By A. Jessie Michael

The parcel arrived in a postal van and James’ wife, Doris, put it aside for James to return from work and open it. It was an annual ritual — its arrival and his opening of it. This cardboard box measuring one foot by one foot by ten inches, wrapped in brown paper, with colourful stamps all over the top right hand corner and cross-tied with twine, came all the way from Mathagal, James’ home village in the Jaffna peninsula to the North of Sri Lanka, by sea-mail, to Malacca in Malaysia, and it contained his very own piece of home.

Actually, two similar parcels arrived every year, the other one landing at the house of James’ brother Joseph in Singapore.  Joseph, naturally a little sardonic and less nostalgic about the contents, let his wife Lily open the box. Nevertheless he appreciated the efforts put in by their sister in Mathagal for sending them this parcel, with a whiff of their homeland. He made Lily  list each item in the box so that he would not forget them when he got Lily to write his sister a thank you letter in Tamil. His written Tamil was pretty rusty after near fifty years of disuse.

James came home at about 5.00 pm exhausted from office, saw his parcel and instantly his tiredness lifted. He hastily cut through the twine, tore off the brown paper and pried the box open, a boy-like delight showing on his face. A treasure-box of edible memories — fruits of the earth and sea!

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The acclaimed book Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin propounded that peace could be had through education. That was published in 2007, remained on the New York Times best seller list for four years, won the Kiriyama Prize, given for creating better understanding among people and nations, and then the book was drowned in a flood of controversy.

Perhaps Mortenson’s  is  a voice that can be used to showcase what this new library is doing in Darra Adam Khel, a small town near Peshawar that makes its living by trading and making weapons in Pakistan.

The Darra Adam Khel Library houses 2500 books and was built only last year.  Says the founder of the library , Shahnawaz Zeb : “Times are changing and we should change too…We need to take the guns away from our younger generation and arm them with books instead.”

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Half a decade after the Japanese invasion, Malaya was wising up. Malayans did not believe that their colonial masters were their saviours anymore. Everyone was talking about independence and everyone was laughing a lot these days.

People seemed to be in a hurry. Office workers, in long dark baggy trousers and long sleeved starched cotton shirts, wove through pedestrians, scurrying on their shiny new bicycles, ringing their bells. The cyclists appeared to be annoyed by the slow-moving bullock cart with lethargic bulls sauntering along the tarmacadam roads swishing their tails rhythmically in the tropical heat of Penang. Honking in the background on the island’s little street were the Morris Minors and the Austin multi-purpose vehicles, the latest additions to the city landscape. Oblivious to the vexation they were causing, the pullers of the bullock cart batted their lush eyelashes, seemed to mutter something into their chest and continued to drag their load at their own leisurely pace.

Penang Island did not want to be left behind. Penangites of all races — Malays, Chinese, Indians and Eurasians — seemed to be of one heart trying to rebuild their town as they said it had been. The world had modernised and they wanted to keep pace. The men from the East were no liberators but squanderers of wealth. Now, the British had returned to resume pilfering the lion’s share of their loot.

Reviewed by Dr Madhu Kelkar

Indian Cultures.

Title: Indian Cultures as Heritage – Contemporary Pasts
Author: Romila Thapar
Publisher: Aleph Book Company, 2018
Pages: 222 pages 

 

Culture influences our values, world view, loyalties, behaviour and much more. Very often it is equated with civilisation a term that came to be used to describe societies that boasted of extensive territory, sophisticated language, literature, art and architecture, and above all, a single religion. Under the colonial influence, culture came to be redefined simply as a way of life of elite groups, for instance Aryans in the case of India. Unfortunately, our current understanding of Indian culture is overshadowed by this erroneous interpretation. Heritage, both cultural and natural, consists of ideas, objects and practices; contributes to quality of life, gives us a cultural identity and connects us with our past. India’s cultural heritage has always been subject to debates. While traditional historians favour the ‘unity in diversity’ approach in order to project a homogenised Indian identity and presumably invoke the spirit of patriotism, Thapar, in her latest book, Indian Cultures as Heritage Contemporary Pasts, does exactly the opposite.

A fearless, frequent and outspoken critic of our dogmatic and communal interpretations of the past, Thapar’s  book does not to go into the historical aspect of the making of Indian culture but provides glimpses of what is often omitted, marginalized, trivialized or is even considered irrelevant to its understanding. Drawing on her lectures and essays, published in the recent past, this book challenges the idea that Indian culture is the monolithic phenomenon it is often portrayed as in Indian historical writing or what is being currently imposed on the Indian citizens by cultural nationalists. Identification with a single culture, she argues, despite the existence of many in the country, is risky since it tends to dismiss all that does not conform to the mainstream forms, perpetuates inequality and silences all kinds of reasonable resistance. Culture is deeply linked with historical developments and bound to change. But the two differ as well. While history narrates and explains the past, culture can invent the past without any historical evidence. Therefore, one has to guard against spurious history which can be manufactured by culture. Thapar’s argument that we need to subject the Indian culture to rigorous historical scrutiny and juxtapose historical and cultural forms to understand their interface is highly relevant, especially in the present context when cultural forms are being subjected to identity politics due to ignorance and lack of general or intellectual interest in other cultures, within and outside the subcontinent.

Do we not bleed

 

The Story of Shazia Mustaq

In the second decade of the twenty-first century, education in Pakistan faces a catastrophe of unparalleled proportions. According to a 2015 UNESCO report, Pakistan has nearly 5.5 million children who are out of school, the second highest number in the world after Nigeria. Pakistan also has the highest number of illiterate adults in the world, after India and China.

According to the Pakistan Education Statistics Report, 2013–2014, the total number of out-of-school children at primary level in the country has dropped from 6.7 million in 2012–2013 to 6.2 million.

An October 2014 report by Alif Alaan, a campaign to end Pakistan’s education emergency pointed that there are 25 million boys and girls out of school—that’s nearly half of all children in the country. In relative terms, most out-of-school children are in Balochistan. More than half of the country’s out-of-school children live in Punjab. Across the country, it was harder for girls to go to school. Girls made up more than half of all out-of-school children. A majority of the parents of girls did not allow them to study, while boys were mostly unwilling to go to school. Older children are more likely to be out of school. Around 70 per cent of out-of-school children have never been to one before. Girls mostly drop out of school to help with household work. Children from poor families are far more likely to be out of school. The education system is unable to retain enrolled students

Said Shazia Mustaq, ‘My siblings didn’t get a chance to study, and that caused me immense pain. I think that is what got me thinking about education. Sometimes, I wish there was some magic wand that all illiterate people, out-of-school children become educated. I wish it for the whole world, and especially for Pakistan. Bas paadh jaiyan sab. Because of lack of education, Pakistan, my homeland, has divided into all these classes.’