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Terrorism, Pakistan and children`s literature

Terrorism, Pakistan and children`s literature





If we want a terror-free Pakistan, we will have to make our children understand, in the words of Watase, how valuable life is and how beautiful love is.  _White star

Muku Hatoju loved human beings like he loved his own life. But when the Second World War broke out, he saw them dying like dogs. But he loved even dogs. How could he see them die? That`s exactly what he wrote about a dog named Maya dies just because of war, a subtle way of saying how ugly war is.



Muku Hatoju (1905-1987) was a Japanese writer and teacher who later turned to children`s literature and wrote some great stories for children that made him quite famous and won him several awards. He abhorred war but could not write against it while it was on. Some 25 years after the war ended, he wrote the novelette Maya for children.

Apparently a story with a simple plot based on some children`s love for a pet dog, Maya struck a chord with the Japanese who abhor war. Images of the destruction caused by the nuclear bombs (courtesy the United States) still haunt the Japanese psychologically. I have met some elderly Japanese who neither can bear to see nor even hear the sound of firecrackers as it invokes in their minds the tragic memories of the wounds inflicted by the war.

The very Japanese mentality that has rendered them pathologically averse to any conflict helped Maya become a smashing success. It won the prestigious Akai Tori literary award in 1971. The story was translated into Chinese. And now Watase Junko, a former student of Karachi University`s Urdu department, has rendered the heart-breaking story into Urdu. She has translated some other Japanese works of children`s literature into Urdu before this one and has published two of them under the titles of Sooraj ke des se and Sunehra darya. What makes her works more valuable than others` is the fact that they have been translated into Urdu direct from Japanese by a native.

In her preface, Watase says `By writing animal stories, Muku Hatoju tried to make children understand how valuable life is and how beautiful love is. He had always been against war but during the war he could not write the way he felt about it.` `In the story of Maya,` she says, `Muku Hatoju has tried to portray the real face of the war.

Though he has not said anything explicitly against the war, the way he has depicted the effects the war had on the life of Maya and the family that loved and cared for the dog, impresses the reader even more profoundly and it makes them understand that if there had been no war, Maya would not have died.

The story tells how callous human beings become during war and that war brings misery not only to human beings but also to animals`. She says `Many stories have so far been written on war but this one is, no doubt, one of the best on the subject`. 

It was initially decided that Karachi University`s bureau of composition, compilation and translation (BCCT) would publish the translation and the translator had handed over the manuscript to it. But `due to insufficient resources`, writes Moinuddin Aqeel, the then director of the BCCT, in his introduction to the book, `the bureau decided to get it published by Sang-i-Meel Publications, Lahore, through a non-commercial understanding`. Prof Aqeel has also told the readers that Watase Junko was a brilliant student of his and had a command over the Urdu language. For years, she did a Japanese-Urdu conversation programme for Radio Japan and also co-authored a book, Urdu Japani bol chaal, with Prof Suzuki Takishi, `Japan`s Baba-i-Urdu`.

Dr Aqeel says Muku Hatoju`s works essentially sow love in the hearts of the readers and invoke hatred against war. Maya, he feels, is not merely a dog but a character that ignites love between humans and animals, which results in a hatred for war. He laments that in Urdu there is a dearth of good literature for children and this translation is a precious and useful gift to our language and our country which may be useful for our society.

One feels that while Dr Aqeel`s lament about the dearth of good Urdu literature for children is right, we are perhaps oblivious of the fact that the readership for children`s literature in Urdu is dwindling fast. Children are now more interested in computer games than books. The editor of Urdu`s largest-circulated monthly for children told me the other day that the circulation of his magazine, which had touched 80,000 a month in the 1990s, has now come down to almost half. Our children do not read much now and if at all, many prefer English to Urdu, especially in big cities.

Secondly, the dream of making Pakistan a peaceful country, free from terrorism and hatred, cannot be realised until we educate our new generations to be more tolerant and more loving. The Japanese nation has over the decades taught their children to hate war and love peace through their literature and education. What perturbs one is the fact that most computer games now promote violence and hatred with snipers roaming around and targeting anything that moves.

Can we expose our children to such ghastly games and then expect them to be wary of war? Are we not training them for terrorism through these games? Is somebody in the multi-billion-dollar games industry listening?

Illustrated by Honda Yuka and published by Lahore`s Sang-i-Meel Publications, the book, priced Rs100, is expensive, considering that many Urdu-reading children can`t afford it. But, then, putting a premium price on books has become a hallmark of most of our publishers and they are least concerned if the already dwindling readership will be able to buy books or not as they have their own tricks to sell the books – mostly to government libraries where books gather dust for decades with hardly anyone there to bother about them, let alone read them.

If we want a terror-free Pakistan, we will have to make our children understand, in the words of Watase, how valuable life is and how beautiful love is. 

















courtesy of Dawn

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