Sunday, July 31, 2011

Adhe Adhoore Khawab: Sofia Hussain's Reflections

Sofia Hussain
International Islamic University Islamabad.
Dr. Shahid Siddiqui’s novel Adhey Adhoore Khawab is a deftly documented tale of unrelenting determination to stand firm in the face of all trouble and shape the circumstances according to one’s conviction for the betterment of society. Siddiqui has intricately woven politics, education, and human relationships in a novel about optimism in a visibly depressing epoch. It’s a spell binding read that enables you to revitalize your strength in the midst of darkness to go ahead and play your part in bringing about change in the society.
The novel is engrossing, soothing, agonizing and amazingly inspirational.

There are multiple narrators in the novel like, Prof. Roy, Imtisal Agha and Tassawar unfolding several shades of protagonist’s inimitable persona through a recollection of olden days. Prof. Saharan Roy is a unique character, an emblem of compassion, selflessness and determination, who has the ability to transmute lead into gold. He is a man of grand ideals who believes in inculcating the spirit of critical consciousness into his students to facilitate them to think critically in order to become the agents of change in a society almost at the threshold of devastation. He practices what he preaches and lays his life for the sake of his ideals – the will to better the society for future generations.

Siddiqui’s prose is truly distinctive for its lyricism, its luminosity, its clairvoyance to delineate the most delicate emotions in an astonishingly elegant yet simple manner. It is engrossing, soothing, agonizing and amazingly inspirational. The delight and different shades of meaning in Imtisal Agha’s last words when she is assailed by the memories of her mentor, Prof.Roy, is particularly noteworthy. She says..

Meine khirki se bahir dekha
Aasman se burf nurm, bey awaz gallon ki soorat zameen mein jazb ho rahee thi
Muhabbat ke subuk jazbey ki tarah jo khwahishon, khwabon aur nazriyon ke jalo mein
Humarey rug-o-pe mein utar jata hai
Aur jub tuk humein us ki maujoodgi ka ehsas hota hai
Who humarey jism-o-jan mein duur tuk phel jata hai
Phir bahir ki ruton ka kaisa hi ulat pher ho
Undar ka mausam ummar ho jata hai………….

Sunday, July 10, 2011

No Takers for Punjabi?

Dr Shahid Siddiqhttp:

There has been a growing realisation in the recent times that language is a significant political tool which is used by dominant groups to take control of marginalised groups. At the same time, language is a useful tool to put up resistance against hegemony. That is why post-colonial literature and feminist movements give central importance to language as they believe that language is an important constituent of social reality that may play a crucial role in titling the scale of power. Language is also viewed as a strong identity marker, both at an individual and societal level.

The Punjabi language has always been a victim of social, political and economic circumstances even before the partition of United India. In India, because of Mughal kings, whose mother tongue was Persian, Persian became the language of power and was used in courts. Urdu was very close to Persian in terms of vocabulary and structure and was mutually intelligible with Hindi. It also had an affinity with the Punjabi language at a semantic level. These multiple associations of Urdu made it popular in certain parts of India in general and in Muslim communities in particular.

The British as a part of their policy got rid of Persian language in Sindh by replacing Persian with Sindhi but surprisingly, in Punjab, Persian was not replaced by Punjabi. Instead, it was Urdu that took the place of Persian. One reason that was given by the British was that Urdu was a refined form of Punjabi. It is a sad fact that Punjabi was never viewed by the British decision makers as an independent language; rather it was looked down upon as a dialect or patois with relatively lower social standard.

Why was Punjabi viewed as a dialect and not as a language? Does Punjabi have no literature? On the contrary, Punjabi has a rich tradition of literature both in poetry and prose. But languages, in contemporary times, are not evaluated on their linguistic merits or demerits. Rather they are assessed primarily on social, political, and economic grounds. The attitude towards Punjabi was essentially based on social criteria.

Another milestone in the history of the Punjabi language was the Pakistan movement where three languages Hindi, Urdu, and Punjabi were used as identity markers for the three major population groups of India, i.e. Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. In this simplistic divide of languages (which was largely political in nature), Punjabi was the biggest casualty. A large number of Muslims whose mother tongue was Punjabi deserted it on political grounds as Punjabi was viewed as the language of Sikhs.
After independence in 1947, the question of national language was raised and Urdu, which was a minority language, was given the status of national language. The two overwhelmingly majority languages i.e., Bengali, and Punjabi were totally ignored. There was a powerful protest from Bengali people but there was no voice heard in favour of Punjabi by the Punjabi population. One important reason for this was that Punjab had a large share in the army and was close to power centres. Having a good share in army and bureaucracy, the Punjabi elite wanted to be a part of the mainstream powerful groups and in the process deserted their own language, Punjabi.

It is surprising that Sindhi is taught in schools as a subject. Similarly Pashto is taught as a subject in some schools in KP. But Punjabi has never been a part of school education in Pakistan. Why is it so? Is there something inherently wrong with Punjabi? It’s the social attitude of people that have associated Punjabi with informal and insignificant linguistic functions in life. The language desertion phenomenon is so visible in Punjabi urban families where parents speak with their children in Urdu which is considered to be a prestigious language. Another weakening factor for Punjabi is its low pragmatic value in terms of getting jobs on market. This factor is strengthened as Punjabi does not get any support from educational institutions.

It is feared that a large number of families from Punjab would lose Punjabi language in a couple of generations. There are a number of researches available about the significant role of mother tongue in early education. If we want to reclaim Punjabi language, the first step is to provide it educational backing by teaching Punjabi as a subject in schools in Punjab. Also, there is a need of official patronage at least at the provincial level for the promotion of language. It is important to note that the Constitution of Pakistan, Article 251, clearly states about the potential measures of teaching and promotion of a provincial language, “Without prejudice to the status of the national language, a provincial assembly may by law prescribe measures for the teaching, promotion and use of language in addition to the national language.” The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly has passed a bill declaring five local languages as educational languages. This is a welcome initiative. Can Punjab Assembly pass some bill for the teaching and promotion of Punjabi in the province?

The writer is Professor & Director of Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at Lahore School of Economics and author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan. He may be contacted at

Friday, July 8, 2011

Buddha's Eyes

During my visit to Kathmandu, Nepal, in June, 2011, I saw the image of Buddha's eyes at many different places.  The mysterious and mystic eyes of Buddha are associated with spirituality. Theses eyes are printed on different materials including paper, cloth, glass, and wood. The impact of spirituality is not just confined to Buddhism but tourists from different countries and different religions would buy this image and take them back to their countries.. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Adhay Adhooray Khawab: My Reflections

Isbah Hameed

MPhil Environmental Studies, Lahore
Adhe Adhoore Khawab is written by Dr. Shahid Siddiqui, a well known linguist and educationist of the country. I met him, for the first time, when he came to our MPhil class of Environmental studies as an invited speaker.  If my memory doesn’t betray me the topic of his talk was, Politics of Education.  The session was for two hours but the we didn’t realize how quickly the time passed as each one of us was fully absorbed in the session.  Even after the talk we kept on discussing the implications of the talk.  It was during this session that I personally came to know Dr Shahid. I liked his critical approach to political and educational issues.  His ideas and the way he spoke distinguished him from the rest of the people I knew. 
Prof Roy may be physically dead but he keeps on throbbing in the hearts of hundreds of his students. 

