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.
FIRST it was television. Then came the internet. Our old and familiar friend — the book — has had many detractors. When television made its debut in Pakistan in the mid-1960s it was generally said that the idiot box had pulled away readers from their books. Now this charge is levelled against the digital medium. But the fact is that Pakistan has never been famous for its reading culture.
This has been my observation of decades that our society has an aversion for the printed word as testified by our high illiteracy rate. Ask any librarian, bookseller or publisher and s/he will confirm it. The only books that sell are textbooks and the key/guide books, that should actually be banned. What would teachers do then? Believe me, they are the ones who depend on them more than the children.
Seldom does one come across any
good news about the state of education in Pakistan. In July this year, a
UNESCO report stated that one out of every four children in the country
do not complete their primary education. Additionally, the government
revealed that 23 million out of 55 million children (40 per cent) are
out of school.
Unfortunately, those who do attend school are not much
better off, for the quality of education imparted at institutions is
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
RECENTLY I decided to have some fun with books and children. Isn’t
that a paradox? We are perpetually told that our children do not read
books. So how could I even think of combining the two and call it fun?
But believe me, it was fun. I decided right away against any boring
imposition on the children. No speeches on how wonderful books are. Let
them discover this for themselves.
My friend Farida Akbar, a trainer of Montessori teachers, and I held a
session during the summer programme of a school for underprivileged
children where I teach English to Grade 9 students on a voluntary basis.
THE road that takes you to the Khatoon-e-Pakistan School, Karachi, is
a steep one. It has been an equally uphill drive for Shehzad Roy’s
Zindagi Trust to transform the institution it adopted in 2015.
The school was in a shambles a few years ago like all peela schools I
have visited. They have huge buildings and expansive playgrounds
testifying to the vision of their founders from the early years of
Pakistan. But lacking maintenance and good governance, they have fallen
THE tenth annual What Kids are Reading Report released earlier this year in the UK got educationists worried. After surveying a million primary and secondary schoolchildren, the author of this document concluded that the country faced a persistent problem of getting young teenagers “to read challenging and age-appropriate books”.
It is now suggested that the secondary school pupils should benefit by having 15 to 30 minutes of time for independent reading integrated into the school curriculum. Continue reading To read or not→
ZM: You have had a diverse career — teacher, artist, publisher, activist and writer of children’s books. Which of these roles have you enjoyed and cherished most? Which gave you most satisfaction?
Rumana Husain: At the very outset you have posed a difficult question! J
However, if I have to choose only one of these roles then I would say writing/illustrating children’s books has always given me the most satisfaction. And I have consistently done it for thirty-two years now.
ZM: Are you satisfied with the book publishing industry in Pakistan? Especially children’s books. Please elaborate.
RH: The answer is “no”, because there are very few writers or illustrators of children’s books to begin with, and by that I am not referring to school textbooks. When I co-founded the Book Group back in 1988, it was prompted due to a dearth of good Urdu books for children. Although the situation is slightly better now, it is still far from satisfactory. In my personal experience of doing over sixty children’s books, none of the publishers have made it financially worthwhile; be it small publishers or large publishing houses. I have done it for the love of it, but monetary gains have always been negligible. Therefore why would people bother about writing books for children? Continue reading Interview with children’s books author, Rumana Husain→
Zubeida Mustafa’s book is not just for the practitioner and lover of journalism, it’s been written by someone who has worked on raising awareness about social issues
“I also discovered during this phase what the newspaper reader’s habit means. I had been told that it was one of the most difficult habits to break — even more than cigarette smoking,” writes Zubeida Mustafa in her almost-autobiographical book My Dawn Years — Exploring Social Issues. With her work as an editor and a journalist spanning more than three decades, and her columns continuing to appear to date, Mustafa, then, is also a hard-to-break habit for the Pakistani newspaper reader.
THE judiciary in Pakistan has traditionally been viewed as a rubber stamp for coup-makers who intrude into politics. Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry showed the courage to defy Gen Pervez Musharraf — albeit seven years after the army chief had entrenched himself as head of state. In the words of The Economist (August 2009), “Most people do not care to remember that Mr Chaudhry and his colleagues also took their oaths after Mr Musharraf’s first coup … and owe their promotions to him”. Justice Chaudhry won popularity as a David who took on Goliath.
Today Chief Justice Saqib Nisar’s judicial activism has found some supporters too. And one can understand why. When a vacuum is created in any area of national life, it is inevitable that it will be filled by one or the other force. Matters of governance have deteriorated to such an extent in all sectors that people here are in a state of despair. Continue reading Justice for all→