Tuesday September 27, 2022

Finding solace in literature

April 03, 2022

There is too much politics around; to get some respite it is perhaps better to continue our discussion about some of the sessions at the 5th Sindh Literature Festival (SLF). The session on Sindhi-Urdu relations featured names such as Ahmad Shah, Noorul Huda Shah, Mazhar Jameel, and Qasim Bughio.

Renowned Sindhi poet Mumtaz Bukhari moderated the session. Ahmed Shah, president of the Arts Council Karachi, is a strong proponent of ethnic harmony and linguistic diversity in society. He has played an instrumental role in transforming the Arts Council into a dynamic institution where nearly every day is a happening day. He dilated upon how Sindhi and Urdu have played significant roles in his life. Most of his friends are proficient in both languages and make life interesting and worth living. Ahmed Shah believes in promoting a better and more integrated approach to bringing languages together so that there is no feeling of alienation among speakers of different languages.

Noorul Huda Shah is a well-respected writer in both Sindhi and Urdu. She discussed writers such as Jeem Abbasi, Kashif Raza, and Rafaqat Hayat who have made recent contributions to literature, highlighting issues in society and bringing to the fore the challenges that the youth is facing. She especially talked about Kashif Raza and Rafaqat Hayat who are not native Sindhi speakers but have learned to read and write it beautifully. Noor feels happy when young people from various cultural backgrounds come together to understand each other’s languages and literatures.

Mazhar Jameel’s contribution is unmatchable in bringing Sindhi and Urdu closer. There have been other writers too who translated Sindhi books into Urdu such as Afaq Siddiqui and Ilyas Ishqi, but Mazheer Jameel’s Urdu magnum opus about the history of Sindhi literature is a marvelous book of research that everyone interested in Sindhi literature must read. He reminded the audience that Mirza Qaleech Baig organized one of the first meetings of Anjuman Taraqqi-e-Urdu in Karachi in 1920. Mazhar Jameel continues to inspire us by his relentless work and his inimitable energy to conduct quality research in literature.

Mazhar Jameel quoted examples from history, proving that Sindhi and Urdu have had a long association with each other. Qasim Bughio was more focused on his linguistic inclinations by highlighting the need for a perpetual corpus development in Sindhi and Urdu. He informed the audience that the world famous Oxford English Dictionary never sleeps, adding new words and expressions every day. As Sindhi and Urdu are enriching themselves by interacting, Bughio suggested that scholars of both languages should learn from each other. He also appreciated numerous poets from Sindh who have been writing in Urdu for over two hundred years.

The session on the current political situation of Pakistan had speakers such as Azaz Syed, Owais Tohid, and Qazi Javed. Azaz Syed is a brilliant reporter, analyst and commentator of politics in Pakistan. He was as candid as ever in his observations that the current political developments are taking place as if all bulbs and plugs are connected with the same extension wire. The extension wire has its origin in the power centre that controls the power supply to all sudden or sustained fluctuations in political currents. Azaz Syed was of the opinion that those who appear to be toppling the current dispensation are actually helpless if the power supply is cut off.

Owais Tohid opined that, contrary to common perceptions, not everything that is happening on the political front is being managed by powerful quarters. He linked the current political situation with international politics and highlighted the role of foreign policy that Pakistan has been pursuing. Owais felt that unless Pakistan keeps its foreign policy in order, the domestic balance between civilian and military leadership will continue to fluctuate. He suggested an overhaul of some fundamental political assumptions in the country.

The Sindh Literature Festival also had sessions on scientific approaches to learning. The book ‘Kainaat, zindagi, aeen insaan’ (The Universe, life and human) by Dr Sikandar Mughal attracted wide attention. Dr Sikandar Mughal is an interesting medical doctor. He has spent so much energy and time in translating scientific literature into the Sindhi language that one becomes instantly amazed after getting to know him. In today’s scientific literature in Sindhi, Dr Mughal occupies an unparalleled distinction. Being a surgeon he could have spent time minting money, but he preferred to groom himself as a scholar and writer too.

Dr Mughal’s new book breaks fresh ground in Sindhi scientific writing by discussing the origin of the universe from the Big Bang and quantum vacuum to evolution of the mind. The first part of his book is about the origin of the universe – what he calls a pre-created state which is now termed by most scientists as quantum vacuum. The birth of the universe is now considered a two-step process in which the first is the Radiation Era followed by the Matter Era. Cosmologists have further divided the Radiation Era into multiple epochs.

Dr Mughal in his lucid Sindhi prose takes the reader through Planck Epoch, Grand Unification, Inflation Epoch, Electroweak, Quark, Hedron, Lepton, and Nuclear Epochs. Then he explains the Matter Era which has three epochs: Atomic, Galactic, and Stellar Epochs. In the second part of his book, he explores the origin of the earth and discusses gravity, solar energy, and extraterrestrial life with a particular reference to theoretical physics. In the next section he moves on to the basics of life including the complexities of the DNA, sex cells, and the selfish gene.

Finally in the last three sections of his book, Dr Sikandar Mughal gives us an orientation of the human brain and the concept of intelligence. He also discusses the evolution of mind with abstract thinking and logic. This book that is just 200 pages long is a treat to read as it encompasses so much in so little space that one wonders how he managed that. Dr Zulfiqar Rahojo has written a befitting introduction to the book. Dr Bakht Jamal moderated the session and kept the audience engaged.

The session on ‘Digital Sindhi Boli’ that Dr Ayoub Shaikh moderated informed the audience about how some dedicated professionals are digitizing the Sindhi language with substantial help from the Sindhi Language Authority in Hyderabad. Shabbir Kumbhar has done a wonderful job by writing a book on digital Sindhi language. The session paid tribute to Abdul Najid Burghari who is one of the founders of Sindhi computing. In fact, he was the first one who introduced Sindhi language to computers. To acknowledge his services the government of Sindh has established Majid Burghari Institute of Language Engineering.

Shabbir Kumbhar’s book fulfills a timely need to guide the youth in Sindh about the use of computing with Sindhi language. The book is easy to read and understand as it uses simple explanations. Anyone sitting at home can, just by reading this book, initiate themselves into Sindhi script on the computer. Evidently, the writer has put in a lot of efforts in which he had ample support from his two intelligent and hardworking daughters Preen and Supreen. It is so heartening to see young Sindhi girls coming up with new ideas and walking along with their elders in pursuit of better language skills and technical skills.

Perhaps this is the best book in Sindhi, containing chapters on ‘Sindhi script and computer technology’, ligatures and font embedding in Sindhi, optical character recognition (OCR) in Sindhi, software learning with Sindhi interface, and Sindhi electronic book formats.

This concludes the discussion on the 5th SLF which was a successful event despite people leading a campaign against it.

The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK. He tweets @NaazirMahmood and can be reached at: