search of truth
A word about letters
A tale of valour and tenacity
The book depicts the author's experiences as he attempts to expand his mission of building schools across Afghanistan
By Jazib Zahir
Stones into Schools
By: Greg Mortenson
Price: Rs. 1095
Among a spate of books on American intervention in the South Asian region comes a unique tale of valour and tenacity. Greg Mortenson has already published a bestseller called Three Cups of Tea on how he set up his first school focused on female education in Northern Pakistan under the banner of the Central Asian Institute. This novel serves as a sequel depicting his experiences over the last five years as he attempts to expand his mission across Afghanistan.
The narrative kicks off with a foreword by famed Afghan writer Khaled Hosseini who is confirming the belief that the most critical contribution the outside world can make to Afghanistan is investing in the education of the local populace. Mortenson has focused on female education out of the belief that they are the most neglected segment of the population in that region.
The protagonist of the book comes across as endearing and a maverick. Adorning the cover behind a gaggle of Afghan schoolgirls, he freely admits to being a shy individual from one of the least cosmopolitan parts of the United States. He gives a detailed account of spreading his message across dozens of American cities and the pride he feels at the response of people donating in scores to a part of the world they have little familiarity with.
The writer abstains from a poetic or sentimental style of writing and thus does not over-dramatizing his work. The narrative is mostly factual and gives graphic descriptions of the many characters and scenarios encountered in the quest to set up a series of schools in the region. The accounts of the logistical challenges faced in collecting and funding the process and deciding where and how to set up schools has been given in painstaking detail so that the reader has an end to end picture of the steps needed to set up such an ecosystem.
Perhaps the most compelling feature of the book is the author's focus on describing cultures and norms of the regions. This not only lightens the mood but also demonstrates the kind of soft power an outsider can use to be accepted in such an environment. He stresses how winning the hearts of the locals requires building relationships of trust with them which can be triggered with as perfunctory an exchange as drinking tea together. He attempts to learn who the spiritual leader of each faction is and engages him to win support for setting up schools to serve individual regions.
Stones into Schools also attempts to describe the Afghan landscape to explain the wealth of ethnicities settled throughout the region and explain their origins. He describes the origin of the mujahideen and the Taliban, animosity between India and Pakistan and the proliferation of opium in the region. Thankfully, he does not dwell too long on the atrocities of the Taliban preferring not to let them become the focus of his text. But he could probably have given more detail to these historical incidents since the passing references will resonate with people familiar with the history of the region, while western readers may struggle to grasp the significance of some parts.
Some of the most poignant passages surround the aftermath of the massive earthquake in 2005 and how it affected both the morale and the infrastructure of the schools. The process of rebuilding trust and undoing the havoc proved long and difficult and Mortenson's keen eye picked out how girls were affected more than boys in the earthquake due to their having less sturdy desks to be protected by and their inclination to huddle together when panicked.
Like any story, the book is defined by the characters. Mortenson's team includes a whole coterie of characters of local Afghan origin who he has recruited to guide him through the terrain. He is also able to sketch vivid vignettes of some of the most successful females enrolled in his schools and explain how this opportunity for education has changed the course of their lives.
It should be noted that the Central Asian Institute is not the only NGO engaged in developing the remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Partner agencies are mentioned fleetingly but ideally the writer would have devoted more pages to describing the nature of other such organizations to apprise readers of the holistic efforts being made to ameliorate the region.
Overall the book succeeds in its purpose of comprehensively explaining how the process of educating the underprivileged in Afghanistan has spread its roots. It is imbued with a tone of optimism to remind us that not all is lost in what President Obama has labelled the most dangerous region in the world. The writing is fluid and sincere and should leave readers with an appreciation for the kinds of efforts that compassionate individuals can put into foreign communities.
A graphic novel about Bertrand Russell and Logic maybe a tad self-indulgent at times, but is also addictive and accessible
By Mohammad Ahmad Qayyum
Logicomix: An Epic Search For Truth
By Apostolos Doxiadis, Christos Papadimitriou and Alecos Papadatos
Price: Rs 1100
St. John's College, Oxford (1998):
Henning 'Enning' Zoller and Jan – (what was his name…), Wittgenstein-fans, would team up and often times have it out with Edward 'Eddie Baby' Kanterian, Frege-fan and logician in the Middle Class Room. Guy Kahane from Israel would often listen in, not saying much. Ercilia Souza, the cute buck-toothed mathematician from Portugal, would always snort at the four philosophers-cum-logicians and comment that she did not see the point of their endless discussions about the meaning of meaning and language. Me, Mohammad A. Qayyum, lawyer-in-training, tried as I did, never really got what they were on about. Or to what end they were on about. Well, if the mathematician did not get it, how did you expect me to?
