Visit To a Bookstore

My mum used to hate it every time when I’d sneak into the Liberty bookstore in the Dolmen Mall. For her, I’d be lost there forever and wont come out till she’d be really angry and it was time to go home. And I think everyone I know love the feeling of soo many books stacked all around you and you don’t know where to start and what to pick first with that butterfly feeling in your stomach (except for your mum who knows you have quite a few books lying around at home that you haven’t had time to read yet!).

Anyway, last night we visited this huge bookstore in Riyadh. And it was like a dream come true! Just imagine looking at those thousands of mouth watering books and the glossy title pages or hard covers or even paperbacks stacked neatly in shelves after shelves after shelves. And all you want to do is to forget everything, and sit on the floor in the midst of all those books and just read till eternity. *sigh*

All this drooling over books in the bookstore reminded me of the time when we were in our Masters final year. In our first semester we were supposed to write one research paper. The class was divided into two groups and the incharge of our group decided to take us down in the basement of the main library of ku. The basement is one hell of a place. It has thousands and thousands and thousands of books! The smell of old paper, the shelves filled with such wisdom, such life, and such calmness that one can spend hours there without paying heed to the passage of time. Our professor asked us to stay close because cellphones don’t catch signals there and if we were lost, we might be lost forever. But seriously, that one basement is the most awesome place in the world.

How can one forget the book fair at KU and the cheap prices they offer. And the expo center book fair! I remember spending eidis at such bookfairs and the frustration of my mum as we(me and my siblings) would come home with shoppers of books, and she would say,’ye kahan rakho ge?’ Well.. I guess all our mothers have the same concerns. Hehe.

Anyway, since Dawood gets hold of everything first, I need to sacrifice my sleep in order to read those books that I’ve bought. I know all of us have crazy reading habits and even after having a baby I keep getting caught in those whirlpools where you just can’t stop reading. I remember one time my father threatened to actually tear and burn one book when he caught me reading in the candle light at around 2 am. Well, I didn’t stop reading I went downstairs and read the rest in the light from my brother’s cell phone! he he.

 

 

Religion, Culture and Literature…

I smsed my brother asking if he has “The Prince” and he replied in affirmation. I texted back saying,”I’ll be highly obliged if you can bring it”. He later commented that my “highly obliged” reflected the mentality of a slave. And I replied, “As if taking a degree in English is not a reflection enough !”

A few weeks back, a cousin of mine was asking about some symbol on orkut and her brother tried to show that he doesn’t know. And as I was standing nearby I shouted out that word loud and clear. And her brother looked at me, shocked, and then told her sister, ” that’s why I didn’t say it!” The word is commonly used but has vulgar connotations. And with this the realisation dawned upon me that I’m getting accustomed to all those words which are not a part of my culture. In the book Doing English, the author has clearly stated that with every word of a foreign language comes the whole cultural package. And with this the fear took over me. Am I falling through the bottomless pit of a foreign culture?! From then onwards I became conscious of every word that I use and am trying still to shun every word that does not reflect decency.

But how many of us actually realise that?! Last year while attending one of the presentations of the research group in our department, the professor said that not every word can be translated. In Arabic we use words which have no direct one word in English or any other language. It’s true for Urdu and other languages. And this is true for English as well. The words become terminologies! Once attending the lecture of philosophy, a professor said that we should avoid using words like “enlightenment” and “modern” because these are not words with simple meanings, for Occidentals these are terminologies that have derived from their history and culture. These words date back from the 16th and 17th Centuries, the age that Europe called The Age of Enlightenment. The shift from homo-centric to the ego-centric culture, when man became more important. And these all are not part of our culture.

In Notes Towards the definition of Culture, T.S. Eliot says that Europe’s culture is deeply seated in the religious history of Europe. The literature of Europe has it’s roots so deep in Christianity that even now when some of them reject every religion, their every action is Christian. And Muhammad Asad in his book The Road to Makkah says that he has come to the theory that the European prejudice and hatred towards Islam and Muslims is dated as back as the first Crusades! So it’s deep rooted in their hearts, and is instilled in their genes and they cannot detach it from themselves. It has become part of their culture. And it was T.S.Eliot who said that Culture is derived from religion and faith (with it or the lack of it). And as writers cannot write in a vacuum, and they incorporate their genes into the whole experience of writing, we see the reflection of their beliefs, culture and thoughts. So, when I am reading Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Dickens, Bronte or James, I am actually exposing myself to their culture and beliefs. I remember a friend saying that it seems as if we know more than the average European about their sects and religion and history. It’s incorporated in their literature.

Now the effect of literature upon our lives: The first ever department of English was established in the colony of Subcontinent. The English believed that literature would incorporate certain values in the Indians without them realising it. And this would help them make better slaves. And they would not realise the religious moulding through literature. So, literature became a tool of making us more “civilized” in the eyes of West to serve their own purposes. Literature, if read passively, works subtely yet moves your insides violently. Your mind may accept things subconsciously or unconciously and may effect your whole way of thinking. And I realised that you need to be active when reading literature, alert all the time, in order to keep their beliefs and metaphysics at bay.

