Saturday July 02, 2022

Students still secure admissions to KU Persian department — only to move to other departments later

June 06, 2022

There was a time when the department of Persian used to be one of the most crowded places at the University of Karachi (KU) where at a time hundreds of students would attend their classes to learn Persian to get access to the knowledge and aesthetic content generated in the language over centuries in Iran, Iraq, the Subcontinent, Turkey, Central Asia and other regions.

At present, however, the department seems deserted and the 12,000 books in its library gather dust. Only three staffers and four teachers are currently employed at the department and students are rarely seen in the classrooms.

The varsity administration has also seemingly put the issues of the department on the backburner as no appointments against four vacant positions of a professor, an associate professor, an assistant professor, and a lecturer have been made.

Some 10 years ago, Dr Ali Muhammad from the Tehran University had come to the KU to teach Persian at the department. Since then, no foreign expert came to impart knowledge of Persian at the varsity.

A mocking wall

As if the internal atmosphere of the department is not enough for its faculty members to remain in a constant state of gloom, a writing on the wall of the adjacent Urdu department, which enjoys a considerable number of students, seems to rub salt into the wounds of the Persian department.

The wall of the Urdu department, which is clearly visible from the Persian side, is inscribed with a couplet from an Urdu ghazal of Ghalib — “Jo Yeh Kahe Keh Rekhta Kyunkeh Ho Rashk-e-Farsi/ Gufta-e-Ghalib Aik Baar Parh Ke Use Suna Ke Yun [If someone says why the Persian language needs to envy Rekhta (old name of Urdu), just read out some Urdu poetry of Ghalib to answer that]”.

Those in the Persian department often construe from the wall inscription that the Urdu department belittles them. However, Dr Ramzan Bamari, the incharge of the Persian department believes that the teachers of the Urdu department do not know what Ghalib had said in Persian about his Urdu poetry.

Talking to The News, he recited a Persian couplet of Ghalib which translates into “If you want to read original colours, read my Persian poetry, keep my Urdu poetry aside that is colourless like me.”

Students still secure admissions to KU Persian department — only to move to other departments later

“I just wanted to paint this verse of Ghalib on the front wall of the Persian department but I avoid confronting my fellow teachers of the Urdu department,” he remarked.

Past glimpses

In the past, renowned academics such as Prof Abid Ali, Prof Dr Sajidullah Tafhimi, Dr Syed Hussain Jafar Haleem, Dr Roshan Ara Begum, Prof Dr Tahira Siddiqui, Prof Dr Nabi Bakhsh Qazi and such others rendered invaluable services in the teaching of the Persian language and literature at the KU.

“Apart from Prof Qazi who was born in in Rohri in 1923, the rest of the professors were born in India. But all of them studied in India and later they made efforts to preserve the classical Persian that flourished in the subcontinent over the centuries,” Dr Bamari said.

He added that the department of Persian was established at the KU in 1955 with a view to provide facilities for advanced studies and research in the fields of Persian language and literature with particular emphasis on the literature produced in the Subcontinent during the last nine centuries, and to familiarise the younger generation of Pakistan with the history, language and literature of Iran. “Prof Dr Ghulam Sarwar was the founder Chairman of the department,” he explained.

‘Fraudulent’ admissions

At present, only 35 students are enrolled at the department in the BS programme. Three students are pursuing their doctorate degrees and as many enrolled in the MPhil programme.

However, even the paltry number of students at the department is an overstatement. At the time of admissions, dozens of students secure admissions to the Persian department — but they do not intend to study Persian.

Since the Persian department’s seats are not filled, these students secure admissions here after they are unable to get admission to the department of their choice. The following year they change their major subject from Persian to other disciplines.

Dr Bamari remarked that during the last 10 years, only three to five students completed their BS education in the Persian department each year. Lamenting the general perception that a degree in Persian would not land someone good job opportunities, he said it was also the reason some students decided to leave Persian after admissions.

