On the Life of the Mind

This was written a little while ago, and with an eye to comment on a report on Pakistani higher education. I think it suffers a bit, thus decontextualized, but hey. The citation for the 2009 report I mention is (I don’t know why the footnote or hyper-link didn’t make it into the column):
Athar Osama, Adil Najam, Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, Syed Zulfiqar Gilani & Christopher King. “Pakistan’s reform experiment.” Nature 461, 38-39 (3 September 2009). Accessed on 11/01/2010.

Manan Ahmed, “The Rest is History“, Express Tribune, April 25, 2010:

Concomitant critiques from the likes of Pervez Hoodbhoy articulated greater chasms between the goals of reform and their results; the faculty were startlingly being segregated between haves and have-nots, the research was sub-par and the curriculum lacked rigor. Less readily apparent in both the abundance of for-profit universities and in their collective shortcomings is the lack of a liberal education in any of these curriculums. As a historian, I believe, rather fundamentally, that a liberal education, one that foregrounds critical inquiry, investigations into the human condition and a multiplicity of views is the cornerstone of any open, democratic, civic-minded and liberal society.

I believe that the health of any civil society rests upon a perceived consensus on human rights, human dignity, and dialogue and discourse. These are all qualities that are only nourished through placing a cultural and societal emphasis on a broad liberal education. While we have a number of institutions engaged in Fine Arts, there is no bastion of liberal education in Pakistan. There is no space for the Engineering or Medical student to learn how to think, to ask the Big Question, to participate in the life of the mind. But there is no greater need, at this juncture, than the need for critical humanistic scholarship.

Also, my first column in homistan!

World Exclusive: Lost Verses of Iqbal

C.M Naim sends along a world exclusive to the CM audience about a copy ad written by none other than the Muhammad Iqbal. This is big, folks. If Walt Whitman had endorsed a New England Clam Chowder company, it wouldn’t be as big:

While looking around in a forgotten public library at Shimla I came upon a file of an equally forgotten Urdu magazine called Nairang-i-Khayal for the year 1929. That is nine years before Iqbal passed away. One of the issues had an advertisement for green tea. I reproduce it below:

کيا فرماتے ەيں ملک الشعرا

جناب علامە ڈاکٹر سر محمد اقبال صاحب اسکي تعريف ميں

چاے سبز است کيمياے شباب پير صد سالە را جواں سازد

مشتهر: حاجي محمد دين فيروز دين ، چاينە ەاوس ، ڈبي بازار ، لاهور


See how it is praised by the Poet Laureate

Janab Allama Dr. Sir Muhammad Iqbal:

“Green tea is the Elixir of Youth + It makes a hundred year old man young again.”

Advertiser: Haji Muhammad Din Feroz Din, China House, Dabi Bazaar, Lahore.

A rejuvenation of Mashriqi Mard into Mard-e Kamil via Sabz Chai. Brilliant. My thanks to Naim Sahib. (Dabi Bazaar is in Old Lahore, Rang Mahal. )

Time for a cup of tea at a store in the old city of Peshawar, Pakistan.


I know all of you are super-busy, so I won’t, like, write 3000 words on the 18th amendment’s passage or even 2000 words on what I think will forever be known as the Last Summer of Water in Pakistan. So, instead, here are the pictures which really, really deserve a lot of words. All were taken from the Urdu Express newspaper over the last 10 days.

Big time Army Officer offering restitution to the injured of the April 13 attack
بهينس کے اگے بين بجانا Playing the flute in front of a water buffalo
Protests against Water
Soft Democracy
Pumping Water

This last one is just cuz.