The Last Word, Lahore (2010):
I spied a new graphic novel, Logicomix by Doxiadis and Papadimitrou. What piqued my interest was that it was rather boldly subtitled 'An Epic Search For Truth'. That immodest claim got me looking. The jacket sleeve mentioned that it was "a dramatic story of madness and reason, love and war" and was based on the early life of Bertrand Russell.
Bertrand Russell, as any Aitchisonian who has had any dealings with the lovely Mazhar Saleem Akhtar -- Mazhar Sahab -- would always recommend Russell in his inimitable manner ("ButtundRussell, ButtundRussell"); always elicits a reaction out of us old Aitchisonians. Mine was to make the purchase to have a read. I also knew that Russell had been at the centre of the development of Logic as a subject and so wanted to finally get my head around what the Logicians Russell, Frege, Witgenstein, etc. or rather Henning, Jan, Eddie Baby and Guy were on about so long ago.
I took the book home and read it from cover to cover over the next day and loved it. It was a brilliantly fluent read. Moreover it was addictive and accessible. There was a narrative thread to it and it was not at all unfocused like those "Introducing…" illustrated book series that are available in the market. I still did not get most of the technical stuff, but I did love the book and keep dipping back into it time and again.
I actually mentioned the book to Eddie Baby who is teaching philosophy these days at Oxford. He told me he was already aware of it and recommended the graphic novel as introductory reading for students starting off in Logic and Philosophy.
I did see his point. The book recommends itself as an introductory text for anyone interested in the subject of logic or philosophy or just plain old Bertrand Russell. It eases one into the debates at the heart of the logician's discourse, one, by providing context to the debate and two, by explaining it with welcome lucidity for the reader.
People tend to treat comics as unsubstantial intellectually. The case with Logicomix is quite the opposite. There is so much of substance here that it almost gets confusing, 313 pages of illustrations and more than 20 pages of appendices to go with it all. The book requires concentration and perseverance. If anything, this book lacks the straightforwardness of a comic book. There are no good guys or bad guys and there is no definite conclusion or victory to be had at the end. At the end, you are left to ponder whether there is an answer in the search for truth.
As a pure graphic novel, Logicomix works well. The artwork is excellent, not too overwhelming or stylised. There are a few one and two page spreads which are worth pulling out and framing as pieces of art. The one with Wittgenstein on a World War I battlefield realising the meaning of the world is not in the world is remarkable. Overall, for most part, the artwork is functional, accurate and unlike the "Introduction to" series, where the art sometimes overwhelms, here the artwork is always in service of the story being told.
The story being told in Logicomix as aforementioned is compelling. It is a tad self-indulgent at times too as it seems to suggest that often times those who immerse themselves into Logic sometimes end up going insane, that Logic is an insanity of sorts, with its paradoxes and whatnot. That aspect, though depicted in artwork, fails to convince and certainly does not come across with any degree of effectiveness.
There are also certain aspects of the text that one can object to. The treatment of Witgenstein is certainly unfortunate in the book. I was looking forward to seeing him portrayed as the intellectual force of nature that he was. Here is made out to be a joke, at least initially, too eccentric with a hollow look to his eyes. If anything, I have always thought Russell was a midget compared to Wittgenstein intellectually. Artistic license perhaps (the story is of course told from the perspective of Russell), but then again the depiction of Wittgenstein is hardly fair. Some of the other giants of the era are also mentioned all too briefly: Von Neumann and Alan Turing are but two who appear too briefly. They are in fact only dealt with in any detail in the Glossary, which makes the Glossary all the more welcome and a must-read.
There are other aspects of the storytelling that do not work all that well: The framing devices employed are a tad distracting: People telling the story of Russell and Russell meeting with other people in the search for truth. . The authors insert themselves in the story to explain and comment on stuff. It is just that this was down awkwardly and there might not have been any real need for them to do so. The story was compelling enough and I found myself skipping over portions depicting the authors of the comic and its artists conversing.
