Like other developing countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America, Pakistan also espouses an economic development model that circles purely around the elite interest, pursued through the nexus between powerful government institutions and big international and local businesses.

On the one hand, successive governments clamour about climate change and respecting the planet; on the other, they blatantly continue with practices that may cause further harm to the climate and increase pressure on an already stressed Mother Earth.

There is also a related question of conserving our heritage, cultural and historic, whether it comes to rivers, mountains, islands or buildings. From the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development project in Lahore, to the proposed granite mining in the Karoonjhar hills in Nagarparkar, environmental and political rights activists are demanding better sense to prevail for the sake of both the climate and inhabitants of these places. There are other big and small projects across the country, from Gilgit-Baltistan to the coastal regions, which need closer scrutiny.

Here, I recall the famous geet [song] written by Chiragh Hasan Hasrat and sung by Ustad Barkat Ali Khan: “Baaghon mein parray jhoolay, Ravi ka kinaara ho!” [Swings oscillate in the gardens, Ah! The banks of river Ravi].

Karoonjhar also has immense poetic significance in classical and contemporary Thari, Sindhi and Gujarati poetry. Dr Ashu Lal wrote a poem in Seraiki after paying a visit to this historic and sacred site. Meanwhile, our leading poet Shaikh Ayaz writes in Sindhi: “O Lord! Nothing can be higher than peacocks singing in Karoonjhar and the clouds of the monsoon responding to their cries.”

This brings me to a poet who has recently come out with an important book on social and economic development from a people’s perspective — his first in prose and also his first in English. He already has two collections of poetry of definite merit published earlier, one each in Sindhi and Urdu.

Javed Soz was born in 1978 in Old Hala, Sindh, to noted poet Soz Halai and his wife Musammat Begum. Begum knew most of Shah Latif Bhitai’s poetry by heart. The word ‘soz’ comes from Persian and means burning, sorrow or pathos. The elder Soz Halai’s heart burnt with sorrow for his land and people. The younger Soz has inherited these traits from his illustrious parents.

The book, titled The Development Dynamics in Sindh: A Practitioner’s Perspective, makes Soz join the committed development practitioners who also took to researched and scholarly writing on the issues faced by Sindh and the entire country, from Arif Hasan and Aijaz Qureshi to Jami Chandio to Naseer Memon.

The idea is not to make a list, since there are some other friends falling in the same category, but to highlight that Soz has joined this particular group of organic writers on social, political and environmental issues. What made him write about these issues is the different jobs he has held over the last 20 years as a community development professional and a social and environmental rights activist.

He worked with different development NGOs, international and national projects and local, regional and global campaigns for the realisation of basic rights of marginalised communities in Sindh and beyond. He has wide international exposure through attending advanced education and training programmes in many countries. But his heart remains in the wellbeing of what we call the Global South.

Soz’s book contains 20 articles, whose subjects range from urban transportation to education, to healthcare, to rural agriculture workers, to gender gap analyses. He also looks at the inherent social problems of Sindh, which include tribal conflicts and child marriages. The first 16 pieces become quite useful from a policymaker’s and practitioner’s viewpoint, because not only do they take up an issue and problematise and analyse it, but they also provide recommendations and action points to resolve the problem.

Many observations, examples and inferences in some important articles are duly referenced with credible sources of information listed underneath every piece. That prevents the book from becoming a mere regurgitation of demands — as many of our political activists are used to doing — without providing the required evidence.

There are four pieces towards the end of the book which specifically study the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on community mental health, stresses on the existing health system, the transportation sector and agriculture supply chain workers. These can be useful in planning for any future pandemic or complex emergency management.

In some places, Soz also highlights the legislation gaps to ensure the safety, security, empowerment and welfare of women and other marginalised groups. These must be taken up by the provincial assembly of Sindh to start with, as the focus of the book remains Sindh.

However, my view remains that quite a few legislative recommendations and implementation action points are beneficial for other provinces as well. There is an honest analysis of issues and plausible solutions offered for everyone who seeks to resolve the problems of Sindh and the country at large. Since the book has grown out of practical experience of working in the field with communities, it attempts to convert dreams into plans.

Mohan Madhosh, who runs Kavita Publications, Hyderabad, has done us a huge favour by publishing Soz’s book. In his publisher’s note, Madhosh hopes that this book will be helpful for more research in development issues and in investigating the role of civil society.

I sincerely wish that Madhosh’s hope realises into a possibility. It is a tall order, though, because of the kind of power structures we have within our legislative, structural and social realms. But to subvert these power structures through alternative knowledge and wisdom, it has become the obligation of people such as Soz and his compatriots to continue to represent those who have no voice in the corridors of power.

The columnist is a poet and essayist. He has recently edited Pakistan Here and Now: Insights into Society, Culture, Identity and Diaspora.

His latest collection of verse is Hairaan Sar-i-Bazaar

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, July 29th, 2023

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