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Photo by White Star
Photo by White Star

KARACHI: “Dr Mubarak Ali’s book clears misconceptions and opens a new view of thinking. It clears the dark clouds of misconceptions and beliefs. His articles are brimming with knowledge,” said a student of history, during the launch of the historian’s latest book Mirror of History at Szabist on Thursday.

“Dr Mubarak is known as the ‘People’s historian’,” said Dr Riaz Shaikh, associate professor and head of social sciences at the institute.

“He gives you history from the perspective of ordinary people. He doesn’t write about kings and heroes but about people for the people,” said Mahnaz Rahman of Aurat Foundation.

Dr Irfan Aziz of the University of Karachi said that the book’s title doesn’t do it justice. “Why ‘mirror’? Why not ‘Kaleidoscope of History’?” he asked. “It is a collection of small pieces written with so much depth they join together to form a kaleidoscopic image,” he said.

“When I showed the book to my little daughter, she said that it was different from the other books which I gave her, which are all how-to books for young readers. But she thought that this book was about how to do history,” he shared.

Senior journalist and columnist Zubeida Mustafa said that she wished Dr Mubarak had started writing on history when she was a student as she would have benefited from his writings immensely. “Dr Mubarak’s first message is to challenge what we have been told and interpret it in your own way. He wants us to study everything with an open mind. That’s how you bring up issues and discuss them,” she said.

“He gives you what happened in the past and helps you connect it to the present while covering many different aspects of society,” she added.

Dawn’s Readers’ Editor Muhammad Ali Siddiqi said that he had interviewed Dr Mubarak for the Sunday Magazine in Dawn some three decades back. While discussing his covering of the Mughal Empire and the emperors, he suggested that the historian also attempt writing about the Ottoman era.

Well-known psychiatrist Dr Syed Haroon Ahmed said that the historian has written so much on enlightenment that it deserved a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records. “The 350 pages of this, his 80th treatise, are like the pages of a travelogue taking the reader from the past to the present,” he said.

“I also suggest making this book into a textbook as Dr Mubarak possesses the gift of communicating with students in few words which suits them as the youth of today have low attention spans.”

Finally, Dr Mubarak, who is in Lahore, spoke through Skype. “History is my passion and I am using it to create an understanding in society,” he said, adding that he realised he didn’t know anything about history when he went abroad for higher studies. “The state of education in our universities is pathetic but in Germany where I studied, history had become a very important and sensitive subject.

“One had to be thoroughly methodical to understand history. And history of sensibility is not about the accounts of the ruling classes,” he said, showing his disappointment about how students here are prevented from developing political and social consciousness and how history is misinterpreted and distorted in our institutions. “The distortion of history then appears in our textbooks. Truth doesn’t always prevail, lies also prevail. Still, I have tried to dismantle the concept of hero and hero worship,” he concluded.

Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2017