The offering

According to Dr Bamari, the Persian department imparts quality education and offers BS, MS, MPhil and PhD programmes. Likewise, certificate and diploma courses have also been introduced to attract more students.

The certificate level courses have been divided into two levels — the first level is for general students who just want to learn to speak, read and write in the Persian language, and the second level is for the teachers and students of history and Urdu literature.

Students still secure admissions to KU Persian department — only to move to other departments later

After the completion of the certificate courses, the department offers diploma in the language. The syllabus for diploma is also divided in two major parts, one of which focuses on the modern Persian and the other is for classical Persian.

The decline

Dr Bamari recalled that until the late 1970s and early 1980s, Persian was a compulsory subject up to the grade 8 at schools. However, then military dictator Ziaul Haq encouraged the teaching of Arabic at the expense of Persian.

The department incharge claimed that great Islamic scholars of our region actually spread Islam here more through Persian than Arabic.

After the military dictator’s policy, he said, the authorities stopped making fresh appointments against the positions falling vacant after retirements of college teachers of the Persian language.

“In Karachi, the Government Women Degree College Old City Area, Raunaq-e-Islam Government College for Women, Jamia Millia Government College Malir and others still have sanctioned posts for Persian teachers. But there is no teacher who can teach Persian,” he lamented.

Dr Bamari explained that before joining the KU in 2001, he was the only teacher at the Persian Department of the Federal Urdu University of Arts, Science and Technology (Fuuast), which was only a college at that time. He sorrowfully said that after he came to the KU, the Urdu College got the status of a university the following year but since then, there has been no teacher of Persian at Fuuast but the department exists.

He opined that studying at the Persian department did not mean learning just one language as the department offered access to the treasures of knowledge written in Persian in diverse disciplines including philosophy, geography, political science, governance, economics, medicine and many more.

The library of the department, which has been named after its founder, has many rare books on history, literature and governance. Apart from the classics such as Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, and Divans of Hafez and Ghalib, the collection includes rare books written in Sindh such as Chachnama, Sukhanwaran-e-Sindh and Adabnama Aulia-e-Karam-e-Sindh.

Dr Bamari said that as the residents of Pakistan, we could not afford to neglect Persian as a large part of the literature of our languages had been directly or indirectly inspired by Persian. He said all major classic poets of the regional languages of Pakistan were well-versed in Persian and they also composed verses in Persian besides their own language.

He explained that as Persian remained the official language of the royal states in the region for centuries, it enjoyed immense prestige and all the learned persons used to have command over it. All the official correspondence, marriage certificates, land ownership documents and pacts were penned in the Persian language, he added.

Commenting on the decline of Persian in Pakistan, he said academic disciplines were linked with the job market, and people perceived that knowing Persian would not be economically helpful to them. With a sad gesture, he cited an Urdu proverb ‘Parho Farsi Becho Tail [learn Persian and do a mediocre trade]’, saying that the proverb reflected the general attitude of people towards Persian in spite of the rich influence the language has had on Urdu and all our other languages, our culture, civilisation, modes of thinking and aesthetic standards.

He, however, negated this general impression that Persian was not linked with the job market. He said that there were too many job opportunities for those learning Persian because several national and international organisations and institutions needed researchers, translators, teachers and marketers who knew the Persian language, culture and history.

He stated that at the KU, most students who are able to complete their studies in Persian are motivated to do so because of their religious affiliation. He opined that although it had become a routine matter to blame the lack of government’s patronage for the decline of various disciplines, but as the matter of fact, the government’s policies did matter in such affairs.

To explain his point, Dr Bamari said that when the government incentivised learning of Chinese in Pakistan and facilitated Chinese-teaching institutes, we saw a surge of students at those places keen to learn Chinese, a language that was completely alien in every respect to theirs.

He complained that the government of Pakistan had historically neglected Persian, which was something unfortunate because a lot of our past had been preserved in Persian, from which not only we derived our regional literature but also a significant part of our culture had its roots in the Persian tradition.