Academic insight: Arts education in Pakistan is very weak, says Rukhsana Khan

Published: February 28, 2016
Canadian-Pakistani author reads one of her books, ‘Big Red Lollipop’. PHOTO:

Canadian-Pakistani author reads one of her books, ‘Big Red Lollipop’. PHOTO:

KARACHI: Award-winning Canadian-Pakistani children’s author Rukhsana Khan talked about the dismal state of arts education in Pakistan after a session on ‘Author’s Showcase’ on the second day of the fourth Children’s Literature Festival at Dawood Public School on Saturday.

According to her, arts education in Pakistan is very weak. “In Pakistan, people think academic education is everything,” she said. “This is not true with [the] arts. I didn’t pursue it academically because it ruins your writing skills.” She left her college education without completing it as she felt that the academic constraints were affecting her writing skills.

Khan has authored 13 children’s books, for which she has won multiple awards. She is a member of the International Storytelling Network and The Writer’s Union of Canada. One of her popular books, Big Red Lollipop, was listed among the Top Ten Picture Books by The New York Times and among the 100 best children’s books in 100 years by the New York Public Library.

At the session, she introduced five of her books, The Roses in My Carpets, Silly Chicken, King for a Day, Ruler of the Courtyard and Big Red Lollipop to a room bustling with children. She read out Big Red Lollipop in a manner enjoyed by the kids and adults alike, reaffirming the notion that like writing, storytelling is also a work of art.

Khan, who maintains a YouTube channel of her books, said that whatever she is today is because of the books she read in her childhood and her faith as a Muslim. “It made me develop skills to overcome issues in life,” she said.

She recalled Lord of the Rings and Daughter of the Nile as some of her best reads. “I got into fantasy reading, then came across some really bad fantasy, which made me just hate it,” she said, making a face at the mention. Jane Eyre, Jane Austen novels and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain remain her favourite novels from childhood.

When asked if she follows contemporary Pakistani authors, she said she does not follow Urdu works but said that she enjoyed Mohsin Hamid’s Reluctant Fundamentalist more than the movie made on it.

Having returned to Pakistan after 24 years, how does she find her homeland? “The last time I came, all I had was Pakistani food,” she said. “This time, there are all kinds of variety.” She added that pollution has increased but she still finds Pakistan very charming.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2016.

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