A Writer and A Male Feminist

By Khalid Mehmud

At the age of twenty-six, Khurrum Ali Shafique has authored four books (three published; one of them under print) and three stage plays (two staged; one under preparation).

He has also co-authored an environmental educational package for WWF and has edited an environmental newsletter for the Teachers’ Resource Center for about a year.

He is presently working as a teacher-trainer with the English Language Resource Unit of Aga Khan Education Service, Pakistan. He is also a member of SPELT (Society of Pakistan English Language Teachers) and a member of its academic committee.

In his professional life, Khurrum is known as an ace workshop leader – he has conducted over seventy workshops in different rural and urban educational set-ups from Karachi to Gilgit. At the age of twenty six, Khurrum’s is an established name in the domain of education in Pakistan and an upcoming figure in the literary circles.

His decision to teach was, he says, “purely part-time, until I realized that I was more interested in teaching than anything else. The credit goes to Nasra School which provides the best atmosphere for young teachers that I have ever seen. And then soon after, I was picked up by Abbas Hussain, a veteran educationist, who made me realize that an excellent career can be developed out of teaching and equipped me with the skills necessary to reach the top.”

On the literary side, Khurrum likes to write on historical topics. Two of his general books are biographies and so is the forthcoming one on Iqbal.

His first play was also biographical: “Sultan Razia”. He is presently working on the script of another play, again about a historical personality. “Please allow me to keep from disclosing the name, as I would like it to come as a surprise for theatre-goers. But I would like to mention that the play is about one of the most dramatic figures from Mughal history – and yet it is a figure that few would have thought of presenting on stage.

“I try to make comparisons between what has happened in the past and what is happening around us now. So choose to write on historic topics which have relevance for us even today.”

The biography of Quaid-e-Azam, “Samundar Ki Awaz Suno”, is a new experiment in Urdu writing.

“I was inspired by films about the independence of India made by other people. So I decided to write a book which would create an effect upon the reader very close to the effect of watching a film. I adopted some of the techniques from film art and fused them into writing. Techniques about imagery and styles, flashback – even montage. I think I was successful because, almost everyone who has met me after reading my book has said, “It’s like a film.”

Khurrum also writes articles for the press, mostly on women’s rights issues. Yes, he is a feminist; an odd thing for a man in an all-male dominated society. “Sometimes it does seem odd to people that I am so serious about women’s rights, being a man myself. But the thing is that you should stand for the truth no matter which side has fate placed you on. If one feels that there is some truth in what women are saying about their rights, I think one should stand for it, irrespective of whether one is a man or a woman.”

In the war of women’s rights, the clergy constitute a strong opposition and declare that the rights claimed by women are un-Islamic. In this battle, Khurrum takes sides with those who seek to analyse fundamentalists’ fatwas with a ‘faith perspective.’

“The ideals of Islam could be different from what is being preached in the name of Islam and it’s true not only in the case of women’s rights but also in various other things. For instance, Zakat is very Islamic but I don’t think that the way it’s being manipulated here has got anything to do with the ideals of Islam." 

Khurrum feels a need for a comprehensive book in Urdu which could go beyond developmental issues and into the philosophy of feminism. His plans are: “I am trying to prepare a Pakistani Encyclopedia of Feminism which I intend to base upon Liza Tuttle’s Encyclopedia of Feminism. It will be a Pakistani version in Urdu. It will also include entries on feminist issues, which are rather specific to our culture. The project hasn’t taken off really, but I think that I will be able to accomplish it.”

Khurrum is also an environmentalist. He was editing an environmental newsletter while he was at Teachers’ Resource Center. He has been a co-author in a pack of environmental educational activities for primary school teachers published by WWF. He has also written an environmental play.

“I like to create and sometimes share. And I think that is where all my interests cross. I want to present my own ideas on videos. Somebody has already asked me to participate in the making of a documentary film, and I think I am quite interested.”

Khalid Mehmood meets Khurrum Ali Shafique, whose multitude of activities and interests all come together in his greatest love of all, writing.