Prodigious and prolific

September 25, 2022

Prof Tariq Rahman’s service for the advancement of knowledge have been acknowledged in Pakistan as well as abroad

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is work ethics have an uncanny resemblance with British scholar-historian and polyglot, Arnold Toynbee, author of the prodigious 12-volume A Study of History. While chalking out his schedule to work on one of the biggest scholarly ventures of the 20th Century, Toynbee had estimated that given the scope of the undertaking, it would require him to work dawn to dusk, non-stop, for 40 years.

Thus, he embarked on his dream project, without taking any vacations or a day off. He kept working even on the occasions of Easter and Christmas. He completed A Study of History in 30 years, 10 years earlier than the initial reckoning.

When it comes to the commitment to writing on profound subjects, Prof Tariq Rahman seems to have taken a leaf out of Toynbee’s book. His book on jihad is a case in point. However, unlike Toynbee, he avoids venturing into the voluminous mega projects like A Study of History or James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough. Prof Rahman is the epitome of self-discipline. He is astoundingly thorough in his research projects.

Before starting his book on jihad, he learnt Arabic, mostly on his own, and managed to acquire a good enough command over that language. His self-discipline and meticulous pursuit of research goals must be an outcome of familial grooming. He comes from an educated family. He went to Burn Hall School in Abbottabad, near the Pakistan Military Academy where his father taught mathematics to the cadets. Rahman thus spent his adolescent years in a strictly regulated environment. Later, he joined the army and did his PMA long course for two years. The time spent at the military academy must have some bearing on his disposition.

He left the army probably because his inquisitive nature was not well-suited to that profession. While Prof Rahman does not profess any considerable measure of fondness for the years spent in the army, his style and etiquettes bear the influence he must have imbibed while at the PMA.

Despite a longstanding friendship, I have yet to see him dressed casually or unkempt even in leisure hours at his home. His sophisticated demeanor reflects on his mode of teaching, too. He is probably the only member of the faculty who goes to the class, donning a red gown, a few minutes before the commencement of the class and leaves his class exactly at the stipulated time. In faculty meetings, he arrives in time and whenever his opinion is sought, he gives it in English. His lectures are immaculately structured, and the medium of communication is strictly English. Procrastination is a stranger to him. E

He reaches his writing table at 9am and starts writing. Some of the writing is on extremely challenging subjects. He concludes his daily business at 6.30pm. Almost every year, Prof Rahman comes out with a book. So far there has been one on social history of Hindi-Urdu, a book on names, one on jihad, followed by wars, representing the views of middle ranking officers, subaltern class and widows of the martyred. Te last one has just come out.

His next book is the English translation and interpretation of Ghalib’s poetry is ready to go to the publisher. Expect it to be scintillating work. Rendering poetry immersed in Indo-Persian cultural ethos into English requires some grit and perseverance. While Prof Rahman is working on a book project, he is simultaneously planning the next. Such zeal is rare, particularly in Pakistan.

For his research he undertakes journeys to obscure places. He operates without any research assistant. Writing and publishing while based in Pakistan is a herculean task. Modesty is another of his unfailing traits.

One of Prof Rahman’s earlier passions was unravelling the impact of language on politics. His earliest works deal with that subject of extraordinary significance. Having completed his PhD from the University of Sheffield on EM Foster, he decided to part ways with literature and riveted his attention on language as a determinant of culture/ ethnicity.

He studied language from varied perspectives. He forged synthesis of different disciplines like cultural studies with the primary focus on language, politics, sociology, and history. That synergy afforded subtlety to the argument that he foregrounded. That intellectual complexity by synthesising divergent disciplinary impulses has become more pronounced in his later works.

Education and pedagogy are the areas that Rahman has written quite extensively about. He is one of the very few academics with a deep understanding of the issues plaguing our education system. These insights into Pakistani education system and the ills it is beset with, make Rahman an invaluable human resource. Yet, his services have been markedly under-utilised.

Research is his first love but he does not shy away from administrative duties. His tenure as director at the National Institute of Pakistan Studies at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, was a resounding success. It is strange that despite being one of the most decorated academics in Pakistan, he was not appointed the vice chancellor.

Rahman’s services for the advancement of knowledge have been acknowledged not only in Pakistan but also in other countries. Truth be told, in our country, those who excel in their respective fields can be quite conveniently bypassed. Chicanery and nepotism rule the roost. The presence of academics like Rahman is barely tolerated. That Rahman is dean of education at Beaconhouse National University, is a big credit to the institution.


The writer is Professor in the faculty of Liberal Arts at the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore



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