Adhay Adhooray Khawab is a reflection of his critical approach to socio-political issues.  He has explained in the book how education and social change are closely related to each other and how the meaning of teaching and education has drastically changed over time. Education is a tool that is used by the ruling strata of the society to suppress the common and to achieve their own ends. The novel revolves around a central character of Professor Saharan Roy who is a passionate teacher and believes that teaching is a creative work.  His students are inspired by him.  Even those students of college who were not his direct students, had heard a lot about him from their seniors who always referred to him and admired him in their discussions. Prof Roy is convinced that there is a strong association between education and ideology and that education can bring radical change in society.
The novel refers to a number of books, writers, and philosophers. Time and again the mention of an interesting book or writer shows that the book is the creation of a learned man with a critical approach. The writer describes how literacy, sometimes, isused in societies not to make people powerful but to fortify the process of slavery. Different phrases like Education and power, politics of reading, education and ideology, politics of education are used which support the central theme of the novel, i.e., the role of education and change in society. All these terms unveil the concealed realities and force the reader to analyze the existing situation enabling the reader to critically review his/her own educational process. The writer also points out the need for critical literacy, rather than functional literacy, to bring about required social change.
The way Prof Roy introduces his students to each other in the very first class, through drawing a very special flower of their own choice with only three petals, is also very unique. This shows his keenness in building confidence in his students. Being a student I can understand that how students feel when they are free to say or write what they think. This gives us a sense of freedom and individuality. Prof Roy believes in interactive teaching and does not confine himself to usual lecture methods. He explains to his students that a teacher is just like a cake of three layers and these layers are of knowledge, pedagogy and love. He thinks that the beauty of teaching is to first melt the existing ideas and then reshape them. I think the way Prof Roy defines characteristics of a good teacher should be made guidelines by those who plan to come to teaching profession.
The story begins when Sir Roy comes back to Karachi where he used to teach for three years in a PTC (Professional Training College). He feels the difference in the city that has came since he has left. He has been invited from community centre for a lecture and they have arranged for his stay in the city in a hostel. It was summer time and there was just one more student in that hostel. This students was Imtisal Agha who belongs to a small village in a valley of hills covered with wild flowers, fruits, butterflies. She thoroughly enjoys her childhood in the village but then she has to leave her village and come to the city, a place filled with noise and smoke. She comes to PTC to get her teaching professional course. She is an intelligent student, a keen observer, and a person who is concerned about social injustices in the society.
Tassawur is his senior colleague and is much influenced by Prof Roy who had left the college long ago. One day in the college Imtisal, who has just joined the college, and Tasswur among their friends are discussing teachers and their characteristics, a fond hobby of students.  Tassawur, being so much moved by his attachment to his teacher speaks highly of Prof Roy with great passion. Imtisal, who has heard a lot about Prof Roy, gets more curious and is eager to find more about him. She comes to Tasswur one day who tells her that how inspiring Prof Roy was and how Tassawur still felt his presence over there although it had been many years since Prof Roy had left. Listening from Tassawur she wishes if she could meet with Prof Royonce in her life.
Then comes a turning point in the story when Prof Roy returns to the city after ten years. And stays in the same hostel where Imtisal lives. Her long lasting wish comes true when she meets with Prof Roy as a mere co-incidence as they one in a TV lounge. In this very first meeting with Prof Roy she realizes the magic of his capturing personality and powerful ideas.  Her unexpected meeting with Prof Roy brings unexpected changes in her personality. It’s true that some people are so charismatic that they can leave deep impressions of their personality even during a single encounter. There is such a fascination in their thoughts and personalities that one lives under their trance the rest of one’s life.  Such was the impact of Prof Roy on on Imtisal. The story moves on when, contrary to her inner desire, Imtisal starts avoiding Prof Roy for unknown reasons. Her inner conflict is reflected in her soliloquy:
Kabhi kabhi hum apne aap ko khud se chupate hain
Na-jane aisa kyun hota hai
Lekin aisa hota zaroor hai
I am particularly impressed by the way the writer describes the phenomenon of love in a subtle way. The story moves around a strong relationship between a mentor and a mentee. With the passage of time Imtisal comes to know that the strength of their relationship lies in the similarity in their dreams.
The lawyer’s movement gets extra momentum by the participation of civil society in it. Prof Roy is also very active in this movement along with his students. He is informed that he is at the hit list of the people from whom govt. wants to get rid of. Why is this govt. afraid of such unarmed people? Prof Roy thinks loud. Then one day in a protest the police arrests him, sends him to jail and tortures him to speak out the names of the students who are with him in this movement. He bears all the torture but does not tell them the students’ names. And finally one day the news comes to the students that their most respected and reverend teacher has left them forever as a result of hear failure in the jail. Imtisal gets this news at her village.  It takes her back to those days when she met Prof Roy and Prof Roy’s affectionate manner of mentoring brought a visible change in her personality.  Meanwhile Imtisal is offered a well paid job in an international organization.  But she recalls Prof Roy’s desire that she should go to her own village and teach the poverty-ridden students. She is determined to carry forward Prof Roy’s dreams of social justice and economic parity and joins a small school in her village to disseminate the light of education. She sees the reflection of those dreams in her students’ eyes. Prof Roy may be physically dead but he keeps on throbbing in the hearts of hundreds of his students.