Lit’EDTech Fiesta | 06 | Is children’s literature in Pakistan dead?

We are back with another episode of Lit’EDTech Fiesta. In episode 6, Dastaan puts together a team of panelists who discuss the condition of children’s literature in Pakistan. 

The Panelists’ journeys and projects

The panel includes Ashhad Qureshi, Nadeem Akhtar, and Tasneem Faridi. During the session, the audience absorbs into the screen as the panelists’ reminisce on their journeys of finding inspiration and writing. Moreover, they speak of the classics of children’s literature ‘Taleem-o-Tarbiat’ and ‘Bachon Ki Dunya’. 

Meet Tasneem Faridi

Tasneem Faridi is an HR professional and advocacy writer from Virginia. She holds an M.A. in Corporate & Public Communication from Monmouth University. In the session, we see Tasneem discussing her 8-month long endeavours of writing Chalne wali MachhliChildren’s literature

Meet Ashhad Qureshi

Ashhad Qureshi is an alumnus of the University of Chicago, where he majored in South Asian Languages and Civilizations. Ashhad gets candid about working for the national sexual assault hotline in America. According to him, it helped him trace a pattern of what victims experience, especially minors. Therefore, he wrote his book Mera Jism Mera Hai. Hence, providing a source for children which encompasses the importance of personal space and violation of privacy. It encapsulates many activities and lessons for children to implement. Likewise, it acquaints them with what they can do under those circumstances.

Children’s literature

Nadeem Akhtar

Nadeem Akhtar is a published author and an editor, associated with the publishing industry since 1996. Nadeem was not able to elaborate on his 26 years of experience writing Urdu literature, due to technical difficulties. However, we were able to get some insight about his research on children’s behaviors and their contribution to the evolving genres of writing.

Children’s literature

Lit’EDTech paves way for an important discourse

While talking about her favorite novel ‘Jalebian’, Tasneem brings the element of creativity and illustrations. Urdu literature emphasises a lot on the classics. It stresses primarily on polishing etiquettes and behavioral issues in children which steers away from the aspect of creativity. Consequently, aiding the lack of genres found in Urdu literature which is detrimental to its popularity. Since, it is variety of genres that symbolises versatility.

Lack of creativity in children’s literature

Storybooks convey many moral arguments and lessons simply and effectively through creative means. The use of illustrations and metaphors such as the one Tasneem used in her book is evident of that. Her books encompasses the life of a fish in a world where water pollution is given little to no attention. The lack of evolution stems from something as simple as the fonts and size of text in these books. Ashhad points out how even today the text in Urdu novels is the same as it was decades ago; congested and comprehensive with barely any visual appeal.

The diversity in the Urdu syllabus is rarely present. We are still in the past with un-relatable stories and dialogues that disconnect and disinterest us from this otherwise beautiful language.

Lack of diversity

“The language we speak today is very different from the old literature. The golden period, by all the illustrious poets and authors is all that is accessible to us.”

These few lines, explicitly underline the dilemma of how moving backward is only making Urdu unappealing. It also highlights the unspoken issue of the inaccessibility of Urdu books around the world and especially in Pakistan. Whereas English books can be found online, as audiobooks and in many other interactive mediums. 

“Urdu literature does not start with Ghalib and end with Iqbal.”

A colonial social mindset

Pakistanis live with post-colonial mindsets. These mindsets have imbued our society with a discriminatory outlook towards our own culture. Thus, painting ourselves to be inferior to that of the west. For instance, speaking English is a sign superiority nowadays. English writers are henceforth more confident in their work and success rate. Tasneem articulately expresses how we as a nation have oppressed our own language.

“We forbade it to ever explore enough genres to flourish or evolve. and a lot of it is interlinked not only to our mindsets but the role of private educational institutions”. 

The classification of an “Urdu-medium” and “English-medium” system is also dividing our youth. Consequently, linking the term “Urdu-medium’ to something derogatory. This was exemplified by how Ashhad finds it ironic that there are no tools to study Urdu, his national language, in his own country. 

More ways to promote Children’s literature

As important as it is to work on Urdu, Ashhad points out that children’s literature in Pakistan is not limited to just that. There are a lot of other languages native in our country which are equally ignored if not more. Translating Urdu novels in either Sindhi, Balochi, or Pashto, although a hard task is still imperative.

You can stream the full episode here. Stay tuned for the upcoming episodes of Lit’EDTech Fiesta!

Noor Hashmi
Noor Hashmi is a student of literature at Numl University. She is an aspiring poetess. She runs a blog by the name of “Diaries of Huda” sharing her journey through poetry. In her free time, she loves to paint and bake.

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