AT the Pakistan Learning Festival, the session on ‘Incredible Libraries’ attracted many bibliophiles. It is a paradox that in this age of ‘un-education’ in Pakistan a discourse on libraries should win a prized spot. The credit for this goes to the sponsors of the festival, the Idara-i-Taaleem-o-Agahi that has always regarded libraries as an important source of learning.
It was a great idea to showcase some extraordinary libraries that are real treasures in terms of their ingenuity and the inspiration they provide to young readers who are otherwise deprived of their basic right to education.
Study the principles that underpin the Alif Laila Bus Book Library (Lahore), the Kitab Garri, a rickshaw-library (Lahore), the Oont Library on a camel (Mand, Balochistan) and the Digi Kutubkhana in a steel trunk (Mubarak Village, Sindh). They owe their creation to innovative ideas. Their success belies the commonly held belief that big and expensive structures filled with costly books are the first prerequisite of a library. On the contrary, all you need are low-priced books in an appropriate language for the targeted readership and a librarian who loves books as much as children.
The incredible libraries identified above meet these criteria and are success stories. Also, their accessibility offers them an advantage. They are within easy reach of their readers who are not required to overcome barriers of distance to read the books they want.
I look out of my bedroom window as I sip my morning tea. I can see two little children playing together happily. I have already penned the three-year old’s thoughts on his school. Here is my attempt at reading a five-year old’s mind, who speaks in Seraiki.
It’s going to be a challenge, to say the least. The language barrier is scaled effortlessly by the little boy who speaks only in English. But I cannot say the same about myself though I can speak Urdu fluently.
The thought process of this little girl is complex, as she is my neighbour’s (who happens to be a relative) cook’s daughter. This four-year-old was taken away by her father to their village when her mother divorced him. She was returned to the mother after a year, after a hefty amount was given as ransom, I don’t know what else to call it. A traumatic event such as this will cause separation anxiety. With this in mind I observe the little girl.
“MUQABILA, aur woh bhi shaan-o-shaukat ka”(competition — that too of ostentation). “Zehniyat is tarah nahin badalti jab tak mahaul nahin badalta”(the mindset does not change until the environment changes). “Tumharay paas bangla nahin, nokar nahin, par tum zaat kay kitnay achchay ho. Sharif ho”(You do not have a house, or a servant. Yet how decent you are by temperament. How good you are.)
These are snatches of conversation from Hajra Masroor’s short story Standard. Through its protagonist, Begum Riaz, the author astutely comments on Pakistan’s society and its culture of ostentation. The story was written more than 60 years ago but remains relevant.
One of the front-ranking Progressive writers of her day and a feminist, Hajra wrote and spoke fearlessly and enjoyed much respect in literary circles.
It was a fascinating experience revisiting Hajra Apa. I didn’t read Standard, I listened to it. It was the 52nd episode in Zambeelnama, a dramatic reading series. It had a powerful impact on me as the medium of the sound enhanced its effect bringing back old memories of a woman I knew so well — friendly but with a mind of her own.
A BLUE sky, big birds going round and round in circles. A butterfly, a scary spider. The wind rustling in the leaves, Beautiful flowers, some don’t smell nice. The sun on my face. And lots and lots of sand, that is my construction site. I can dig for hours…I saw a little ant carrying a tree, it was going home, he was sad because he couldn’t find his mother…
I like to play catch with Gubs, he is a dog. But he is mean and doesn’t return the ball, that makes me angry and then I don’t speak to him.
WE ought not be fooled into thinking the opposition lacks direction and vacillates. Being adaptive and responsive to circumstances is different from being confused and at a loss. Not having narrow tunnel vision is not equivalent to lacking focus; nor is uncompromising rigidity always a sign of strength. Undeniably, the parties in the PDM have different agendas and outlooks, and the PPP and PML-N especially are in fierce competition. What should give everyone cause for thought is that, despite these differences, they, and other significant parties and leading figures in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, are united in regarding the incumbent federal government’s prolonged inadequacy and the PM’s fixation on excluding oppositional politicians, and repeated trespasses into provincial management with a view to extending his party’s terrain, as straining the national fabric.
The PTI has too many spokespersons. The spin has become self-defeating. It no longer leaves listeners merely dizzy with listening: the noise is so loud that far too many have stopped listening or can’t make out exactly what is being said. And, in the meanwhile, there may be a whole new message which even a fanatically attentive audience is losing out on.
Now that, the perspicacious sceptic say, is the whole point — engaged in lip-reading in a deafening din, we don’t look where the real action is. It’s the juggler’s sleight of hand in auditory form. However, when you give up trying to make sense of the statements and messages being fed you, you start to think for yourself. Or to put it another way when you are glutted you start to digest. So, where are we heading – what is actually happening? In an off-the-cuff session with journalists after
“A few years to my sum of years,/ I am still stuck in the in-between./ A relic in this vale of tears,/ A reluctant ‘was’, ‘has-been’.” — Chris Z. Abbas
THESE verses were penned by a dear friend describing old age, three years before her death in 2009. Chris was 88 when she departed from what she called “this vale of tears”.
The fact is that medical science boasts of its success in prolonging the age of man — life expectancy in Pakistan has grown from 45 years in 1950 to 67 today. But society and state have done precious little to improve the quality of life for their senior citizens.
Hence it gave me great satisfaction when I learned recently that in 2014 the Sindh Assembly had adopted the Senior Citizens Welfare Act (SCWA) — the first province in Pakistan to do so. Lawyers dub it as a ‘model’ law, cut and pasted from the social welfare law of a West European state but without any plan for its implementation.
Before we take up the issue of the ethical aspect of education in Pakistan a look at its legal and constitutional status itself would be in order. I shall focus on school education as it is this sector that has a pronounced human rights and ethical aspect. In 2010, the National Assembly amended the Constitution of 1973 that made education mandatory for all children. Article 25-A was adopted and according to this, “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law.”
This provision should have been a landmark step towards universalizing education which is worldwide regarded as the fundamental right of all men, women and children. It naturally has to begin from childhood. It seems unbelievable that it took Pakistan 63 years to recognize this basic fact.
But Article 25-A has failed to achieve its purpose. The enrolment ratio of school age children is barely 60 percent and over 22 million children aged 5-16 years are still believed to be out of school. The resultant inequity geographical, gender and class – has demonstrated clearly that in Pakistan education is not the equalizer it should be. If anything, it is a factor that promotes inequality.
The pandemic, the anxiety and fear of the unknown, economic downturn—national and global, lockdowns–total, partial and smart—and social distancing had worn us out by the end of September. What did provide some relief to me and my daughter, the city-dwellers, was a little refuge in nature, a reclaiming of the bond with the sky, the plants (potted) of many hues and smells, and the little flora and fauna left in Karachi.
After four nights of stay in upper Hunza, we came down to a resort in central Hunza. Central Hunza, the administrative region of the valley with capital Karimabad, is famous for Baltit and Altit Forts and the ancient settlement Ganish.