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A history quartet for children



In the United States and Europe, books for children are as numerous as wildebeest on the Serengeti. However, the ones that I came across in the bookshops during my university days in London gravitated towards fictional tales of heroism and adventure — something that the British schoolboy identified with.
There were a few books for children on historical themes which had a strong local flavour and extolled the virtues of valour and resoluteness. But most of the children in my neighbourhood were members of the Enid Blyton fan club.

She was one of the world's bestselling authors whose works were translated into 90 languages. In fact, she had made enough money to cause an eclipse.

In the United States, where controversies have raged in some states over whether or not to teach the Bible or Darwin's theory of evolution, and in the former Soviet Union where the proletariat was baptised with Marxism, there have been minor differences in perspective when examining actual historical facts.

Things are different in Pakistan where a few conscientious individuals in the history department of the universities are grappling with a much larger problem.

How does one rectify the deliberate falsification of history during the contentious reign of the obscurantist dictator Ziaul Haq when textbooks were re-written?

The unmistakable whiff of political and religious manipulation was everywhere, even on the telly where a female TV anchor had to cover her head and was forbidden to smile.  Quiz programmes directed at schoolchildren focused hugely on religion… and little else.

I also learned to my astonishment that some of the metaphysical, numerical and artistic theories that had been propounded by the Greeks in 300 BC, which provided the inspiration for the efflorescence of European culture, were actually first advanced by the Arabs, especially Ibn Khaldun, who was born in Tunis on May 27, 1332 AD. A lot can be said by living in some kind of time warp.

Pakistan has a raft of books in English on military, economic, social and political history.

But they are mainly directed at the adult reader. Oxford University Press and the distinguished historian Dr Hamida Khuhro were aware of this vacuum and decided to do something about it.

That is how the delightful quartet of booklets depicting the history of the four provinces of Pakistan came into being. A Children's History of Sind (2012) set the tone for the other three that followed Punjab (2013) Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (2013) and Balochistan (2014).

The first publication is already available in Urdu and there are plans to translate the other three into the vernacular. Each volume is profusely illustrated and written in an easy-to-read style.

Places, periods and people are conjured up in depth and detail. Solidly authentic scenes teem with blazing colour and pulsate with life.

Like the chapter on Chandragupta and the Mauryan Empire which exhumes an important part of the history of the subcontinent.

The quartet is a scholarly work. It is about a past that is as absorbing as it is fascinating.

Even though the target market is the child, it would do the parents no harm if they also read the booklets.

They might learn something — as I certainly did. For example, how many people know that Sindh was once part of the Persian Empire, or that the world's largest land animal, the Balochitherium, lived in the blue Baluchi hills over 20 million years ago?

Or that the Frontier was once fertilised by the culture of the Aryans, Persians, Greeks and the British and graced by the religions of the Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs? The quartet is a valuable addition to my library.

The Express Tribune


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