And the World Changed

And the World Changed – Contemporary Stories by Pakistani Women

Book Review published in SouthAsia (June 2007)

And the world has changed! Not only in Sabyn Javeri-Jillani’s post-partition Karachi or in Humera Afridi’s post 9/11 New York City, but also for creative writing by Pakistani women.

There is no vast Pakistani English literature by women, to comment on. Republished in Pakistan in 2006, after its launch by Women Unlimited (New Delhi) in 2005, this anthology exhibits the kind of work that Pakistani women are doing in South Asian literature.

Nonconformity and an unconventional style seem to be the current trend. Though there is still a long way to go in terms of meeting the literary standards of world classics, the stories of this collection do represent myriad perspectives on a number of issues, especially those concerning women.

There is no single theme that the book follows. You cannot label it as ‘feminist’ prose, despite the fact that all texts are by women.

Twenty-four women, belonging to different literary backgrounds, have contributed. These include known names such as Fahmida Riaz (a political and human rights activist), Bapsi Sidhwa (whose novels revolve around the Zoroastrian community in Pakistan) and Kamila Shamsie (of Salt and Saffron fame). Some of the stories are excerpts from novels.

One is bound to notice a few similarities between the authors. All of them have lived in Pakistan as well as in the west, or still do. They write about the Pakistani people and multiculturalism is sometimes an underlying theme:

“Santa Maria, the Black Madonna, Holy Mother of Christ, Jesus, Jesus, Ya Ali! Ya Ali! Ya Hussain, Ya Hussain…” (Bloody Monday by Fawzia Afzal Khan.

Stories focus on problems as serious as rape of the mentally challenged (The Daughters of Aai by Fahmida Riaz), forced marriages (The Optimist by Bina Shah) or on lighter subjects such as the initial experiences of city life ( Look, But With Love by Uzma Aslam Khan) and The Arsonist (an excerpt from Bapsi Sidhwa’s The Crow Eaters). They provide us with a taste of present-day reality and capture the ethos of our society – such as Shahrukh Husain’s Rubies for a Dog, which comments on gender discrimination:

“Isn’t it ironic that I have to dress like a man in order to discover my potential?”

Meeting your future in-laws in a pair of jeans can be calamitous even if you are living in the west, “under the sway of western fashion and, by extension, its moral values” (A Pair of Jeans by Qaisra Shahraz).

Even young and amateur writers show sensitivity towards some social issues (that are often ignored) and provide us with some very original stories, such as Clay Fissures by Nayyara Rahman:

“It was 1953 and patriotism was still a young, strong spirit in Pakistan. People were proud of being Pakistanis. They were proud of being Muslim. They were proud of their own brown skin, which reflected wheat – the lifeblood of Pakistan. And here was I: Pradeep Sehgal, the adopted albino son of a Hindu merchant and a Eurasian seamstress.”

Muneeza Shamsie (the editor and short story writer), has previously edited A Dragonfly in the Sun: An Anthology of Pakistani Writing in English and Leaving Home: A Collection of English Prose by Pakistani Writers. She also contributes to local newspapers and magazines. In this book, she has provided us with a brief but absorbing introduction on the history of creative writing by Pakistani women (or the lack of it). She has eulogized the efforts of those women who have contributed to this form of writing (despite the lack of monetary benefits and inspiring examples), acquainted us with each contributor and has also thrown light on the impact that political upheaval in the country has had on this medium of expression.

It is interesting to note the kind of diversity that exists in our writing as well as our society. We see a close affinity with contemporary writing by Indian women (Shobha De` etc.).

These writers also lead us to new avenues (sometimes ‘experimental’)and provide ideas that can form the basis of future work in fiction. Social critique still largely seems to be the ultimate aim of writing, as mentioned in the introduction: ‘the prescriptive dictum that their work must have an extra-literary purpose, namely to “serve society”.’

– By Ayesha Hoda

‘TCF’s children are its brand ambassadors!’ – Mushtaq K. Chhapra, Founding Member, The Citizens Foundation

Published in Slogan (January 2010)

Mushtaq K. Chhapra, in conversation with Ayesha Hoda, reveals how TCF has become a household name and continues to provide affordable yet quality education to the underprivileged.

What factors led to the establishment of The Citizens Foundation (TCF)?

Back in 1995, the socio-economic and security situation in Pakistan was very bleak. We – the six founding directors of TCF – kept discussing what we could do to make a difference in this country.

We identified lack of education as the root cause of many issues. Prior to 1973, the government schools were quite successful in imparting quality education. But after nationalization, things changed. So when we started off, we said ‘let’s think big.’ We wanted to make a difference for thousands of families and planned to build 1000 schools, with an equal number of males and females.

TCF has a co-education system and schools are based in the most impoverished areas – urban slums and villages.

Courtesy: TCF's Official Website

How was the response back then? What challenges did you face?

The first five schools were set up in 1996 and were financed by the board of directors. We did not want to go to the community and take money as first we needed to test the effectiveness of this system.

People were willing to send their girls if we recruited female faculty members. So that is what we did and it has turned out very well. We provide respectable jobs to women, including former TCF students.

The fee structure we set is also very flexible. We only asked for a notional fee of Rs 175. Even this was a lot for families with seven to eight kids and a monthly income of Rs.2000 to 3000. So we asked them what they could afford and some paid as little as Rs.10 per child. It is not free because this way they maintain a sense of self-respect and value the education their children are receiving. We also offer scholarships if parents are willing to send their girls along with the boys to school.

As far as challenges are concerned, they are always there. Two most important ones are having adequate financial and human resources. In 2010, we will be spending Rs 1.2 billion on building new schools and running existing ones.