The recent writers of Pakistan, who chose English to be their medium of communicating their ideas, do not reflect the embedded culture of the East. And when I’m talking about Muslim writers, I’m talking about the culture of Islam. The writers have not only chosen English but they have incorporated the ideas of Europe, their culture in those writings reflecting their own “slave-ish mentality”.  The embedded idea in our minds that doing English, eating with forks and spoons and sitting on a dining table reflects the marks of civilization, without realising that in our culture, eating with your hands and sitting on the floor are the marks of being “civilized”.

It’s high time for us to realise that our culture, literature and everything else have a center, and that center is Islam. And the unification in things come from that one center. We may be able to intitutionalise every “branch” of knowledge, but the cente would allow a Muslim to see things in totality and not in fractions. And we see all that in the works of Muslim poets from Rumi to Iqbal. So, even if we are to read the Western authors, we need to counter that effect by reading our own literature in the languages of the East, mainly Urdu, Arabic or Persian. It’s high time to stand facing the current and yet not loose our grounds. And we can only do that by standing in our own cultural grounds and not borrowed ones. We have far more better examples than those of Aristotle, Plato and Socrates.

Maintaining the Standards

I stopped reading the papers after huge incidences that happened after Eid-ul-Fitr and the great Emergency. I guess I was trying to shut out the ramblings of the politicians and the army-men. Anyway, during my exams while I was having breakfast one fine Monday morning and was not in the mood of studying, I took up the newspaper wondering if something “interesting” was there. And to my surprise the whole newspaper had changed.

I took up Dawn’s Sunday Magazine because it was supposed to be the best part about the newspaper. But articles by Farid Paracha, the Swot articles and not to mention Aunty Agni thing shoved me to an early grave. I was appalled, flabbergasted and highly offended. What are these articles trying to imply?! OR better… What are these articles trying to propagate?!

I remember reading F.R. Leavis’ essay for the exam. The essay suggested that the literature and newspapers have sub-standardised in order to meet the mass civilisation’s demands rather keeping it’s standards for the few who actually have a good taste and higher intellect. So, the so-called elite or rather the western-ised minds of Pakistan has taken its lead in the same thing. Now they’re writing what they think is “light”,”interesting” and “funny” not realising that they are giving the youth a direction that would lead this country into chaos. We don’t want writers who can lull us to sleep. We don’t want writers who think “enjoying” life should be everything. We need writers like Naseem Hijazi, who can shake us up, who can wake us up from the deep slumber.

The English Speaking Class of Pakistan, which believes in the superiority of the Western Civilization and thought, have forgotten their own roots. English might be the need of time, but to rip ourselves from our own language, culture and roots have driven us into the labyrinth without a sense of direction. It’s a life where you follow the shadows, where you run after the crowd who are in the same state of hopelessness.

So, back to where I was. The Dawn newspaper has lost its vigour, life and decency. I’m not saying that I’ve a better taste. All I’m trying to say is we are a better nation. And we can do so much more than immitating the West in the most degraded things. We have better examples like Iqbal and Faiz. We need to set our standards high and help our mass civilisation to come upto that standard not the otherway round. The writers have a huge responsibilty and they should take the lead of guiding people in a better direction. This is the need of our times.

Bewitched…

Finally I was over with Tess of the D’Urbervilles yesterday and was not in the mood of overdoing it by reading some critical material. So I glanced at my shelf looking for something amazing to read and my eyes were held by The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot.

We did The Mill on the Floss in the first semester of this Honours Program. Though I loved the story, the annotations and the discussion we had with the teacher makes it more special. I was reading the parts which were underlined, marked and were remarked upon and I realised how much it still moves me.

In the first class, the teacher said that each and everyone of us have a Maggie in ourselves. And we were bewitched by this idea. And we still are…

When we finished it, the teacher discussed some major themes, aspects and ideas about the whole novel and on the last blank page of the novel, I wrote something that the teacher said in class:

Death before death is Mysticism

And the silence that followed still has its impact upon me…

Kartography…

The first few days of university, everyone seemed to brave through the coarse university schedule. We used to have a couple of classes in the morning then we’d wait till the afternoon for a couple more classes. In the beginning, I didn’t quite know how to utilize the faarigh time as it was all new for the students and teachers were testing their tempraments and abilities and all. So I decided to take one of my favourite books to university to read in between the classes.

This is how I got hooked up with N.A. She saw Kartpgraphy in my bag and screamed, “You’re reading this! OMG!”

“I’ve read it but I love it and I do read it time and again,” was rather my comment.

And then both of us narrated the best parts in the book and the dialogues and we discussed it. We still do. I don’t know what keeps me glued to it nor does she. But I read it whenever I need a kick to get into reading even though I know it by heart. ALmost. And N.A. doesn’t read it every month like me yet we talk about it sometimes.

So, it was Kartography that bonded us and then came alot of books that we’ve read or want to read. I still remember how she made me read The Alchemist and said it was amazing, and I didn’t like it that much. And she was disappointed! lol.

We’ve read a number of books, shared our views and even shared our books (this reminds me I still have your zero point with me.) The other day I was making a list of books that I’ll buy once my brother lands in Karachi, and I asked for her assistance. And thankyou for the name of Imam Ghazzali’s book! I really appreciate that.

Well… we have our differences in alot of things but I’ll always remember how Kartography bonded us. The bond of friendship is so that we do fight, argue and all but still in”our marrows of our marrows” we are the same! Thank you N.A., for everything and specially for your precious time and all the books!