Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A neglected coupe de plume

An average Pakistani bookworm will read or come across a treasure trove of intense and often realistic literature composed by fellow citizens. In those words of experience and observation, fictional or otherwise, they will agree with at least some of what the book says or tries to convey, for that matter. That feeling of being able to relate leaves a positive message for the reader who might think, ‘Oh, we share something in common.’ A bond is built; trust is generated between the reader and the writer. A sense of belonging takes form and that is exactly what a bookworm searches for among other feelings while reading. If you look closer, you will see Pakistani English literature gracefully detaching itself from the resonating tone of Indian English tradition; stuck in the past, lamenting colonisation, analysing prevalent corruption in the system and sometimes, describing a room over ten or eleven pages with burdensome details.

But during that saunter down aisles and aisles of prose and poetry, we tend to overlook one stark truth: where are the books for children? More importantly, why are there terribly few English books for the young ones? Of course we have Roald Dahl, Sweet Valley High, Harry Potter, Enid Blyton and a few dozen others (not to forget the cringe-worthy addition of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight for the “youth”), but they all have one thing in common: they are not Pakistani. They cannot speak of the experience to be a young one in this country. They do not share the simple joys, sometimes sadness and now, the restlessness of being a Pakistani youth.
I attended several educational and literary conferences where popular figures stressed upon the need to encourage literacy and reading books in our country – but there was something missing. Children are often forgotten at such occasions; a lot is honked, little is done. But forgive me for my glumness: there are efforts being positively channeled into this direction as well. The Pakistan Children Writers Guild was formed for promoting literature for children of which Dr. Mujeeb Anwar Hamidi is the patron-in-chief along with Professor Saher Ansari, Jamil-u-Din Aali, Masood Barkati, Alhaj Shamim-u-Din, Naheed Nargis, Fatima Suriya Bajia, Altaf Qadri, Dr. Aslam Saeed and Agha Noor Mohamed Pathan part of the executive committee of the guild. In this regard, a small yet colourful ray of hope was given by Mahnaz Malik who published her first story book for kids title ‘Mo’s Star,’ a story about a penguin trying to reach the stars.
I recall my fourth grade student’s snarky yet true remark during a reading class: “You know, if they coloured these books and told better stories like my grandfather does, I would read them with a lot more interest. Promise.” I did not doubt her honesty a single bit simply because she was right. Our children want to read books they can relate to. As far as I know, no matter how glamourised and addictive Twilight gets, young Pakistani girls cannot relate to Bella for two good reasons: 1) There are no vampires in Pakistan thanks to the angry summers we get. 2) I don’t have a number 2.

On a serious note, there is a dearth of localised English literature for children in the land of pure and that needs to be addressed, especially due to the education emergency we are facing. Book clubs should be formed, reading circles should be encouraged, young graduates and high school students ought to take the time out for younger ones and share stories with them. It is truly a simple task with incredible rewards. But above all, writers need to emphasize on the significance of children’s books and make sure that they step forward with contributions for these young minds.

No doubt, the achievements garnered by our writers must be extolled wherever and whenever possible, but we need to shift our focus towards a younger yet significantly larger audience. This crowd is the most neglected and unheard in our country. The irony is that it comprises the majority of our nation and, from what you and I have been told since childhood according to the loud teacher with the horn-rimmed spectacles in class, the majority is authority. These boys and girls want books. Give them something to read and something they can relate to.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

From Purifoy to pure joy, Blazers finally land as champs

The shot felt like it hung in the air for eternity. All the frustrations, all the slights, all the close-but-no-cigar finishes in recent UAB basketball history accompanied the ball as it ascended from the hands of a freshman who didn't know any better.

Rising ...

"It felt good coming off my hands," Preston Purifoy said.

Rising ...

"It felt like it was up there about 20 minutes," Jamarr Sanders said.

Rising ...

"First I thought (Gary) Flowers was going to block it," Mike Davis said. "Then I thought it was an air ball, and I said, 'Why did I call that play?' And then it goes through the net, and I said, 'Oh my goodness, he made the shot.'"

UAB has landed.

Whether the Blazers eventually get invited to the NCAA Tournament team was immaterial Wednesday night. They are C-USA champions -- an unlikely one, given preseason expectations for an inexperienced team -- and a win away Saturday over East Carolina from their first outright conference title since 1989-90.

So they jumped on each other's backs. They danced in the aisles of Reed Green Coliseum. They screamed and jumped and skipped and pranced all through the tunnel back to the locker room.

Remarked a Southern Miss reporter: "I've never seen a team celebrate like that after beating Southern Miss."

You celebrate when you toss the monkey off your back and stomp on it. You celebrate when you finally make the crucial play in the big moment rather than succumbing to excruciating games of what-if in your head.

It was, without a doubt, the biggest win in Davis' five-year tenure at UAB.

"For sure, because we've fallen short," Davis said. "We had an opportunity to beat Memphis. We had an opportunity to beat UTEP last year before the conference tournament. We've been so close. This is so big because, without a doubt, it gives us a share of the championship. No matter what happens on Saturday, we're No. 1 in our conference."

UAB won because Aaron Johnson, Davis' pick for C-USA Player of the Year, had 14 assists and one turnover. He created points non-stop, even though a jammed thumb contributed to 3-of-9 shooting and hurt him at the foul line -- a constant theme for the Blazers, who were 4-of-14 at the stripe.

Free-throw shooting could have been an excuse. In the past it might have been after a loss in a must-win, winnable game.

"Yeah, free throws can win or lose games," Johnson said. "We're just gonna keep fighting. That's all we know."

Johnson is the heart of the Blazers. When you're one of 11 siblings, stand 5-foot-8, and have always been told what you can't do rather than appreciate what you can do, what else is there to do but fight?

"Everybody wants to criticize us," Johnson said. "We don't care what nobody says."

UAB won because Sanders, the team's best player and leading scorer, woke up from another slumber. He went scoreless in the first half and got benched for seven minutes because Davis didn't like his energy.

David read him the riot act at halftime. Sanders' response: 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting in the second half, including six in the final two minutes during a brilliant back-and-forth duel with Southern Miss' Flowers.

"I couldn't go out this game with six points or three points," Sanders said. "Whatever it took, I had to will this team to a win tonight."

But ultimately UAB won because a freshman came off the bench and sank a shot headed for the heavens.

"I've hit plenty of shots like this," Purifoy said nonchalantly.

Oh, freshmen.

Johnson, a senior, shook his head knowingly at Purifoy's remark. He was a freshman once who surprised everyone with a game-winning basket.

"It didn't sink in for me for a while, and it hasn't sunk in him for yet," Johnson said. "It's gonna sink in for him after Saturday, though."

UAB might need three days before Purifoy's shot ever lands.