Art and peace

11 Sep 2020

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Zubeida Mustafa
Zubeida Mustafa

IN her poem Children Learn What They Live, Dorothy Nolte writes that if children live with hostility they learn to fight and if they live with acceptance they learn to love. What parents, teachers and all in a position of power need to know is that they must protect children from exposure to violence and trauma if they are to be peace-loving and tolerant.

Are we doing that? Not really. Look at what television shows its viewers, or worse still what is circulated on WhatsApp or posted on social media, and you will understand why we are becoming so belligerent. Even the much-touted Single National Curriculum prefers silence on this issue and the words ‘peace’, ‘love’, ‘rawadari’ or ‘amn’ figure nowhere in the eight files posted on the federal education ministry’s website.

Our classrooms have become purveyors of hate and violence in the name of patriotism. Barely a handful of universities teach a peace studies programme of which ironically the National Defence University is one. In Karachi, children hear of addresses like Teen Talwar and Golimar with no questions asked.

Against this backdrop I found Fauzia Minallah’s books in the Amai series — six of them — a striking departure from the norm. I was introduced to them at a session at the Karachi Literature Festival in 2011. I found Amai, the bird of light, a thrilling and innovative creation.

Amai’s message is one of harmony and the rejection of guns.

Fauzia conceived of this miraculous bird in 2001 after the 9/11 tragedy. In the stories, Amai turns into a shooting star and takes children on exciting excursions all over the world. Recently, Fauzia converted Amai and Sadoko’s Prayer (first written in 2005) into an animated production in cooperation with the Asian Network Trust, Hiroshima. This is an organisation that works for peace-building, being inspired by a group of women who have been motivated by their experience/memory of the atomic bombing of this Japanese city.

Fauzia felt the need for a character like Amai that symbolised peace and hope because she feared that her two sons (at that time four and six years) would grow up stereotyped by violence based on religion and race. Amai was designed to shatter this image. Amai’s message is one of intercultural harmony, love of peace and the rejection of guns and bombs. This message is conveyed through the medium of local music, dances and graphics invariably dedicated to the child victims of one bombing or shooting incident or another.

A versatile artist, Fauzia studied communication design in the US and returned to Pakistan in 1992 to contribute cartoon strips and videos to the media. She has characteristically been very inclusive and has involved special children as well as those with disabilities in her work. The experience of giving birth made her more focused on making the world a better place to live in.

Hence it was very satisfying for Fauzia to meet Timoko Watanabe of the Asian Network Trust (Hiroshima) who appreciated Fauzia’s work and invited her with her sons to visit Hiroshima on the 50th anniversary of the 1945 atomic bombing of the city. The peace museum and Sadako’s memorial that remind the Japanese and many others of the horrors of nuclear war had a tremendous impact on Fauzia. That is how Amai and Sadako’s Prayer saw the light of day.

This is based on the true story of a 12-year-old Japanese girl, Sadako, who died in 1955 of cancer induced by radiation from the bomb. A Japanese legend goes that one who makes 1,000 paper cranes from origami has her wish fulfilled. Hence Sadako spent her dying months cheerfully folding paper birds. This activity kept hope alive but Sadako died before she could reach her target.

Sadako’s tale is one that speaks of the horrors of the A-bomb and the injustice inflicted by war on children — Sadako’s dying words were “I want to live”. Sadako’s story is also one of hope which sustained her in her battle against cancer.

Amai takes two friends on an exciting adventure when they meet Bibi who comes from a war-torn land. Bibi tells them Sadako’s story.

What do we learn from Hiroshima, the city which was wiped out by America’s nuclear bomb on Aug 6, 1945? In Fauzia Minallah’s words, “You have a choice. Either continue fighting and get trapped in an endless cycle of violence or accept your mistake and concentrate on rebuilding peace as the people of Hiroshima did.”

Fauzia’s animation has won her a film award and her publication has been distributed free in many countries. It was originally written in English and translated into Japanese, Pashto and Dari. The Urdu translation by the author herself awaits publication. It is a must read/view for everyone young and old, civilians and those in uniform, who feel insecure without the A-bomb. Sadako is especially relevant for India and Pakistan and certainly provides food for thought.

www.zubeidamustafa.com

Published in Dawn, September 11th, 2020