Category Archives: Culture and the Arts

Language Discrimination in Pakistan Harms Women and Indigenous Culture

Sharing to Learn. Photograph by Flickr user Mustafa Mohsin and used under a Creative Commons license.

By Zubeida Mustafa

Asifa, 12, lives in Karachi, the port city in southern Pakistan. She is a child of the lesser gods. That means that she is malnourished and falls ill frequently. Her home is a modest two-room house with no running water in which her family of eight lives. She is fortunate to go to a better school than the public sector institutions many of her friends and neighbors attend – that is, if they go to school at all. Being the first generation school-goer in her family, Asifa’s is not the carefree existence a child deserves. Her parents have invested a lot in her to provide her education, and have pinned all their hopes in her future.

Will Asifa be able to lead her family out of poverty? Most unlikely. Continue reading

1 Comment | Posted in Children and Youth, Culture and the Arts, Education, Language, Women |

Rethinking medium

Dr Tariq Rahman

By Zubeida Mustafa

LAST week there was something to celebrate — rare in these troubled times. One of our eminent scholars, Dr Tariq Rahman, dean of the School of Education at the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore, was awarded a DLitt degree by the University of Sheffield, UK, for his work on language, art, culture and social developments that was assessed to qualify him on merit for this honour. In Europe less than 1pc of faculty gets a DLitt in the social sciences.

This achievement should do Pakistan proud. Given the state of our education, any academic whose work wins recognition, especially internationally, deserves to be acknowledged. This should be treated as an occasion for us to revisit his work and scholarship.

It is also important for our policymakers and educationists to read some of Dr Rahman’s 18 books embodying his knowledge and research. They will realise where they have gone wrong. Dr Rahman is a prolific writer and his works are eye-openers especially regarding language in the educational, social, cultural and political context in Pakistan. Continue reading

7 Comments | Posted in Children and Youth, Culture and the Arts, Education, Language |

Unlocking the mind

Adeel Hashmi at CLF. Picture Courtesy: CLF

By Zubeida Mustafa

AT what age does a child start thinking? Experts believe that children have a mind of their own since they are born. Some even believe that their cognitive abilities are present even when they are in their mother’s womb. That is why they are more at ease with the language they hear their mother speak.

It is a different — though sad — matter that we, as adults, suppress this creative and critical thinking power of children that nature has endowed them with. Since we are comfortable among conformists who do not pose uncomfortable questions we shape our education policies in such a way that children forget how to question. Continue reading

11 Comments | Posted in Books, Children and Youth, Culture and the Arts, Education, Social Issues |

Theatre: the way out

Photo courtesy: Sheema Kirmani

By Zubeida Mustafa

THERE is despondency in the air in Karachi. The violence in the city that has resulted in almost 3,000 deaths so far this year has left the youth brutalised.

Many are desensitised and the unnatural degree of violence and terrorism has become something normal for them. Too many will imbibe the criminality they witness around them — unless, of course, something happens to pre-empt this possibility. Others are so terrorised that it is doubtful whether they will ever be able to lead a normal and well-adjusted life. Continue reading

12 Comments | Posted in Children and Youth, Culture and the Arts, Social Issues, Terrorism and Violence, Women |

That is how they lived

By Zubeida Mustafa

THERE has been much talk of late about the distortion of history in Pakistan. Another feature of our historiography that our eminent historian Dr Mubarak Ali has lamented is the excessive focus on rulers and not enough being written about the ruled. We need more of ‘popular history’.

In that context I have found the Citizens Archive of Pakistan an innovative and commendable enterprise that should fill this void that has been growing as the primary sources of history — the people who lived through an era — are drying up. Founded by the Oscar-winning filmmaker, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, CAP, to use its acronym, describes itself as the “first ever youth-led private initiative to collect, archive, study, disseminate and exhibit all aspects of Pakistan’s history both before and after partition”. Continue reading

12 Comments | Posted in Culture and the Arts, Education, History, Social Issues, Women |

The genesis of violence


By Zubeida Mustafa

IN his excellent keynote address at the fourth Karachi Literature Festival, Urdu fiction writer Intizar Husain, one of the 10 finalists for the Man Booker International Prize for 2013, eloquently reflected on a dilemma.

