Historians should caste history in the light

Historians should caste history in the light of the issues and problems of the masses and how the commonfolk helped shape history, rather than on the grandeur of past rulers which is just meant to pander to our whims of pristine glory.


This view was put forth by Dr Jaffer Ahmed, Chairman, Pakistan Study Centre, Karachi University, while speaking at the launch of a set of books on Pakistan’s history and sociology by noted historian, Dr Mubarak Ali, in addition to his autobiography and a compilation of his columns appearing in newspapers, at the penultimate session of the day’s proceedings on the second day of the International Urdu Conference at the Arts Council Friday evening.


He quoted the example of the late US historian Howard Zinn, author of “A people’s history of the United States”. Dr Jaffer said that Zinn had made the people the centre of his writings as the people were the engine of society, the fuel that kept it going.


He lauded Dr Mubarak Ali as a genuine people’s historian.


Tasneem Siddiqui, former bureaucrat and presently an outspoken social activist, lamented the step-motherly treatment being meted out to the subject of history in our scheme of educational things and expressed dismay that the department of history at the Karachi University had been virtually wound up. He charged that whatever, history was being taught, wherever it was being taught, was highly distorted. This, he said was absolute disservice to our young generation as they were being fed on fantasy instead of facts. He said that in the US it was the late Howard Zinn while in India, it was Irfan Habib and Romila Thapur who were examining the history of the Sub-Continent in a totally new, truth-oriented light.


Lauding Dr Mubarak Ali’s productive venture of his books on Pakistan’s society, he regretted that we had not even been able to determine whether we wanted Mr Jinnah’s Pakistan, or some other Pakistan, whether we wanted a theocratic state or a secular state. He said that all these years we had just been indulging in a Byzantine quarrel in this regard.


Now, Siddiqui said, it was high time we looked to the future with urgency and decided as to what our goals as a nation, as a society should be. He said we should look to the future in the light of the social dilemmas the masses were confronted with. Among the social curses, he named feudalism which he said was a negative legacy of the British era, and said that the feudals, through sheer dint of their immorally and illegally usurped assets, controlled the reins of society by embedding their tentacles in the bureaucracy. Our intellectuals, he said, had to examine issues in a new people-oriented light. As for the media, he acknowledged that they were free but said that the media just being free was of no consequence. They also had to guide society.


Dr Riaz of SZABIST said that Dr Mubarik was the first and perhaps the only intellectual in Pakistan who had ushered in the craft of historiography.


However, the closing session for the day, titled, “Ek sham, do Shaair”, featuring humorist poet Anwar Masood, and Amjad Islam Amjad, totally changed the mood of the evening, from one of sombre reflection on issues, to one of laughter and merriment. Anwar Masood’s humorous verses in the most chaste of Urdu, alternating with the purest of Punjabi, sent constant peels of laughter through the audience.


The first session of the day pertained to literary criticism with a brilliant discourse by Dr Nasir Abbas Nayyar. He was followed by noted poetess Fatima Hassan who spoke of criticism of feminist literature. Then came Mazhar Jameel who spoke of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and of writers like Meem Noon Rashed who had written critical treatises on Faiz’s writings. He queried if this criticism had alienated the young generation from Faiz’s works which engendered the noble principles of socio-economic justice bequeathed suffering humanity by Karl Marx.“Have the young generation become enamoured of the principles of free market economy and socio-economic disparity?, he asked. He said that we had to examine the role of literary criticism in the light of these questions.


The post-lunch part of the programme began with intellectuals presenting their views about literary personages. Dr Asif Iqbal Farrukhi drew points of similarity between Krishen Chander and Saadat Hassan Manto. TV personality Arshad Mehmood recounted his reminiscences of the late King of Ghazal Mehdi Hassan and lauded his musical genius. Zahida Hina gave a sentimental account of the life of the late poetess and writer Hajra Masroor. Dr Pizada Qasim, former Vice-Chancellor, Karachi University, gave a lucid account of the astounding, multiple achievements of the late Dr Salimuzzaman Siddiqui in the field of pure sciences, including his formulation of medicines, and pointed what a master of all trades the late doctor was by citing a solo exhibition of his paintings in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1924.


At another post-lunch session, dedicated to the late people’s poet, Habib Jalib, Ghazal Ansari, who’s running an NGO in northern England pertaining to Pakistani literature, who had come all the way from the UK, presented the key to the car which she had brought along with her for the Jalib family. Tahira Jalib, daughter of the late poet Habib Jalib, presented a vocal rendition of the late poet’s famous poem, “Main Nahin Manta, Main Nahin Janta”.


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