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KARACHI: Although there were several book launches, workshops, talks along with plenty of other happenings at the Teachers’ Literature Festival organised jointly by the Idara-e-Taleem-o-Agahi and Oxford University Press (OUP) at the Arts Council on Thursday, one of the best features of the day, a talking book, the first of its kind in Pakistan, was sadly not given as much importance as it deserved.

Story of Health or Sehat ki Kahani is one book in three languages written by children’s writer Amra Alam, who has some 80 books to her credit besides bringing out the periodicals Sangtara and Uran Tashtree. The book has been written in English and Urdu while it speaks in Urdu and Pushto and it addresses a very important and timely issue — polio.

“The book came about as a result of the concern over polio by the Unicef and Rotary Club and the problems in its eradication being faced by Pakistan,” said the author. “Initially, I wrote a 35-minute script, which I then reduced to seven-and-a-half minutes to make the book to the point and not cumbersome reading for children,” she added.

“The protagonist in Story of Health learns about polio and how children can get the disease. Then there is a connection of thought processes where he realises that he knew a child with polio and how she succumbed to it,” said Ms Alam.

“This book has already been distributed among all the 5,000 polio centres in the country along with several NGOs that deal in education. I also visited Gadap recently where I introduced it to children. The children went home to tell their parents about what they learnt and that’s how the message spread from one home to another, which is my main objective for writing this book,” she explained.

“The correct way to use this book would be to sit down with it in the middle surrounded by children. You can read out the story to them and play the book while also turning the pages to show them the illustrations in it, which are really attention-grabbing,” she said.

Finally, the author gave away free copies of Story of Health to the teachers present at the festival. “Being well aware of the severity of the situation regarding polio here, I am distributing the book free of cost to whoever promises to read it out to children and use it in the classroom in order to spread its message,” she said.

It was sad that the organisers didn’t mark out a time slot for introducing this book. The author and moderator, journalist Afia Salam, were only given some eight minutes to speak about it between sessions where some speakers got delayed.

Meanwhile, the book launches of OUP publications included some fascinating reads by Rumana Husain. The panellists discussing her books included author and playwright Haseena Moin, Jacqueline Mirza, Naheed Javed and Baela Raza Jamil. The one-and-a-half discussion focused on her books Layla aur Munni Gudia, Laddu Paida Hua/Laddu is Born, Something Black and White/Khuck Kaala aur Safaid and the ‘Tasveeri Kahani Silsila’ series about Begum Rana Liaquat Ali Khan and Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

Laddu Paida Hua/Laddu is Born shows Laddu’s father also helping out with the house chores. “I’ve tried to do away with stereotypes,” said the author. “Usually, you find the father going to office and then coming back from there, asking for his tea, going through the newspaper, having dinner and then going to sleep while the mother does all the cooking and cleaning. It’s good to see a change in Rumana’s book,” remarked Haseena Moin.

In Rumana’s book Something Black and White/Khuck Kaala aur Safaid, which is an English and Urdu bilingual book, the protagonists are girls. The story revolves around a little girl who loves to sing and her elder sister who thinks her singing is just adding to the noise pollution. Then their parents gift them a keyboard, which has black and white keys (hence the story title). The music from the instrument makes the little sister’s singing sound much better. The writer said that she based the character of the two sisters on her granddaughters, Sonia and Anya.

The most important of the author’s books launched at the festival were the biographical ‘Tasveeri Kahani Silsila’ series written for older children in comic book style. “It is not necessary to make a lesson out of every book. The first step is to develop a love for books in children. The lessons come later,” Rumana emphasised.

Heritage & literature

Another very interesting discussion at the festival was about mobilising our living heritage through our literature.

Ayub Baloch of the Institute of Balochistan Studies said Pakistan is a super power when it comes to heritage. “Heritage is a gift from our past to our future,” he said.

“In Balochistan, we have Mehrgarh that dates back to some 11,000 years, even older than Moenjodaro and Harappa, which are like its grandchildren.

“Then there is the Sibi Mela, which is actually a commemoration of the domestication of animals for the first time ever, which also happened centuries ago in Mehrgarh. Thanks to it mankind won battles, got meat and other animal produce but all this and the significance of the place has not been recognised by Unesco due to our failure in promoting it through our literature,” he regretted.

Prof Dr Adal Soomro from Shah Abdul Latif University spoke about Sasui, Moomal and Marvi, the women in our folktales, and the significance of the spinning wheel in Bhittai’s poetry. “All these bring our culture and value into our literature,” he said.