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

 

Fragility

Sabeen Mahmud was killed for her liberal views

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

JUST a few weeks ago there was an example of the inter-related fragility of our political-religious equilibrium. The wording of the oath for elected representatives was altered. The drift of reaction was that the reworded version insulated avowal of the finality of prophet-hood.

The previous wording was rapidly restored before cries of heresy and the like gained violent momentum. But the matter gave clerical-conglomerate cause for a rally; and the fact of the cancelled alteration is there to be referred to by those who choose to find Islamic intent deficient in the way persons or parties of their naming practice politics. Continue reading “Fragility”

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”

Whither feminism?


IS feminism changing in Pakistan? That is the question that should be asked by those who are interested in women’s issues. That is the question that I pondered over at the Women’s Peace Table I attended recently in Karachi.

Organised by Tehrik-e-Niswan (TN) and a few other civil society groups, this gathering was the third in the series that was launched in 2015 on the call of the Peace Women Across the Globe. The idea is to encourage women to be involved in the peace process in regions in the grip of conflict. Continue reading “Whither feminism?”

Mother of all tongues

By Dr Tariq Rahman

The book under review is a collection of 24 articles with a foreword by Professor Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, and an introduction by the editors. An afterword by Ahmed Kabel brings the work together as a conclusive whole. As anyone at all familiar with the academic discourse in the teaching of the English language will immediately understand, this is the latest endeavour by people who have not accepted the hegemony of English without question: rather, they have chosen to make people conscious that English has become a hydra, in the sense that it is weakening the other languages of the world.

Indeed, writers, like Robert Phillipson and Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, have been raising key questions about this hegemony for a long time. In a sense then, this volume revives some of these old anxieties, with the help of new case histories of countries as diverse as Iceland and China, and helps explain what precisely is at stake in the field of education in general, and language-learning in particular. Continue reading “Mother of all tongues”

Gender unit

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE Sindh government’s apathy towards gender inequity in education is almost proverbial. I was, therefore, taken aback when the minister for literacy and education in the province quoted the age-old adage: “When you educate a boy you educate an individual, but when you educate a girl you educate a family.”

It left me wondering why his party which has been in power in Sindh for a decade failed to achieve 100 per cent literacy in the province. Has wisdom been late in dawning on our policymakers? Continue reading “Gender unit”

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

Time to heal

Voices of Partition, Mumbai 6 Aug 2017

By Zubeida Mustafa

THIS year an alternative discourse dominated the weeks leading up to the middle of August, when, 70 years ago, Pakistan and India became independent. Marking a shift in focus, the public narratives moved away from the traditional recounting of the politics of the leaders in the 1940s to the experiences of the common man whose fate was decided.

This, to me, is a significant development. This people-to-people interaction at the grass roots can eventually pave the way for peace in the region. It may also change the public perception of the events of 1947. Until now, the people of the two countries have been exposed to one-sided accounts of their leaders’ political ‘achievements’ and the ‘deceit’ of the ‘other side’. The new narrative can be termed the ‘people’s history’. It is oral so that more people can be accessed in South Asia. And these are untold stories. Continue reading “Time to heal”

Women are at the heart of development in Pakistan

The Garage School founder Shabina Mustafa at her desk in the educational center in Karachi, Pakistan. (The Garage School)

By Zubeida Mustafa

Three years ago, when Truthdig invited me to write an article on “How the women of Pakistan cope” for its newly launched Global Voices Project, it was a challenge for me. I wished to show the readers a face of Pakistani women that does not generally figure in the global media. They are the women who do not in the normal course create a sensation. But in their quiet way they are the change-makers.

The relaunch of Truthdig offers me the opportunity to take another look at the situation of women in Pakistan. Has it changed?

First, let us redefine the dichotomy in the women’s situation in Pakistan in terms of their achievements. The two classes I spoke about in my earlier article still exist: We still have a small, privileged class of the haves, and there is also the huge, underprivileged class of the have-nots. The world fails to recognise Pakistani women through this perspective. Read on

Source:Truthdig

What ASER says

By Zubeida Mustafa

ANY country which values education provides for an independent mechanism to test the learning levels of its students. That is the only way a state can assess objectively the strength and weaknesses of the system that it has in place to educate its children.

In Pakistan, the Annual State of Education Report (Aser) has been doing precisely that since 2008 when its first annual survey was held. It is like an audit and should be valued for the database it collects — mainly in the relatively inaccessible rural areas. Policies made on the basis of this wealth of information should make learning tools more effective. Continue reading “What ASER says”