Should we be celebrating literature in the catastrophic times we live in when people are being killed by the hundreds?

Intizar Sahib said he first delved into the wealth of Urdu and Persian poetry but could not find an answer to his question. To his credit, the speaker turned to prose and the legendary One Thousand and One Nights provided him an insight into how literature could be turned to one’s advantage in adverse circumstances. Didn’t Scheherzade buy her reprieve from execution by her storytelling gift? “Literature can change human nature,” Intizar Sahib concluded in support of the literature festival. Continue reading

6 Comments | Posted in Balochistan, Culture and the Arts, Terrorism and Violence, War and Peace |

Changing mindsets

By Zubeida Mustafa

WHEN Sheema Kermani launched her play Zehreela Dhooan, she probably didn’t realise how formidable would be her battle against the cigarette. In this play a cast of eight earnest people take on the mighty tobacco giants. That is what it amounts to when one tries to persuade smokers to quit smoking, as the play attempts to do.

Photograph courtesy of Tehrik-e-Niswan. Photograph by Lesley D. Biswas.

Photograph courtesy of Tehrik-e-Niswan. Photograph by Lesley D. Biswas.

A powerful presentation — patterned on street theatre with penetrating dialogues rather than elaborate stage props — Zehreela Dhooan does not allow the spectators to go home without provoking some serious thoughts.

True, we are all well-informed about the dangers of smoking — the warning on cigarette packs are a constant reminder of the hazards for smokers. But the play goes beyond that. It stirs one’s emotions. Who will not share the grief of the mother mourning her deceased daughter who fell victim to tobacco? That is what all of Sheema’s presentations set out to do to make a powerful impact on the audience when it identifies itself with the characters in the play and internalises its message. Continue reading

2 Comments | Posted in Culture and the Arts, Economy, Social Issues, Women |

Catalysts for change

By Zubeida Mustafa

HAVE our writers and artists met the challenges posed by the 21st century? Have they played the role expected of them to promote human rights in our society?

These were the questions posed to the participants of the Sindh Writers/Artists Convention organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan last week.

As was not at all surprising, the answers were as divergent and conflicting as could be expected from the diverse set of speakers assembled for the occasion. There was, however, consensus on the right of every citizen to be educated and to indulge in creative cultural activities and derive pleasure from them. It was deemed obligatory on the state to uphold this right. Continue reading

10 Comments | Posted in Culture and the Arts, Education, Human Rights, Language |

NON-FICTION: Keeping a record

Reviewed By Zubeida Mustafa

SALEEM Asmi has worn many hats. Beginning his professional life as a sub-editor in The Pakistan Times in 1959, he rose to be the editor of Dawn. Versatility is his virtue, which means his writings always have a freshness about them. Having known him professionally as a newsperson demonstrating his skills in the newsroom, and later as the editor of Dawn, one who was always willing to go an extra mile to test political waters, I was happy when I saw the collection of his writings from the early years, Saleem Asmi: Interviews, Articles, Reviews. The collection sheds as much light on the writer as the numerous personalities he interviews or writes about. We now see Asmi at his best, as an erudite critic of arts, culture and music.
Continue reading

3 Comments | Posted in Book Reviews, Culture and the Arts, Media, Notable Personalities |

Restless soul at rest

Murtaza Razvi (Courtesy: Dawn)

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE headline above is not mine. It is Murtaza Razvi’s, a colleague and friend from Dawn. I have borrowed it from the obituary he wrote of his mother, a writer, for Dawn’s Books & Authors when I was editing it.

Now, a decade later, it gives me a sense of sadness to use the same words for Murtaza whose life was cut short so brutally a week ago. It was January 2002. Murtaza’s mother Zaheena Tahir had passed away in Lahore. On his return after her funeral, he had resumed work. As I condoled with him, we talked about what mothers meant to their children even after they were no longer children. He told me about Zaheena Tahir and her writings. I was fascinated and asked him if he would like to write a piece on her literary work for me. He agreed. Continue reading

12 Comments | Posted in Books, Culture and the Arts, Education, Media, Notable Personalities |