Fortunately, Pakistanis are very generous – 96 percent of donations are made by Pakistanis.

We are also lucky to have bright and intelligent people working for the TCF management and are sure they will help achieve the Foundation’s goals.

How many TCF schools and students are there currently?

We have 600 schools educating 82,000 children and employing more than 4,200 faculty members. The biggest plus point is that we now have 48% girls and 52% boys, quite close to our original target.

TCF also has nine chapters worldwide – in the USA, UK, Canada, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Singapore.

We have identified three other areas that we have started working on. These include adult literacy, vocational training and provision of clean water.

People trust TCF’s name and the work it is doing. In what ways has the Foundation managed to create such an important place for itself among the local NGOs?

We have always had good intentions. We did not want any projection for any family or person or group. This foundation belongs to the citizens. We are just custodians and narrate what TCF is all about.

Of course, we needed to promote it so that it would become a household name. To achieve this, we have maintained very high standards. When we meet people, we ask them to visit our website and the schools. Everyone who has visited TCF has gone back satisfied. Our work is genuine and transparent – every rupee spent is accounted for. That is why people trust us. Visitors also talk to students and teachers. TCF’s children are its brand ambassadors!

Would you like to talk about any other marketing or promotional activities?

We have a dynamic marketing department. We advertise by putting up hoardings and billboards, and airing TV commercials. We have also filmed another documentary on TCF.

Sometimes articles are published in newspapers and journals. We also organise or take part in events such as musical evenings, plays, walks and book launches. Every two months we have a coffee evening, where the supporters of TCF gather to discuss and chip in a little bit. There is a complete plan of action developed before the beginning of each year.

In your opinion, what are some of the major achievements of the Foundation?

Our main achievement is of course that we are imparting high quality education to underprivileged children of the country. Every year there is an improvement in grades. This year, 49% of our students secured A and A+ in Matriculation.

Do you think enough is being done for education in the country by companies through their CSR activities?

Fortunately, in the last 15 years, there has been a change in mindsets in the corporate sector, which has really helped the NGO sector and social causes. Both national and multinational companies have CSR budgets, which are timely and helpful.

How do you feel about the media’s role in promoting NGOs? Does it encourage volunteerism?

Media – especially electronic media – is playing an important role in promoting social causes although much more needs to be done.

Volunteerism also depends on the kind of volunteer programmes that NGOs offer. For example, we have a formal summer programme each year, in which children can participate during their vacations. Then there is also a Rahbar (mentoring) programme. This is eight weeks long and conducted three times a year. Every Saturday, for two and a half hours, mentors interact, advise and play with TCF kids.

Satellite Television and Social Change in Pakistan: A Case Study of Rural Sindh

Published in Books & Authors (Daily Dawn) on May 20, 2007

Original Link
By Mohammad Ali Shaikh
Orient Books Publishing House
ISBN 969-8534-03-2230pp.

SINDH is the land of devoted Sufis and sand dunes. It has been home to the most advanced of ancient civilisations — the Indus Valley. It is blessed with a legacy of the poetic works of Sachal Sarmast, Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai and many others.But do we also know that ages ago, Sindhi women were given prime importance in decision-making, Sindhi folk tales and fiction always depicted strong and central female characters and the process of acculturation, after the advent of Islam in Sindh, took around three centuries.

Mohammad Ali Shaikh’s work makes one realise how little we actually know about the place we live in, of its history, culture and society (both primitive and present). The book will be of interest to marketers, advertisers, media persons, mass communication professionals, sociologists, anthropologists, other social scientists and anyone who cares for history and wants to gain a basic insight into the rich and complex culture of Sindh.

Several Pakistani and foreign authors and travellers have written about Sindhi society, as it was during different epochs. However, this is the first time somebody has acknowledged and investigated the kind of impact that a popular medium like television has on the rural society of Sindh (which is actually 60 per cent of the entire population of the province).

Technological advancement is said to be directly related to social progress. Television is a medium that affects everyone in society, directly or indirectly, since it is so easily accessible. The satellite exposes us to a range of value systems, belief systems, social institutions and so on. It perhaps not only brings about changes in traditional and indigenous values and customs, but also helps in the process of social and cultural evolution.

The author makes us aware of prevalent mindsets in the region. For instance, many people in Sindh do not watch television because they consider it un-Islamic or a satanic practice. Another interesting example of influence on thinking patterns, is as follows:

“A group of college students remarked that they knew now that MBA is a much sought-after degree as almost every second hero in a television drama is shown to be a holder of this degree and that chartered accountants get very high salaries as they are shown to be leading a luxurious life.”

With the statistics of survey results provided for a number of categories, a base is established for addressing issues such as linguistic barriers, illiteracy, the issue of Karo-kari, the lack of cultural diffusion between Sindhis and Mohajirs (immigrants from India) and so on. With further research and updates, goals may be chalked out and television content adjusted accordingly, to achieve these for the betterment of society.

The book will also prove to be an amazing guide for those preparing a dissertation and/or conducting a research on this subject. Shaikh has devoted an entire section to explaining the research methodologies used by social scientists (quantitative and qualitative), which in his opinion, are perhaps more important than the actual end results obtained. He elaborates on why he chose a certain method, how questions and surveys were developed and how to get the best response from the target audience.

Inclusion of colour photographs or sharper black and white images as well as slightly better proof reading of the text would have considerably added to this otherwise brilliant work of research.The research is intensive but the work is not exhaustive with regard to understanding the Sindhi people. It is merely a beginning (hopefully) that will inspire others to delve further into the subject, the use of which cannot be emphasised enough. — Ayesha Hoda