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Musharraf A. Farooqi, a Pakistani children’s book author and translator of classical Urdu literature, led a seminar on the function of storytelling in South Asia at Harvard on Monday.
The talk, hosted by the South Asia Institute and the Prince Alwaleed Islamic Studies Program at the Center for Government and International Studies, focused on Farooqi’s work as a storyteller in the Pakistani public school system.
Farooqi said he visited schools to share his writing as well as folk tales. He discussed the techniques he used to engage students, emphasizing the goal of engaging them with their historical and cultural past.
He stressed the importance of bringing classical literature and their modern adaptations into the classroom.
“We are not in conversation with our classics,” Farooqi said. “We have to look at the opportunity that exists today—developing, editing, and translating old texts.”
These reproductions, he said, can be used to introduce the names and legends of the past to students.
Farooqi argued for the need to sometimes rework historical stories, since some have potentially harmful social messages regarding gender, violence, and relationships. He said adapting them can help retain their literary history while neutralizing these messages.
He added that he was committed to speaking to children in Urdu rather than English during his storytelling seminars so as to facilitate a connection to their culture.
Farooqi also educates politicians on storytelling. During the seminar, he spoke about his “Leading Through Teaching” workshops, which taught Pakistan parliamentarians how to tell stories and engage children. The program worked to connect them with their constituents, and to allow them to see issues within Pakistani public school system.
Ali S. Asani, professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Culture, introduced Farooqi at the beginning of the talk and pointed out the difficulty of storytelling in South Asia.
“[Storytelling] is rooted in centuries-old traditions which I think are being threatened by modernity,” Asani said. He also highlighted its importance in fostering imagination.
“I am really interested in the work he [Farooqi] has translated and in Urdu literature,” said Mallika Kirti, a Harvard Divinity School student who attended the event. “It was really interesting hearing about his experiences in Pakistan and of the tensions he faces with this colonization of language.”
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