One of the distinct disadvantages that I have suffered from the beginning of my schooling was not being weak in Urdu–ever! It just seemed to me as a kid that all the good [laiq] kids–according to the adults, seemed to read Enid Blyton, while rogue kids (nalaiks) like myself read stuff like A. Hamid’s Maut ka Taqub (chasing death), Ishtiaq Ahmed’s Inspector Jamshed ke Karname (The Exploits of Inspector Jamshed), Ibn-e-Safi’s Imran Series, Muhammad Asif Jah’s Tilism-e-Hoshruba, and Ghalib Lakhnavi and Adbullah Bilgirami’s Dastaan-e-Amir Hamza (The Adventures of Amir Hamza). To this list, I must also add the Devta book series featuring the adventures of Anosha and Sarang Baba.
Many children in my neighborhood had Superman, Spiderman and Batman comic books. I really enjoyed looking at the pictures but the storyline always seemed to elude me. I was raised reading Urdu children digests like Taleem-o-tarbiyat, Naunehal, and Bachon ki Duniya. I did cheat though. To fit in I bought Urdu versions of the said comics so that I could keep up with the sophisticated kids about the various attributes and adventures of the assorted super heroes.
I really wanted to read Enid Blyton and Batman, but till about 9th grade I could only phonetically read and write English and had practically no listening or reading comprehension, or speaking ability. The sophisticated English medium children’s world of English fairy tales and ‘Famous Five’ seemed so modern and sophisticated to me–my childhood world being mostly centered around Urdu, Punjabi and Pahari. And then, all of those English speaking kids’ parents complained with such undisguised glee about their children’s bad grades in Urdu. I wished my parents could complain about my marks in Urdu like the parents of all the cool kids, instead of my marks in the infernal mathematics.
Thanks to good teachers–among them Mr. Masud Ghani at Burn Hall–and my perpetual sense of inadequacy, I ended up being fluent in English by the end of high school. I then went on to get an overseas education and from a certain point of view, became part of that English-speaking world that I thought was so unapproachable as a child.
Along the way as an adult I have come to see my childhood shame as my pride. I cannot thank enough the travels and adventures in Maut ka Taqub, of the immortal Egyptian Aumber, the invisible girl Maria and the changeling snake in human shape Naag, in the Levant, Middle East, Central Asia, China, Tibet and India through five thousand years of history for shaping my mental map of the world. Or the fairies and demons (devs) of the Tilism-e-hoshruba to give me that sense of wonder and curiosity about the Caucasus, where they came from, or the lands of Fars (Persia) or Toran where they seemed to engage in various nefarious or beneficial activities. As an aside I won’t watch or read Harry Potter movies or books for a long time because I didn’t think it could be as good as Tilism-e-Hoshruba–it is. It would also be a sin not to mention my vicarious adventures with the magician Anosha and his master Sarang baba in Raja Ambhi’s Kingdom of Taxila, during Alexander the great’s invasion of our neck of the woods in 3rd century BC. And as for famous five, Inspector Jamshed’s children, Farooq, Farzana and Mehmood could definitely take them out investigatively any day!
Silly posturing aside, the point is not to get into a ridiculous argument on which literature is better than the other–all literature caries the spirit of the culture and people of its creators. The indigenous idiom, geography and imagination, is critical to engaging with the world on one’s own terms instead of somebody else’s, and literature is the purveyor of all of that. I learned my mental geography and my place in it through some of the above. Happily even for the English speaking elite kids of today, Musharraf Ali Farooqi has translated the inimitable Tilism-e-Hoshruba. Thanks to him, now the engrezi medium kids too can indulge in the adventure as “The cup bearers of nocturnal revelries and bibbers from the cup of inspiration pour the vermillion wine of inscription into the paper’s goblet thus: When Amir Hamza’s armies drove away . . .”
Daanish Mustafa is a Reader in Politics and Environment at the Department of Geography, King’s College, London. He spends his time contesting the despostism of the reader over the message of the Author.
Daanish Mustafa, “Geographies of Our Minds,” in Tanqeed, February 1, 2013. Accessed on March 10, 2015, at: http://www.tanqeed.org/2013/02/geographies-of-our-minds-daanish-mustafa/2/
The item above written by Daanish Mustafa and published in Tanqeed on February 1, 2013, is catalogued here in full by Faiz-e-Zabaan for non-profit educational purpose only. Faiz-e-Zabaan neither claims the ownership nor the authorship of this item. The link to the original source accessed on March 10, 2015, is available here. Faiz-e-Zabaan is not responsible for the content of the external websites.
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