similar experience. Worse still, many believe that this is the only way to learn English. Continue reading “Why English?”

Changing Lives

Official launch with Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland.- Photo by GWL
Official launch with Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland.- Photo by GWL

By Zubeida Mustafa

WOULD you expect to see Qurratulain Hyder’s Aag ka Darya on the shelf of a public library in Glasgow? Probably not. But I actually found Annie Apa, as she was fondly called, in the Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL). The discovery was made more exciting by the fact that the library was a distinguished one as only a feminist library can be.

Set up in 1991, the GWL has grown and never looked back. In 2015, it celebrated the 25th year of its existence. Containing 30,000 books on women or by women (about 20,000 writers), the GWL is distinct from other libraries by the feminist ownership shown by those who manage it and those who use it. Continue reading “Changing Lives”

The Destruction of Nadia’s Dream: The English Language Tyrant in Pakistan’s Education System

9781783095841
By Zubeida Mustafa

Nadia (aged 14) is a typical victim of the tyranny of the English-language Hydra in Pakistan. Coming from an underprivileged socio-economic background, this girl is required to master an alien language if she wants to realise her dreams. Thanks to the easy accessibility of electronic media and a concerted movement for reform by concerned members of civil society, public interest in education has been stirred, and expectations are high. There are millions of teenagers like Nadia who want to acquire a good education to uplift their socio-economic status. But many are headed for disappointment. The facilities needed to educate such large numbers have not been created in Pakistan by the state, notwithstanding the growing demand. Worse still, the curricula and textbooks have not been designed to meet the specific needs of these children. Hence, aspirations and motivation will not prove to be enough to help Nadia and others like her to achieve upward mobility.

Although there are many hurdles in Nadia’s way, language especially English is a major one. Even though the government institutions may not be insisting on English as the language of education, their poor performance disqualifies them as trendsetters. Given the ambiguity in the official education policy, the English-language Hydra has become the driving force. This policy was announced in 2009 by the education ministry in Islamabad, as it was its prerogative to lay down the guidelines for the entire country. The policy defined in detail its vision and strategy, but it was vague about the language to be used as the medium of instruction. It was left to the provinces to decide whether they wanted to use the national or regional language in the public-sector primary schools in their jurisdiction. But it was specified that English would be used to teach science and maths in Years 4 and 5 in these institutions. Private schools were given a free rein. They generally opted for English. In 2010, constitutional amendments devolved powers to the provinces. To the detriment of all, the provincial governments chose to be equally vague and adopted an ad hoc approach to language in education. There has been no clarity in the governments’ policies ever since, on account of the policymakers’ ignorance of education and language-learning matters and their misguided belief that English promotes progress. Their failure to adopt a firm approach on the medium issue has allowed market forces, societal pressures, élite private-school owners (some with political clout) and the leverage of foreign aid givers to gain the upper hand.

Continue reading “The Destruction of Nadia’s Dream: The English Language Tyrant in Pakistan’s Education System”

Crossing borders

Audience members viewing Sehba Sarwar’s installation “Listening from Within” at the show, Honoring Dissent/Descent, she created to honor her father, Dr. Mohammad Sarwar, November 2009 - by Eric Hester.
Audience members viewing Sehba Sarwar’s installation “Listening from Within” at the show, Honoring Dissent/Descent, she created to honor her father, Dr. Mohammad Sarwar, November 2009 – by Eric Hester.

By Zubeida Mustafa

A PARADOX of the modern age is that as the world shrinks to become what Marshal McLuhan termed a global village, borders that separate people from one another are proliferating and becoming increasingly impenetrable legally. This is happening in an age when mobility is on the rise and people are leaving home in larger numbers than before. Some have experienced migration thrice in their lifetime.

Generally, writers and analysts focus on the political, economic and sociological dimension of crossing borders. Attention is focused on governments’ policies of making foreigners’ entry difficult into their country, the impact migration has on the host nations’ economy/politics and the challenges of integrating migrants from diverse cultures into a cohesive society.

There is yet another aspect of crossing borders — the human aspect. Few take note of it though its impact on an individual can be poignant and generational. It is only the personal becoming the political that draws attention. Continue reading “Crossing borders”

Textbooks of hate

Peshawar: Launching of Textbooks of Hate or Peace? on 11 Feb 2016
Peshawar: Launching of Textbooks of Hate or Peace? on 11 Feb 2016

By Zubeida Mustafa

PAULO Freire, the Brazilian educator and author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, said education should aim at teaching students to think critically. They should work with the teacher in creating knowledge.

Freire believed that students should do a lot of “problem-posing” and then seek answers through their own experience and thought processes to discover the route to change.

Can we hope to achieve this change through the kind of textbooks used in our public-sector schools? For decades, critics have mourned the dismal state of textbooks in Pakistan. But no one has batted an eyelid. Continue reading “Textbooks of hate”

After freedom what?

Sohail Fida-- a year after he was released
Sohail Fida– a year after he was released

By Zubeida Mustafa

FOUR years ago, on a leap day, a young man of 28 walked out of Haripur jail to his freedom. Now when he looks back at this great event in his life, he describes his feelings on the occasion as ‘confusing’. It felt surreal, he said to me, as he looked back to that day. “I was asking myself, ‘Is this really happening to me?’”

Sohail Fida was hauled into prison in 2000 when he was only 16 years. Allegedly false charges of murder were brought against him and a confession extracted by torture.

Despite his incarceration for 12 years — five of them on death row — Sohail did not lose hope. His story is one of grit and courage. It is a story that inspires. Continue reading “After freedom what?”