Category Archives: Culture and the Arts

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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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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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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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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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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Living library

By Zubeida Mustafa

WITH only 42 libraries for a population of 16 million, Karachi can well be said to be starved of food for the mind. It is a different matter that not everyone is interested in nourishing the intellect. Boutiques and shops selling exquisitely designed fabrics and dresses outnumber bookshops. The libraries, though in inadequate numbers, have a vacant air.

Hence, it was a brilliant idea of the organisers of the 60th Children’s Literature Festival (CLF), held recently in the metropolis, to include a session on ‘Popularising Libraries’. It was sorely needed. The organisers claim that nearly 25,000 children attended the festival, which was initially launched nine years ago, with the idea of introducing books to children. And libraries are an integral part of creating a culture for books and reading. It would be interesting to know if any of the schools that were in attendance considered it worthwhile to introduce some of the ideas that were discussed in the hour-long session.

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Love of English

By Zubeida Mustafa

ONE reason why our education system is going to the dogs is that our policymakers earnestly believe that to be meaningful, education must be serious and dull. They think that a student enjoying herself in class is not learning anything. That would explain why our classrooms are generally not intellectually lively and why our students learn so little.

Having said this, I will ask the question I had asked in my earlier column, ‘Books are fun’: can a child enjoy any activity in a language she cannot understand? The answer is so obvious that it amounts to insulting the readers’ intelligence and I am sorry for raising this question again. Yet our schools insist on teaching small children in a language they do not understand and enjoy. In Karachi, with the exception of public-sector schools and some NGO-run educational institutions such as TCF, the medium of instruction is either English or a hybrid of Urdu-English because the teachers know no better. The worst part is that all the reading and writing is done in English because the textbooks used are in English.

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Whose girl is she?

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE Sindh police are under fire, which is not something unusual as its performance can hardly be described as satisfactory. It is also alleged to be notoriously corrupt.

A fortnight ago, the Sindh chief justice rebuked the defenders of the law for their failure to recover 22 children who had been missing for several years. An NGO, Roshni Helpline, had filed a petition in the Sindh High Court on behalf of their parents.

In spite of the directive, the police had not set up a team to look into each case. Continue reading Whose girl is she?

Was Jinnah Wrong?

By Zubeida Mustafa

MANY who listened to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s maiden speech on Aug 19 would not have failed to note the striking similarities in his address and the Quaid-i-Azam’s oft-quoted speech of Aug 11, 1947. That’s not really surprising, given that Khan described Jinnah as his role model, one who practised politics with a mission. Both speeches expressed deep concern at the prevalence of corruption and the absence of justice for the poor. They also spoke of the need to address the welfare of the common man.

But on one vital issue they differed: the status of religious minorities. Imran Khan touched on this in passing, in the context of the rule of law and everyone, including the minorities, being equal before it.

The Quaid, on the other hand, was more emphatic regarding the role of religious minorities and dwelt on the subject in a substantial way. He categorically declared, “You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or any other place of worship … You may belong to any religion … that has nothing to do with the business of the state”. He hoped that ultimately this equality would lead to “Hindus [ceasing] to be Hindus” and “Muslims [ceasing] to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state”.

Seventy-one years have passed since these words were uttered and we have still to reach that goal. It is unlikely that we ever will, because at one stage — under Gen Zia — we changed direction. Only if naya Pakistan had held out hope for these eight million citizens, they would have been reassured of a better future. This reminder came on Aug 11, which has been observed as the National Minorities Day since 2009. A convention held in Lahore demanded that the oft-quoted speech of the Quaid be incorporated in the Constitution. Weren’t the minorities supposed to be, in equal measure, a pillar of the political structure of Jinnah’s Pakistan?

Minorities are being gradually marginalised.

We started on the right track as was Quaid-i-Azam’s vision and mission. Chaudhri Muhammad Zafrullah Khan, an Ahmadi — a community later ostracised because of its faith — was the foreign minister. No one questioned his beliefs. Justice Cornelius, a Christian, was a highly celebrated chief justice. There were numerous other non-Muslims who held important positions in the judiciary, administration and even the armed forces. They were all trusted and have left their footprint in their respective fields.

But suddenly the tide turned.

It is strange that the attempt at ‘Islamisation’ should have brought with it discrimination. It should not have been so, as Islam exhorts us to treat non-Muslims on an equal footing.

Yet the religious minorities are gradually being marginalised. Take the present set-up. In the first cabinet named by Prime Minister Imran Khan, not a single non-Muslim has been given a slot. This may be an oversight, but it sends a negative message to the people.

Peter Jacob, executive director of the Centre for Social Justice, recalls how the minorities have suffered over the years. He tells me that since 1997, the religious minorities have been subject to over 100 attacks. These include acts of violence against 45 churches and 11 residential settlements. Then there is the suffering inflicted on them on account of often baseless blasphemy allegations.

Shantinagar and All Saints Church in Peshawar are names that have been carved in blood on the collective memories of all those who stand for social justice.

I wish the government would take a firm stand supporting religious diversity and condemn intolerance vis-à-vis the minorities. Many practices are so ingrained in our system that they are not even questioned. The most widely affected is the education sector which in turn makes an impact on the minorities’ prospects in professional life. Take, for instance, the practice of giving extra marks to those memorising the Quran. Non-Muslim students find themselves in a dilemma as no alternative option has been announced for them.

The state’s indifference has encouraged extremists to take matters into their own hands. A number of young Hindu and Christian girls are reportedly abducted and forced to convert to Islam. One can understand how many among the minorities live in fear and trepidation for their daughters’ security. It is shocking that at times even the courts have failed to provide redress on one ground or another.

Hence one can understand the demand by the convention held two weeks ago to rectify the numerous contradictions in the Constitution which go against the principles of equality spelt out in the chapter on fundamental rights. In this context one would strongly support the demand for a law defining grounds for prosecution and punishment for acts of religious discrimination.

Illusory happiness

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE recently released UN-sponsored World Happiness Report 2018 ranks Pakistan 75th out of 156 countries in terms of how happy their citizens are. That is progress. Last year, we stood at the 80th position. There has been rejoicing at what is seen as Pakistan’s superiority in the ranking table above all its neighbours which includes China and India.

This made me wonder because statistics — objectively compiled one presumes — have a different story to tell. The Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the author of the report, bases its findings on six indicators, namely, income per capita, life expectancy, social support, generosity, freedom and corruption. At least two of these are calculated objectively by many UN agencies (World Bank and UNDP). Continue reading Illusory happiness