A big achievement

Published : Apr 06, 2012 00:00 IST

This is a work of scholarship and stupendous labour expended over a period of six years by contributors and a dedicated editorial team.

THE publication of this book, launched at the Karachi Literary Festival on February 12, is itself a truly memorable event in publishing. Nothing like it exists or has even been attempted in the subcontinent. History shapes identity, which, in turn, shapes the writing of history. It became fashionable for some to say that Pakistan lacks a sense of identity, a genuine nationalism. This is a work of scholarship and stupendous labour expended over a period of six years by contributors and a dedicated editorial team. Its head, the editor of this volume, is Ayesha Jalal, Mary Robinson Professor of History at Tufts University in the United States and a scholar who prizes objectivity over the claims of nationalism. This quality, she has ensured, is reflected in the volume.

The entries on Gandhi and on the Nehrus, Motilal and Jawaharlal, are written by Judith Brown, author of books on both that were lauded in India. Scholars of international fame like Prof. Brown have contributed, besides Pakistani academics and publicists of distinction. Ayesha Jalal, author of a path-breaking work on Jinnah and the partition of India, herself writes on Jinnah. The ones on Urdu and Hindi are written by Tariq Rehman, author of the erudite and courageous volume From Hindi to Urdu, which demolishes the myths sponsored by bigots on both sides of a sterile debate. Hassan Nasir, a noted expert on Leftist labour movements, writes on the communist movement in Pakistan and highlights its role against military dictatorship justified in the name of Islamisation.

The writer on civil liberties candidly asserts, civil liberties have been denied to the people throughout Pakistan's history, but points out that vibrant people's movements have... emerged in response to the long-term suppression of civil liberties.

What is significant is that Pakistan owns up to its pre-1947 past and the treasures it bequeathed. Nadia Ghani, Project Editor at the OUP, Karachi, whose labours are second only to those of the editor, writes this on archaeology: Pakistan has a rich historical heritage and possesses a large number of diverse archaeological sites containing the remains of civilisations and empires dating back to 6000 B.C. As Ayesha Jalal remarks, A country's history is a collective endeavour. This volume is an overture to better editions in the future, to serve as an indispensable reference for discussions about Pakistan's past and also the present and future in light of the past.

India shares that past and also a future with its neighbour. The high quality of the work should also command a large readership in India.

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