Brick in the wall

Recently while attending the second Pakistan-India Social Media conference in Karachi as a panelist, I was approached by a young man with a mic who wanted to interview me for a local TV channel.

After the interview he told me that he was a student at the Karachi University and a regular reader of my columns.

However, he then hastily added that it has become rather tough for him to read my writings because one of his teachers at the university does not approve. ‘Every time I start asking the lecturer certain questions, he begins to mock me by saying that I have been reading your articles.’

But what shocked me the most is when he added that his lecturer has actually ‘forbidden’ him to read my articles. ‘He has put a ban on me to read your writings. The ban has also been communicated to my parents. That’s why I now have to secretly buy Dawn,’ he said, smiling.

How can a university-level teacher ask a student not to read? And how can a university-level student not ask him why?

Some four years ago I got a call from a teacher who taught at a prestigious school in Karachi. She told me that her students had begun to ask ‘rebellious questions’ in her class.

I asked her why was she telling me this.

‘Because they’re reading your articles!’ She announced.

I don’t remember what grade she was teaching, but she was pretty polite. ‘You should be careful, Paracha sahib. These young students have very vulnerable minds.’ I kept asking her what were these so-called rebellious questions, but she just refused to explain. She kept repeating something about how her students were too young to think about things that my articles were supposedly infusing in their brains.

I asked her did she disagree with ‘these things’ that I was maliciously putting in their curious heads.

‘No, no,’ she clarified. ‘You are right in your own way. But you see, if they start asking these kinds of questions, they won’t be able to get the required grades.’

Intrigued I asked how she was answering these rebellious questions.

‘Oh, I don’t,’ she answered, matter-of-factly. ‘I just tell them to stop reading your articles,’ she laughed.

Now I could understand that here was a teacher worried about losing control over her students at a high school due to questions that might tarnish her status as the all-knowing tutor.

But I certainly cannot grasp how a lecturer at a university would actually forbid a mature university student to read a certain writer.

‘Why do you think he’s not allowing you to read my pieces?’ I asked the university lad at the social media conference.

‘He thinks I ask questions that contradict him,’ he replied. ‘Every time some students contradict what he is saying, he turns around and tells them that we should stop reading your articles.’

Amazing. Karachi University is where students once lapped up Marx, Mao and Maududi and led protest movements against the Ayub dictatorship in the 1960s, against the Bhutto regime in the late 1970s, and then fought intense ideological (and at times armed) battles against the tyranny of Ziaul Haq in the 1980s.

But here we are today, where grown-up men and women at the same university are being asked by their teachers that they should stop reading a certain columnist?

‘They think you’re too secular,’ the young man finally let out.

‘So?’ I asked, astonished. ‘It’s a university you study in. Not a madressa.’

The young man chuckled nervously: ‘But I make sure to continue reading your column, though.’

I wonder if the lecturer has ever asked his students to beware of all the sectarian and religious hate literature that is out there, easily available in this country.

In fact, one can now come across such literature even at various Pakistani universities; including the Karachi University where the ethnic and sectarian make-up of the student community has always been most pluralistic and diverse.

I personally think it is intellectual laziness on part of certain teachers who simply do not want to coach a curious mind that may not be willing to submissively nod at what he was being told by the tutor. Or maybe some teachers develop an inferiority complex against students who ask too many questions? The ‘so he thinks he knows more than I do’ sort of attitude.

I remember when I was studying at a state-owned college in the late 1980s, the most successful way to bunk a class of a certain teacher was to provoke him to throw you out of the class. All one had to do was to just ask him a question.

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