‘Vernacular languages and history have a strong link’
KARACHI: Students and scholars of history were treated to some stimulating pieces of research on language and literature’s connection with history as a discipline on the third and last day of the 25th International History Conference at Karachi University on Thursday.
In a session on ‘History of Language and Literature’, presided over by French historian Michel Boivin, Prof Dr Samina Awan of the Allama Iqbal Open University read out a paper on ‘Urdu Literature: Reconstruction of the illustrated Orient’. She said in Urdu literature the topic implied reconstruction of the glorious past of monarchs or kings. She said her (ongoing) research mainly discussed Sharar, Mir, Iqbal and Shamsurrehman Farooqui, but she would focus only on Mr Farooqui in her speech.
Explaining the evolution of history as a subject, Ms Awan said in the Middle Ages it was influenced by theology. In the 17th century methods began to change and nonliterary sources were employed as history became a study of society. In the 19th century the emphasis shifted to political history. Then Marxism caused an important shift from the political to the economic. In modern times, she said, history became the study of the struggle of man in a series of events. She defined the discipline as what “men and women have given us as a legacy of civilisation”.
Ms Awan said the Orient could broadly be examined in two ways. One: as the study of the cultural language of the classical period of the Orient; two: the 18th century administrative policy of the East India Company. She roughly outlined that period from 1773 to 1832. She said Mr Farooqui was a writer/critic who reconstructed the 18th century Indian Muslim society which signified an emerging new social reality. She said he used (in his novel Kai Chand Thay Sar-i-Aasman) historical narratives as raw material. She said his work had timelessness using chronological connections by ancestral roots. The reader in his book travelled through various phases in time, and it was not just “amazing” but also “amusing”, she said. With him the reader could enjoy historical facts as a fable of past events, she said. To back up her argument, she read out two excerpts from the book, one in English and the other in Urdu. In the end she said we should look for local sources and write our own history (and not look to the West) because there was a strong link between our vernacular languages and history.
Asfandyar Durrani gave an engaging presentation on ‘Emerging Trend of Nationalism in Pashto Literature: An Analysis of Inspiration from the Anjuman-i-Islahul Afaghina and Khudai Khidmatgar Movement’. He said that to ward off any threat to its rule the British Empire devised strategies, one of which was to annex Punjab, which brought the Pakhtun in direct contact with the British. The British devised a three-pronged plan to control the region –– pressurise, incentivise and military operation. The Pakhtun, who loved their homeland, resisted the plan and gave a tough time to them. Their resistance had two dimensions. The first was armed resistance led by people such as Haji Fazl-i-Wahid and the other was nonviolent led by Abdul Ghaffar Khan, popularly known as the Khudai Khidmatgar Movement, he said.
Mr Durrani said literature or the might of the pen was also made use of in the resistance in both dimensions. He said as talking about poetry would consume time, he would only speak on prose. He said plays had been staged in the NWFP since 1904. He said since the 1920s quite a few plays were produced and published, some of which were no longer available. He said the participants in the play Dard penned by Ameer Nawaz Khan, which was staged in 1930 and published in 1932, were arrested and jailed for two years. Similarly, he said, actors of the drama Khudai Khidmatgar written by Fazal Karim were arrested. He said there were three plays titled Khudai Khidmatgar written by different writers.
Mr Boivin in his presidential speech said he had learned from Ms Awan and Mr Durrani’s research.
Earlier, the day began with a few simultaneous sessions, one of which was on ‘Language and Literature’ chaired by Dr Richard Barnett. Faizuddin Ahmed, an assistant professor at Premier College, gave a presentation on the issue of Amir Khusrau and Syed Hasan Sajzi’s imprisonment and the misconceptions related to it. Referring to the events following the killing of Mohammad Sultan at the hands of the Mughals, he said, contrary to the common perception Hasan Sajzi was not imprisoned at all; and Amir Khusrau was imprisoned only for a few hours, not for two years as was mentioned by some researchers. As evidence, he said, the prose marsiya of Sajzi should be read and its content analysed.
The topic of the University of Jamshoro’s Sabah Zaib was: Subaltern Studies in Pakistan –– A Historical Approach to the Subservience of Selected Fictional and Actual Rural Women in Sindh. She said it was through the world of literature that a voice was given to subaltern people.
Dr Anjum Tahira spoke on ‘Mirror for Good Governance’.
The session generated an interesting debate. One of the attendees asked Ms Zaib if she knew the eminent sociologist Hamza Alavi, who had written on the subject, to which she replied that she did not know who he was. Renowned historian Dr Mubarak Ali commented that if one was to understand the role of women, one needed to study patriarchy which determined the status of women. Dr Barnett praised all the researchers for coming up with quality papers.
The last session at the conference comprised a panel discussion on the importance of history.