History and the textbook board

Textbook board editors have no patience with niceties of fiction; state ideological considerations are more valuable.

Ajmal Kamal March 09, 2012
History and the textbook board

Continuing with the analysis of the mindset of textbook censors who found it advisable to expunge some portions of one of Saadat Hasan Manto’s best-known political stories, Naya Qanoon, let us look at the next deletion:

“Ustad Mangu was one of those people who cannot stand the suspense of waiting. When he was going to get his first child, he had been unable to sit still. He wanted to see the child even before it was born. Many times, he had put his ear over his wife’s pregnant belly in an attempt to find out when the child was coming or what was he like, but of course he had found nothing. One day he had shouted at his wife in exasperation.

“What’s the matter with you? All day long you’re in bed like you were dead. Why don’t you get yourself out, walk around, gain some strength to help the child be born? He won’t come this way. I can tell you.

“Ustad Mangu was always in a hurry. He just couldn’t wait for things to take shape. He wanted everything to happen immediately. Once his wife Gangawatti had said to him: “You haven’t even begun digging the well and already you are impatient to have a drink of water.”

Underlining Mangu kochvan’s impatience is among the various effective fiction devises that Manto has masterfully employed to create the climax and the stunning ending of the story. The editors at the textbook board, however, have no patience with such niceties; for them, naturally, the ideological considerations put forward and privileged by the political and literary establishment of the Islamic Republic are much more valuable than a mere tale of a tonga-driver.

These three entire paragraphs reproduced above have been deleted in the Gulzar-e-Urdu version. Part of the reason may well be that students in Pakistani colleges are not supposed to learn that babies are made in women’s bellies. But there is another point which might well have been considered offensive: Mangu’s wife’s name, Gangawatti, is an obviously Hindu name — unlike Mangu’s, which can equally well apply to a Muslim or a Hindu. The teenagers in our blessed country are not to be told certain things — and the minor minds much older than their victims have a belief that if they choose not to tell them about a certain unpalatable fact of life, they’ll never know it. One thing that always needs to be kept hidden from our youngsters is that there are people professing religions other than Islam, and they, too, are as much human as we are.

“This morning he was not as impatient as he normally should have been. He had come out early to view the new constitution with his own eyes, the same way he used to wait for hours to catch a glimpse of Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.

“Great leaders, in Ustad Mangu’s view, were those who were profusely garlanded when taken out in procession. And if there were a few scuffles with the police during the proceedings, the man went up even further in Ustad’s estimation. He wanted to see the new constitution brought out with the same razzle-dazzle.”

Here, again, both paragraphs have been understandably expunged. The names of Congress leaders, such as Gandhi and Nehru, are anathema to the Pakistani establishment and extreme care is taken not to mention them in textbooks, except in an openly derogatory or grossly inaccurate manner. There seems to be an inferiority complex about the officially designated political, social and literary leadership working in the minds of the great men at our textbook boards butchering not just works of fiction, but history itself. It is apparently done for the benefit of our political gods — with feet of clay — more than that of our young readers and students who are unfortunately born with a curiosity about the world around them. Our education system, curriculum-designing bodies being an important part of it, has to therefore, take appropriate steps to destroy this curiosity which can put the delicate worldview of the establishment in danger. Perhaps they think –– wrongly or rightly –– that their own leaders are going to suffer in comparison if other leaders are even as much as mentioned in their correct historical perspective.

The process of blacking out unwanted political personalities from history does not end with the leaders of others; once they are taken care of, ‘others’ are created within the accepted leadership circles to be chopped out, keeping in view the newer whims of our rulers. For example, our youngsters have been made oblivious of the existence of Sir Zafarullah Khan, a prominent lawyer from Punjab and a close confidant of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who made him the first foreign minister of the country he created as a result of negotiations with the British government. Why? Because Jinnah, who himself belonged to a minority community among Muslims, considered the Indian Muslims a tapestry of various belief systems, rituals, practices and human relations. Therefore, he recognised Sir Zafarullah’s right to call himself a Muslim as much as he himself had, as he obviously thought that an individual or a community has an absolute right to decide what religion they belong to.

Our later rulers have been much less modest than Jinnah: they think they have a right to decide about other people’s faith and declare one a Muslim and one a non-Muslim. Ahmadis have been declared non-Muslims within the boundaries of Pakistan against the thinking of the man who created this state. Once you start cutting out portions of reality that you find unbearable, it’s not easy to check yourself and stop. This is why history has to be perpetually rewritten according to the petty priorities of the petty men who have been ruling us — a process which has turned the generations victimised by the Pakistani system of education into a dumb people with no collective memory to bind them to the world.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 10th, 2012.


Comenzi EASTBAY | 12 years ago | Reply Extraordinarily well written read..
Abid P. Khan | 12 years ago | Reply

@aamir riaz:

Thanks for your update. I agree that more books on serious topics are being written. Definitely, today's research encompasses a greater range of topics besides quality is improving, nevertheless a substantial ratcheting up of quality is desired. Swift adaption of digital technology has helped thirst for knowledge tremendously, an upward learning curve will be retained in coming decades.

Too many contributors here either try to be glib or being conscious of their poor schooling background, compensate that by making chauvinistic and unsubstantiated statements, utter nonsense at times.

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