The best children’s Urdu literature that I read in my time was the 2 Rupees Umro Ayyar, Sheikh Chilli, Tarzan etc little books. I don’t think they are still available. I used to buy mine from a guy with a bicycle stall outside our school. Along with the books he also sold toys like slingshots and bubble-blowing kits, and funny tasting stuff in curious looking containers. He probably brought all that stuff from Kohe-e-Qaaf, the place that his books were about, and was a djinn himself.
Apart from those stories, there are children’s magazines for kids to read. They seem to have thrived since the time that I used to read them, unlike the fantasy books that I’ve failed to come across again. When you hear the phrase ‘children’s magazines’, you’d expect innocent and fun stories. But no sire, you have a sick mind. Why should they let a kid relax and expand his imagination instead of using the opportunity to turn him into a good citizen of the land of the pure.
The only idea behind these magazines seems to be shoving morality, religion and patriotism down your unsuspecting throat. They are something that The Ministry of Love in Orwell’s Oceania would be proud of. A typical story from these magazines will have a topi-wearing, masjid-going, maa-baap-ki-izat-doing, school-may-1st-positioin-coming patriotic guy, who’ll go all righteous on your ass.
Nopes, nothing about magic.
The most revolting thing about it all, is the name of the biggest children’s magazine in Pakistan, it’s called Taleem-o-Tarbiat. Do they need to get more obvious? They aim to be the mullahs and nannies of the children.
Last week my kid cousin asked me to bring him something to read. I couldn’t bring him one of those magazines of course. I went to the biggest Urdu book store in our city. There I searched for a children’s section.
There was a ‘Shayri’ section, and a ‘Classics’ section. Then there was a “Nafsiat(psychology)” section. It was full of Urdu translation of American self-help books. I felt pwnd as I went there expecting real psychology books. The largest section was ‘Sufi’ section, and it had books like ‘Gaana Bajana Haraam’. I prayed a silent prayer for the peace of Rumi’s soul and tried to move away from that section, but it covered most of the bookstore.
I couldn’t find any section dedicated for kids books. I asked the helper for any Umro Ayyar, Sheikh Chilli and Amir Hamza books. He thought these were the names of some Arab writers. I clarified that I’m looking for children’s books. He showed me the last shelf of a small cupboard. There were a dozen books in it. I cringed as I read the title of the first book: “Piyare Bacho Ke Liye Islahi Kahaniyan”.