The epilogue is a tad disappointing. It seems that the author did not have a lot to say and so cops out by relying on another classical writer.
Having made all these criticisms, let me however also add in conclusion, that despite all these observations, Logicomix is a must read. It, for all its shortcomings, works remarkably well on various levels as pure storytelling, as a graphic novel and lastly as an introductory discourse on logic and on the life history of men who developed the subject.
Lahore, March, 2010:
Henning and Jan, I hear, have quit Philosophy and Logic (as did many other logicians before them; either by choice or because they went mad.) Henning and Jan did not go mad: they have ended up in Berlin and have reportedly made a fortune selling Absynth. Eddie Baby as I mentioned teaches Philosophy at Oxford, Ercilia Math in Portugal. Me, I still don't really get what the logician's debate is about at its heart or whether it does really even matter in the scheme of things. Still, the graphic novel was a rollicking read and that in itself is something that heartily recommends it. Get it.
Akhtar Shirani's poetry was an amalgamation of youth and beauty
By Dr Qamar Risvi
In the year 2009, Kulliyat-e-Akhtar Shirani -- the complete works of Akhtar Shirani -- compiled by renowned Urdu literary Scholar Dr Yunus Hasany, once again gave its lustrous appearance in the circle of book lovers.
Kulliyat-e-Akhtar Shirani consists of eight collections including: Subh-e- Bahar, Akhtaristan, Lala-e-Toor, Tiyor -e-Awara, Shahnaaz, Naghma-e-Haram, Phoolon ke Geet and Shah Rawad along with a supplementary of his remaining unpublished work Naghma-e-Awara.
Muhammad Dawood Khan Akhtar Shirani was born on May 4, 1905, in India. Poetry ran in his blood during the very early days of his life, mostly because of his educated father Professor Muhammad Khan Shirani. His mentor Sabir Shakir further polished his poetical skills.
In addition to his poetical work, he also penned down five very valuable books encompassing various literary subjects stretching from anthologies of short stories to the translation of a Turkish drama Zahak in Urdu. Moreover, his letters to his friends, especially to his beloved Salma, have a significant literary value.
He came to Lahore in 1921 where he passed the examination of Munshi- Fazil.
Owing to his own instincts and perhaps highly susceptible to the Zeitgeist of modern era (1905-1948), Akhtar Shirani spearheaded the candle-lit vigil of romantic movement in Urdu poetry. His poetical journey is similar to that of John Keats in many ways as, besides a die-hard follower of romantic movement, he also wrote a few important books in prose, and most importantly his letters to his beloved Salma have as much literary importance as the letters of Keats to his betrothed Fanny Browne.
Shirani showed his expertise in various poetical modes including the nazm sonnet, ghazal and mahiya. Among these, the nazm was his most favourite medium. Amongst his most unforgettable poems, "Aae Gham-e-Dil Kiya Karoon" and "Aae Ishq Hamain Barbad Na Kar" are the most conspicuous ones. However, the women he depicted in his poetry are neither as callous as Fanny Browne nor as passionless as Wordsworth's little Lucy Grey. On the contrary, his beloved is a woman who is very vigorous and strong intrinsically besides her extrinsic feminine beauty and delicacy. He does not believe in the kind of love that is preached by mysticism or theological school of thought. He loves a real woman with flesh and bone who is loveable to the core. His beloved is an amalgamation of youth, beauty and inebriation.
In the end it would be very pertinent to appreciate Hasany for his remarkable effort to resurrect the mellifluous poetry of Akhtar Shirani, the memories of whom have dwindled to the level of extinction partially owing to the lack of literary flavour in our everyday life and mainly due to the unavailability of such legendary books.
By Kazy Javed
Dr. Khalifa Abdul Hakim was a noted member of the small community of South Asian philosophers. He received his higher education in philosophy from abroad and taught the philosophy at the Osmania University in Hyderabad Daccan. Islamic Ideology, Islam and Communism, Hikmat-e-Rumi and Fiker-e-Iqbal are some of his best-known books. Hakim also translated some philosophical books into Urdu. They include William James' 'Varieties of Religious Experience' and Herold Hoffding's 'A History of Modern Philosophy'. He was a poet too. His only collection of poetry was published under the title 'Kalam-e-Hakim' in the 1960s.
