A science mela for everyone

We need platforms, where those who may not have the means to engage in a literature festival, benefit

Muhammad Hamid Zaman March 21, 2016
The writer is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute professor of Biomedical Engineering, International Health and Medicine at Boston University. He tweets @mhzaman

A number of good things have happened in Pakistan on the literature front in the last few years. Among them are the literature festivals in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, which, over the last few years, have tried to cultivate a culture of discussion and debate, and one hopes that these events will continue, not only in major cities but also in places other than the three cities. The jury is still out on whether they have been successful, with argument on both sides. The argument that it creates a culture of debate, brings authors to the fore and creates an event with international literary figures, is a strong one. But so is the argument that these events do not penetrate to the masses, focus on books that may be too expensive to buy and are often published in a language inaccessible to many. But there is a middle ground here that both sides will agree with. That consensus is that we need more events, with more access and more discussion of rational thought, tolerance and celebration of the human spirit of creativity. We have some ways to go to get to that point.

A dynamic and engaged society needs events such as a literature festival to know where it is headed, and how to change course. But literature festivals are not the only thing that can create rational discourse and celebrate curiosity. We need outlets and platforms, where those who may not have the means, interest or capacity to engage in a literature festival, benefit and get excited. A citizen’s science festival is long overdue. Not a science day in school with canned problems and known projects but a festival that is grand in its vision and scope. A mela for everyone, with events not just in grand hotels but in the inner city and public parks. It should learn from the experiences of the literature festival, and create activities that are simple, easy to understand and accessible to a variety of social sectors. A young boy coming from a family with deep pockets should be able to have just as much fun as a young girl, walking with her father or mother, from an urban slum. The point is not to do a demonstration of a cool gadget, but to light the proverbial bulb in the mind. Someone who has a deep interest in science should be able to get something from the festival, as much as someone who is told by the teachers that he or she is not good in science and is ready to challenge that notion.

There is, fortunately, some precedence for some activities including by the Khwarzimic Science Society and its various events, particularly around astronomy. But the time is now right to do it in areas other than just astronomy. Whether it is figuring out the physics of cooking or finding out what is under our feet, it is high time that we created innovative opportunities to learn who we are, where we live and why our preconceived notions of so many things around us are in desperate need of revision.

The science festival will also serve as an opportunity for parents to know that science is not just about gadgets or IT, it is not about the product, but the process of imagination combined with rigour. Perhaps, some will also realise that science and rational process is not about getting a better job, but discovering the world around us, and in doing so, finding out about our own selves. In a society where it is always about differentiating based on race, ethnicity and sect, we may find that we are not that different after all.

As some amongst us argue whether to let women, in failed marriages with a daily dose of domestic violence, be allowed to seek help, there is a desperate need to create a sense of reason, rational thought and rigourous analysis. A science festival may not answer all our questions, but it will certainly help us ask a few more.

And we desperately need to ask more questions.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 22nd, 2016.

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Rana sahib | 6 years ago | Reply I have to say, Dr. Zaman, you are the only person writing for ET who continues to come up with real, tangible ideas for the country. Very very impressed by your commitment.
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