Q&A in Pakistani history book: Do you think Jodhaa Akbar looked like Aishwariya Rai’s depiction of her?

A few days ago, I was browsing through my Facebook newsfeed and thinking how boring this particular social media website had become of late. Scarcely had the thought entered my head, when I saw that someone had shared this image on their page,

I was about to scroll down, thinking it was probably some ‘blown-out-of-proportion’ news about the Bollywood actress Aishwariya Rai, when I noticed the words “class seven history book” accompanying the image. When I stopped to read the status, image and accompanying text as well as the comments that followed, I was literally left dumbfounded.

This image is from a history book being taught in grade seven and eight in private schools of Karachi. The chapter seems to be about the Mughal Emperor, Jalaluddin Akbar and the image shows Aishwariya Rai who played Jodhaa (one of Akbar’s wives) in the Bollywood movie Jodhaa Akbar, released in 2008.

In addition to the actress’s image and mention of the movie, the book also included other seemingly irrelevant questions such as,

Have you seen this film?

Do you know any of the songs?

Do you think Jodhaa looked like Aishwariya Rai’s depiction of her?

Intrigued, I did some search and found another image shared by the same concerned parent from the same textbook, this time depicting an Indian film poster from 1953.

At first glance, all of this seems harmless and even mildly hilarious. I, for one, remember history lessons to be boring, mind-numbing and sleep-inducing; so, these questions add an interesting twist, if not given much thought. But on a deeper level, there are so many things wrong with the inclusion of these images and related questions in a history textbook for seventh graders.

Firstly, there is the glaring issue that a parent highlighted in the comments – are we now teaching the history of Pakistan through Indian movies? We have all heard how history is skewed on both sides of the border to show their respective selves in a positive and superior light.

So what’s happening now? Is it suddenly okay for Pakistani history students to learn history from the ‘hated’ Indian movies?

Don’t get me wrong. I have no personal vendetta against our neighbours but this just seems inappropriate considering that text books have to be (one would assume so at least) approved by the education ministry which is a government body and hence, should not (again one would assume so at least) be promoting Indian content to Pakistani students in schools.

Secondly, education is sacred. Education needs to be made interesting for students without resorting to such low and inappropriate tactics. Like I said earlier, I remember history lessons to be monotonous and tedious. But that had more to do with how history was taught than the subject itself. Fortunately for me, I loved the historical accounts – tales full of intrigue, love, hate, politics, success and failure – and hence, didn’t do too badly in the subject. But if the authors and publishers are going to argue that they were trying to make the subject more exciting for students, I am sorry that is just a lame argument. Could they really not do any better than,

“Do you know any of the songs (from Jodhaa Akbar)?”

I mean, for the love of God!

Sadly, they are not the first ones to look to India in order to ‘sell’ their product. We have seen ‘the Indian touch’ being incorporated by our movie industry, our advertising industry, heck even at our own weddings.

But there are other ways of engaging students. Perhaps, show some visuals of excavations from the time. Maybe suggest enacting a scene from historical accounts or putting on a play of the same. Instead of asking students,

“Do you think Jodhaa looked like Aishwariya Rai’s depiction of her?”,

There could have been an exercise on comparing Jodhaa’s political prowess and career with that of modern day female politicians. I am sure students would take away a lot more from an exercise like that than they would from a comparison of the actress’s looks with those of Jodhaa.

See, now I know there’ll be some of you by now who are thinking, “What is wrong with her? Why is she getting so worked up over nothing?” But you see, this is not ‘nothing’. This is education. This is shaping up our children for tomorrow.

We do not want to raise confused individuals, do we?

Hate India when playing cricket.

Blame everything on India when something goes wrong in the country.

But teach your own history through Indian movies. Sounds confused to me.

Moreover, there has to be a decorum followed by educationists and schools. Some things are better left to the discretion of parents. I, for one, have always watched Bollywood movies. But I know that some of my counterparts were not allowed to back in the day. Asking leading questions like the ones asked in this book, would make students pressurise their parents into letting them watch the said movie.

And then, what comes next, a movie viewing before an exam?

I admit, I watched Romeo and Juliet before my O-Level English Literature exam and it did help me in remembering the context and dialogues (something that is so difficult to remember in Shakespearean English) but my parents were okay with that. It was a personal decision – not one forced on us by some ‘carried away’ publisher.

Rest assured, concerned parents are and will raise this matter with the school administration. But the question is, is that enough? After all, a seventh grader is aware enough to read, comprehend, and question on his/her own without being prompted. Should this matter not be addressed at a higher level?

The ministry of education needs to question the author and publisher about the intent and purpose behind this irrelevant inclusion. In my opinion, the ministry itself needs to be probed as to how this content passed under their very nose without being questioned and removed.

However, clearly the education ministry is asleep regarding this issue. The same ministry which just two years ago was awake and alert enough to ban Malala Yousafzai’s memoir, I am Malala in private schools in the country. According to education officials, her memoir was not respectful towards Islam and they accused her of being a tool of the west.

I do wonder how asking students if they know songs from an Indian movie is any different.

from The Express Tribune Blog http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/29713/qa-in-pakistani-history-book-do-you-think-jodhaa-akbar-looked-like-aishwariya-rais-depiction-of-her/

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