After Partition, Hakim settled in Lahore where he founded the Institute of Islamic Culture in 1950 with a view "to present the ideology of Islam to the modern mind and bring to the Muslim youth a consciousness of their cultural and spiritual heritage."
Hakim died in 1950. The Institute of Islamic Culture and Majlis-e-Yadgaar-e-Hakim organised a memorial lecture for him every year, which has provided a platform to many scholars to speak on topics of literary and intellectual importance.
The current year's memorial lecture was delivered by Intizar Hussain at the Quaid-e-Azam Library. He chose to speak on the movement of enlightenment in India.
Muslim enlightenment in India was based on the principle of unity in diversity. The principle was adopted by sufis, intellectuals and poets who termed it as the philosophy of Wahdat-ul-Wajood. In their passion to find unity in diversity, they tended to play down the intensity of differences among the people of various faiths and cultures and also discouraged sectarianism. Rejecting the narrow minded and hard-headed teachings of orthodox scholars, they propagated the equality of all men, tolerance and peace.
A large number of sufi intellectuals, scholars and poets, especially these who belonged to Chistiya and Qadiriya schools of sufism promoted these humanistic ideas during the Muslim rule in India.
Hussain presented a brief survey of the evolution of these ideas. Quoting many examples from Urdu and Persian poetry, he averred that the Indian Muslim culture was based on the glorious ideas of humanism, equality, peace, tolerance and respect for other cultures and faiths. He implied that the revival of enlightenment was the only antidote to the prevailing aggressive religious fundamentalism.
When the Royal Society of London was established in 1660 under a royal charter, the execution of witches still enjoyed the support of law. However, the society has played a more important and effective role than any other society or institution in modern history "in changing the world by changing our understanding of it."
Merely the mention of some names associated with it is enough to believe that the foundations of modern science were laid by the society. Eminent men of science like Robert Boyle, Newton, Charles Darwin, James Watt, Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking have been associated with the Royal Society.
Newton who was the first to formulate the laws of gravity and motion and is usually described as the greatest as well the as the most influential scientist who ever lived, was elected a member one year after the society was set up, and became its president in 1703, holding the office till 1727.
The Royal Society is nowadays celebrating its 350th anniversary, but the dominance of the West in the world of science, unrivalled for the same number of years, is being challenged by the rising powers of Asia.
Martin Rees, the present president of the society who is an eminent astronomer and Master of Cambridge University's Trinity College, acknowledges the intensity of the challenge. "The world's intellectual firepower," he was reported as saying in a recent newspaper report, "is going to be increasingly dominated by Asia, with its level of population and education. I am sure they are going to be the leaders in the next 50 years".
There are a few writers in Pakistan who continue to enrich Urdu literature by translations of international literature. Dr Anis Nagi is one of them and he has now come up with a volume titled 'Jadeed Fransisi Shairi'. It contains Urdu translations of 40 poems by modern French poets starting from Charles Baudelaire to Yves Bonnefoy.
The translations are preceded by an introduction wherein Nagi has written a comprehensive note on modern French poetry. These poems, he writes, have been directly translated from French into Urdu. They are rendered in lucid prose and are easily understandable by Urdu readers.
Nagi says his major purpose for publishing this anthology is to reflect the impact of many modern literary movements like Surrealism and Dadaism on world literature. Urdu poetry too had its share of influences derived from these two movements. However, he does not seem to be much impressed by the caliber of modern French verse which is usually trumpeted as a finer example of poetry.
The Multi-Media Affairs of Lahore has published a lot of books during the past eight years and has won praise for producing beautiful volumes. Poet Azhar Ghori runs the publishing house. He says he was advised by the late Professor Gilani Kamran to start the enterprise.
Azhar Ghori's latest production is a collection of Kamran's unpublished poems. The collection is titled 'Baqi Nazmain' and has been compiled by the late professor's pupil Latif Qureshi.
Hasan Jaffar Zaidi has spent many of the best years of his life editing and compiling manuscripts of the late journalist and historian Zahid Choudhry. They have been published in the form of 12 volumes titled 'Pakistan ki Siasee Tareekh' published by Idara Mutalia-e-Tareekh. The Idara has now brought out 'State & Religion in the Perspective of Muslim History'. It contains Hasan Jaffar Zaidi's two enlightening articles on the background of Muslim fundamentalism.
The book is a must-have for all those who have any interest in understanding the contemporary Muslim world.