SOME 20 years ago, Masood Ahmed Barkati (1933-2017) informed this scribe that Naunehal’s circulation had gone down, almost by half. Barkati Sahib had edited Naunehal, one of the most popular magazines for children, for over 50 years and was appalled by the trend. Many other magazines for children published in Urdu were most probably on the same, downward trajectory in those days as a few years down the road some of them met their fate, simply vanishing without a trace. A great loss indeed!

On April 2 — observed as International Children’s Book Day to celebrate Hans Christian Anderson’s birthday, one of the great writers of fairytales — we must remember our writers and editors who paved the way for the generations of children to enjoy reading and, in many cases, prepare to become writers themselves. A large number of readers who used to read Naunehal and other magazines as kids would perhaps agree that Barkati Sahib and many other silent soldiers played a crucial role in educational, literary and moral upbringing of our generations through their magazines.

Today, most of children’s periodicals published in Urdu are in a downward spiral, some are barely afloat, fighting for their survival. One of the reasons ascribed to the situation is that there has been a decline in the reading habits in general and in children in particular. Perhaps technology has got better of us. But this could adversely affect children’s ability to learn a language proficiently and this has probably already happened: the falling standards of language that we come across while reading Urdu newspapers these days serves as a tell-tale sign. Some of the today’s journalists, with due apology, have not even heard the names of children’s authors whose writings we used to devour in our teens.

However, it was not always like that. In late 1980s, despite being a kids’ mag, Naunehal’s special annual issue’s print order would be for 80,000 copies (as Barkati Sahib confided to me, since I was a children’s writer he so lovingly nurtured). Naunehal’s print order was a mark surpassed only by a few of Pakistani Urdu magazines, such as, Sab Rang Digest or Akhbar-i-Jahan.

The history of children’s literature in Urdu is interesting and long-winded but when it comes to children’s magazines we find that before the onset of the 20th century no Urdu magazines for children existed: Bachchon Ka Akhbar, the first ever Urdu mag for children, was launched in January 1902 from Lahore. Published by Munshi Mehboob Alam (1862-1933), the famous writer, publisher and editor of Lahore’s Paisa Akhbar, it was a monthly that ran a number of interesting permanent features for children not only to entertain them but to enhance their general knowledge as well.

Bachchon Ka Akhbar was very popular but it was soon caught up and left behind by Phool, a magazine launched by Moulvi Mumtaz Ali, Imtiaz Ali Taj’s father, in October 1909 from Lahore. It was edited by Bint-i-Nazrul Baqar, Qurratul Ain Hyder’s mother. Her real name was Nazr Zahra and she later on, when married to Sajjad Hyder Yildirim, wrote by the name Nazr Sajjad. Weekly Phool proved to be a trend setter and many followed the suit, though Phool’s services, spanning over 48 years, remained unmatched. In 1957, Phool closed down. Another remarkable periodical for children was weekly Prem. Launched from Lahore by Tajwer Najeebabadi, it was able to get contributions from some big names of the day as did Phool, but could not beat Phool.

Some other well-known Urdu magazines issued in Urdu for children include: fortnightly Saeed, Kanpur, 1918, edited by Hamid Hasan Qadri; weekly Ghuncha, Bijnor, 1922; monthly Payam-i-Taleem, Delhi, launched as a weekly in 1926 to promote the views of Jamia Millia Islamia, it was made a children’s monthly in 1932; monthly Bachchon Ki Dunya, Allahabad, 1929; monthly Taleem-o- Tarbiyet, Lahore, 1941; monthly Hidayat, Lahore; monthly Naunehal, launched by the British India government from Delhi; monthly Khilauna, Delhi, published by Sham’a Book Depot.

After the independence, many Urdu mags for children were launched from Pakistan, for instance, monthly Bhai Jaan, Karachi, 1951, edited by Shafi Aqeel and published by Jang; monthly Naunehal, Karachi, 1953, published by Hamdard Foundation and edited by Masood Ahmed Barkati. It is simply not possible to mention here literally hundreds of other such mags. Azam Tariq Kohistani, editor of Saathi, Karachi, has given details about some 350 Urdu magazines launched for kids from Pakistan from time to time in his article published in Aug-Sep, 2022, issue of Akhbar-i-Urdu, Islamabad.

As put by Mehmoodur Rahman in his book Urdu Mein Bachchon Ka Adab, these children’s magazines not only promoted juvenile literature in Urdu but also played a role in popularising the Urdu language across the Indo-Pak subcontinent. Many of the children who contributed to these magazines ultimately shaped up to be fine writers, poets and journalists.

drraufparekh@yahoo.com

Published in Dawn, April 1st, 2024

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