Quaid for young readers: half-truths

Reviewed by Zuhair Siddiqui

Father of our Nation: Early Life Story, by Hamid Ahmad Khan. Pp. 35. Rs. 5.00. Published by the National Book Foundation for the National Committee for the Quaid-i-Azam’s Centenary Celebrations.

geust-contAPART from being a distinguished scholar and teacher, the late Prof. Hamid Ahmad Khan wielded a facile pen in English as well as Urdu. He was, however, never known for any interest in politics, and when he died a few years ago nobody knew that he had left among his literary remains an unpublished manuscript on the early life of the founder of Pakistan. This is presumably the first part of a full biography for the benefit of the younger generation which he had planned but did not live to complete.

The booklet offers no new material on the life of the subject; in fact, it is based almost entirely on earlier works by Hector Bolitho and Matlubul Hasan Saiyid. But it is undoubtedly the most readable of all the biographical writings on the Quaid-i-Azam in English for young readers in Pakistan. The style, simple and direct, is well suited to the purpose, and interesting throughout. It is sad that the author was not destined to live long enough to tell the full story of the Quaid-i-Azam’s life in his chaste and lucid English.

However, with due deference to the memory of the author, it may be pointed out that the brief historical introduction to the story suffers from the familiar tendency to explain our political history almost exclusively in terms of a pre-ordained Hindu-Muslim conflict in which the devil was always on the other side. The tendency naturally involves frequent distortion of historical facts, conscious as well as unconscious, projection of half-truths, and presentation of facts torn out of context.

Such coloured versions of political history are particularly regrettable when they appear in works meant for young readers with naturally impressionable minds. For instance, the statement that after the Revolt of 1857, the Hindus helped the British in ruthlessly putting down the Muslims in every walk of life, may be partly true; but, appearing in a book for school students, out of perspective and without reference to the relevant circumstances, it is positively misleading.

And the assertion that the British “invented the theory that the Muslims and the Hindus were really a single national group” is a plain travesty of history. The British rulers had no theory in these matters, and they emphasised or understated the differences between the two communities at any given time according to the requirements of the imperial interest. Sometimes it suited them to divide their patronage almost evenly between the Hindus and Muslims. The personal prejudices and predilections of the Viceroys and the Secretaries of State also played their part in shaping British policy in relation to the communal conflict. In any event, if the theory of single nation was a British invention, how does one explain the countless expressions of Sir Syed’s belief in Hindu- Muslim unity before he embarked on his offensive against the Congress? Or the beautiful patriotic poetry of Iqbal? Or the first thirty years of the politics and life of the Quaid-i-Azam himself?

The grotesque impressions that such teaching of history can form upon the suggestible minds of children is reflected in the following questions which a ten-year-old girl asked her father the other day:

“Daddy, who put Gandhi in jail?” “The British Government”. “But Gandhi was a Hindu?” “Yes, but the British had the power to arrest Hindus as well as Muslims”. “But we have been told that the British were great friends of the Hindus; so why should they have arrested a Hindu leader?”

Perhaps Bertrand Russell was right when he said that the history of a country should never be written by its own natives.—Z.S.

Source: Viewpoint December 31, 1977