Stories about history

Using literature as a window to the past

In all nation-states, history is distorted to create convenient narratives. Our country is suffering not only from the usual propagandisation of the past, but also because its fiction is being ignored as a source of both art and inquiry. The truth in the works of Faiz or Manto might be uncomfortable for us to face, but responsible education should be structured around seeking truth rather than obscuring it; understanding history rather than ignoring it. Remembering Jinnah Saadat Hasan Manto is one of the best-known fiction writers from the turbulent period during which the subcontinent gained independence and was partitioned. His stories ...

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Why newspapers make you stupid

The maze of documents and media observations on the recent release of 400,000 classified Iraq war documents on Wikileaks ignites so many questions. But one can’t help but notice the many subtle and not-so-subtle diverging perspectives within the media agencies reporting the story. The British media (Guardian, Independent, BBC, etc.) came down quite hard on the atrocities reported therein and cited un-reported torture stories, civilian murders and children shot dead. However, the US headline story in New York Times was “Wikileaks founder is on the run,” completely sidelining the subject of war-logs and harping upon the personal life and daily ...

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Need a history lesson, Babar Awan?

I am at a loss to understand law minister Babar Awan’s fixation on “takhte Lahore”, a reference to Emperor Ranjit Singh’s reign. Others have also hijacked this phrase and have started to use it indiscriminately while referring to the present Punjab government headed by Shahbaz Sharif. While others could have been excused for their obvious ignorance of Punjab’s history, the words are surprising coming from a supposedly well-read person. After all, the minister is a son of the soil, to use a cliche. An empire as a gimmick To ridicule the golden period of Punjabi history for petty score settling ...

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Rebuilding the Muslim Empire

An inhabitant of today’s civilized Western democratic state, while alluding to human barbarism and fanaticism, always recalls the medieval ages. For a Muslim, however, the medieval ages are among the gloriously shining eras of history, when Muslim scientists and philosophers made monumental advancements for the benefit of mankind in almost all major fields of knowledge. Today, every thinking mind wonders what made those giants fade into history without being followed by men of similar standing? What caused the severe moral and intellectual downfall of the Muslims? Leaving aside the political turmoil and dictatorships which happen to be an inevitable ...

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Fear and floods in the land of my fathers

My grand father used to tell us about a flood that swept away hundreds of villages in our district, Larkana in 1945. Our family was forced to leave their home and move.  The second flood that hit our area was in 1947 and had the same intensity. Many lost their loved ones and a few elderly men can still recall the devastation. With this dark history, it is little surprise the 2010 floods have caused panic in my village even though it does not fall in the Katcha area. “I have learnt that flood water is coming towards our village! Please tell me where we can ...

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Where are we going?

Independence Day is around the corner and yet I feel sad. It is a joyous occasion but I feel empty. How can I feel happy when our nation is bleeding? It saddens to me to see how we are on the path to self-destruction with no care for what happens for our future generation. I thought that terrorism was our only problem but now we are suffering the wrath of God as Pakistan has been devastated by floods. Our founding fathers toiled day and night to give their future generations a place to call their own. If they were aware of ...

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Rebuilding an emperor’s dream

I do not feel very proud as I tell you about Akbari gate, it is more of a junkyard than a cultural heritage site. When you walk through this gate it feels like you have descended to some level of hell. The air is filled with dust and the odour of animal waste has permeated to even the edibles sold here. Surprisingly, people manage to live here. They conduct business very proudly, contributing to the increasingly vast garbage heaps in the area. There are no traces of monuments and our old heritage; all that is left is a materialistic mess of the greed of humanity. There is little sign of the gate named after Mughal emperor Jalaludin Muhammad ...

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An iron gate to a city of dreams

Let me be your guide to the walled city. I will walk with you to the narrow lanes of Lohari Gate through Lahore, the city I was born in. When I was a child I used to read the history of this ancient city.  I have read countless stories about invasions and renovations on its historic soil. My imagination ran wild, inspired by tales my grandparents would tell me. When I was a 10-years-old boy I would have visions of the what the walled city must have been like. Walking towards the gate, we are surrounded by the Lahori bazaar. You can see outstanding ancient architecture, wooden balconies, beautiful carving on doors ...

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Napoleon once said, ‘History is a myth agreed upon’

Napoleon may be or may not be right in his assessment of history, but the fact remains that history is one of the most essential pillars of the firm colossal building of knowledge. The study of history is most inevitable to acquire membership of the intellectual community. But the dilemma is that, for each nation, the sole purpose of teaching history at schools is self-glorification and fulfillment of national vanity. The acquisition of pure wealth of knowledge is not the purpose and requirement of this education. Rather main attention and emphasis is put on preparing extremely patriotic and nationalistic generations, with ...

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Pakistan history, distorted by the literalists

Recently released, the Brookings Institute report claims that the real cause of militancy in Pakistan is the public education system, and not religious schools (madrssas) because the majority of Pakistani students attend public school whereas only ten per cent attend madrassas. It states that Pakistani public schools disseminate militancy, hatred, jihad and distort history. Until 1970, despite bureaucratic and military dictatorships, the Pakistani educational curriculum and textbooks, for example, had included the history of the Maurya and Gupta dynasties of the sub-continent conforming to the secular ideals of Pakistan clearly expressed by Mohammad Ali Jinnah in his speech to the constituent ...

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