To The University Students Of Pakistan
By Zulfikar Ghose, Dawn, December 28, 2008
I often thought of you, the students at universities in Pakistan, when, for 38 years, I was a professor at the University of Texas. During my earlier years in Texas, in the 1970s, all my students were exclusively of Anglo-Saxon or European origin and sometimes, seeing their eyes light up when some interesting idea had been expressed, I would think of you, the thought vaguely crossing my mind that I could be sharing with you the ideas which were arousing the enthusiasm of my American students.
By the early 21st century, during my last few years at the university, the complexion of the American population had changed; the names in my class rosters were no longer just John and Mary, Paul and Sarah, but also Ameena and Rahman, Ayesha and Qureishi. This sometimes encouraged the illusion that I was in Karachi or Lahore, not in Austin, Texas, and left me oddly disappointed that it was only an illusion. I felt a sense of regret that if there was anything valuable in my teaching it was not being transmitted to my fellow countrymen and women.
Over the years I have received poems and stories from many a young person in Pakistan who has sought my opinion and hoped that I could somehow get them published. Almost invariably, the work has been very poor. Whenever possible, I have written back detailed criticism; but one does not always have the luxury of sufficient free time to reply to everyone. Again, I have been left feeling a sense of regret that I have not been with you so that we can discuss what it is we do when we write poetry and fiction.
Now that I am here, allow me to address a few remarks concerning literature and writing. Young Pakistani writers have struck me as no different from young American writers in the shortcomings that their early work reveals. They are keen to have their own work published but neglect to read much of what has already been published. They seem to believe that they have important ideas which will astonish the world but do not realise that literature, as Mallarmé said to Degas, is not made up of ideas but of words.
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