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“ENGLAND could be reconstructed entirely from its children's books”, wrote Paul Hazard. But Henry Steele Commager found “truth in the statement as well as exaggeration”. Commager, in his intro to ' A critical history of children's literature ', comments “… because the record is so long and so rich, … we have in literature not only the continuous record of childhood, but a continuous record of society as a whole, and — what is more important — of the ideals and standards that the society wishes to inculcate into each new generation”. And then he concludes that “almost anyone, one is tempted to say, can write a book for adults — and almost everyone does; but it requires a felicitous combination of qualities, intellect and moral, to write a good book for children.”

I wonder what Paul Hazard and Commager would have appreciated the editor who has been editing a magazine for children for the last 59 years — without missing a single issue — in addition to having written 20 books for children: Masood Ahmed Barkati, the silent soldier, has been editing ' Hamdard Naunehaal ' since 1953. Editing a magazine for children for over half a century is a unique distinction not only in Urdu but it is a record that would perhaps be unrivalled in other languages too. While trying to 'reconstruct' the society and history, to borrow the expression from Hazard, Barkati Sahib has achieved a historic feat and he himself has become a part of history. Had he done it for some English language juvenile magazine, he would probably have won a knighthood and a bagful of medals. But he has done it in Urdu (the national language of a country known more for the things that have gone awry than for its books and writers) so he is yet to receive the rightful recognition and honours. But Barkati Sahib, an unassuming and humble soul, never meant to win any honours as he considers serving children through literature, generation after generation, the greatest honour in its own right.

When we have a look at the history of Urdu magazines published exclusively for children, we realise that ' Hamdard Naunehaal ' is among the few Urdu magazines that have completed half a century of publication but no editor other than Masood Ahmed Barkati has been at the helm of affairs for over 50 years. ' Bachon ka akhbar ', launched in May 1902 by Munshi Mehboob Alam from Paisa Akhbar Press, Lahore, was the earliest periodical in Urdu for children. And then came out ' Phool ', a magazine for children that caught the fancy of the children in the width and breadth of the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent. Moulvi Syed Mumtaz Ali — Imtiaz Ali Taj's father — launched it from Lahore on October 13, 1909, and later Nazr Sajjad Hyder — Sajjad Hyder Yildirim's wife and Qurratul Ain Hyder's mother — became its first editor. It continued for 48 years and ceased publication in 1957.

Many accomplished writers edited ' Phool ' from time to time.

Another landmark in the children's literature of Urdu is ' Ghuncha ', launched from Bijnour in 1922. After the independence ' Ghuncha ' was re-launched from Karachi and continued till the early 1970s, completing some 50 years of publication. It too had different editors. ' Payam-i-taleem ' was launched from Delhi in 1926 and re-launched on at least two occasions. There are many more magazines that worth a mention but the ones that could continue publication beyond three or four decades are just a few and they include ' Taleem-o-tarbiyet ', ' Bachon ki dunya ', ' Khilauna ' and ' Bhai jaan '. None of these, however, had an editor that served as long as Masood Ahmed Barkati has served Naunehaal . He is there right from the beginning.

As a 78-years-young, he is still editing the magazine and has just brought out a voluminous special annual issue.

It is no exaggeration to say that he has educated and mentally nurtured generations of our children. Those who have been reading ' Naunehaal ' and now have grown up and have become successful professionals include people from all walks of life. Many of them are quite prominent in their respective fields, some have even become celebrities.

Barkati Sahib has not only made generations of children read useful, healthy, informative and educative material through his magazine but he has nurtured and trained many a writer. I personally know many writers and journalists who would admit that they began writing after being inspired by ' Naunehaal '. Barkati encouraged them, advised them and published their rudimentary pieces after necessary corrections. I still remember how I, when still a schoolboy, reached Naunehaal 's office and how polite and attentive Barkati Sahib was while he examined my scribbles. He is in fact guru to many of today's successful writers. Had it not been for Barkati Sahib's affectionate guidance, many of us would not have made it.

But Barkati Sahib quite humbly dedicates his success to Hakeem Muhammad Said, the moving spirit behind Naunehaal who conceived the idea and who offered Barkati Sahib the post in 1953 and then, according to Barkati Sahib, kept on guiding him till his death in 1998.

Barkati Sahib is all praise also for Saadia Rashid, Hakeem Sahib's daughter who now looks after the affairs of Hamdard.

There is an oft-repeated quote in Urdu that says writing a good book for children is not child's play. Masood Ahmed Barkati has been bringing out a good magazine for children for the last 58 years and six months now, month after month. How would you rank it?

drraufparekh@yahoo.com