Rendezvous with The Ravi Editors at GCU Lahore
Rendezvous with The Ravi Editors at GCU Lahore
This issue of The Ravi is special in the sense that it gives the readers an opportunity to have a rendezvous with some of the editors, who travailed and maintained the glorious traditions of The Ravi.
Mr. Athar Tahir 1972-73
Mr. Usman Ghafoor 1994
Ms. Nadia Butt 1999
Mr. Ali Shah 2000
Q1. What was your greatest challenge when you were selected as Editor, The Ravi?
Athar Tahir: Creating a balance of the magazine between student-contributions and articles of lasting value by well-known writers.
Usman Ghafoor: I feel my greatest challenge was to keep up the standards and follow the glorious traditions set by former editors, at the same time giving it a touch of my own.
Nadia Butt: To improve the appearance of the magazine. So to design the lay out was one of the greatest challenges, along with encouraging the students to contribute to the annual magazine who seemed to take no interest in writing anything for the most prestigious publication of their college. The next challenge was that I had to bring out the Millennium issue. That meant we had to co-ordinate with the Urdu section at every step, from selecting the theme of the editorial to the formation of sections. But I must say that Dr. S. Shaffi and I succeeded in proving ourselves as trendsetters. I am proud to say that The Ravi 1999 is a precedent of innovation for the new editors.
Ali Shah: A year as the Editor of the Ravi was replete with many challenges. There was almost an overkill of them but the greatest and most daunting was to shake off the insidious inertia of tradition while at the same time retaining what was best in it.
Q2. What difference did you make in the capacity of the office you once represented?
Athar Tahir: Changed the concept of the editor, who was just a glorified proofreaders till then. The two issues reflected the extension of his vision. A magazine is both a literary and visual medium. Innovations in design and format set standards which are still emulated. The first issue had paintings by A.R. Chughtai and the second by Sadequain. The reader was facilitated by the introduction of a more comprehensive range of subject sections for the articles. List of past editors was Introduced on the inside cover to allow this important publication its due historical Continuum.
Usman Ghafoor: I made Zia Mohiyyuddin reject my editorial as “vague” and “abstracted”, in front of an entire crowd of students in Bokhari Auditorium.
Nadia Butt: We increased the number of pages of the English section, from 150 to 200! Now both Urdu and English section have same number of pages.
Ali Shah: The Ravi as an institution is part of a hierarchy and to think of making difference while being a part of a particular pecking order is generally held in bad odour but such as it is I tried to take the Ravi to the Ravians instead of Ravians coming to it especially in the pre-publication phase. To compel it to come down from its putative pride of place and blend in with the pulsating stream of experience in GC was what I tried to do. What I can’t say with the same assurance is whether my efforts panned out or not.
Q3. Which essential quality an editor cannot do without?
Athar Tahir: To separate the chaff from the grain.
Usman Ghafoor: The power of decision-making.
Nadia Butt: His or her command over the language and experiences as a writer at a certain stage of his/her academic career.
Ali Shah: The art of putting others at ease, inspiring them to think, and meeting them out of the official carapace is what every editor should be a dab hand at. Unless someone can relate to you in affability, one would not trouble oneself about taxing one’s brains-for your magazine. Moreover, he/she should be a scissors sharp enough to cut the red tape.
Q4. Has editorship of The Ravi made any difference in your life?
Athar Tahir: I still continue to write and edit.
Usman Ghafoor: If R. K. Narayan had ever been the editor of The Ravi, I am sure he’d have written a whole book called ‘The Ravi days’ and he wouldn’t need to create characters out of his imagination. Jokes apart, my six to seven months in The Ravi office afforded me the opportunity to rub shoulders with a very interesting variety of people, besides giving me my first taste of ‘politics at workplace’. It also gave me some of my most cherished friends. I am glad that I was part of The Ravi, and that it will always occupy the pride of place on my CV. Nadia Butt: Tremendous. Thanks to the editorship of The Ravi that whenever I get a chance to meet Aitzaz Ahsan, the ardent and perennial admirer of the editors of The Ravi, he always introduces me to others as the celebrated editor of The Ravi ‘99 and I feel so privileged!! Well jokes aside, my CV at once impresses the interviewer wherever I go for an interview.
Ali Shah: Yes, it has made a big difference in that it has added a feather to my otherwise plain cap. It has taught me how wonderful the pageantry of humanity is and how by meeting people our own staid complacence is afforded a chance to live down itself.
Q5. Is college really a ‘waste of time and money’?
Athar Tahir: Depends on what you want to make of it.
Usman Ghafoor: Well, it is not supposed to be.
Nadia Butt: This question has two answers. I believe man makes his own circumstances and depends on the individual how far he manages to make the most of his time and resources. Now look at the other aspect besides studies. For me college life is vital to shaping character and personality. Those who excel in college have proved to be successful even in their practical life. It is in the lap of my alma mater and under the shades of its tall spire that I have learned to live with my fellow beings and above all learned to be a successful woman, conscious of her individual freedom and social responsibility.
Ali Shah: Anything can be a waste of time and money when it defies its own raison d’etre. With respect to educational institutions in general and GC in particular, a haemorrhage of energy when it’s misapplied is to be guarded against.
Q6. Is there any knowledge that a man must have?
Athar Tahir: Yes. Knowledge which, above all, inculcates integrity and character.
Usman Ghafoor: Knowledge of one’s self.
Nadia Butt: The knowledge of history, you are incomplete without it and then the knowledge of literature.
Ali Shah: One must always live with one’s feet firmly on ground. No knowledge is more indispensable than the knowledge of one’s self and the knowledge of one’s surroundings in the broadest sense possible. Even Delphi had as its message the immortal phrase, “Know Thyself’ and knowing about one’s surroundings in an essential part of the former.
Q7. What you read is the real you. Do you agree?
Athar Tahir: Not necessarily. In practical life one has to plod through all sorts and manner of verbiage which have nothing to do with the ‘real you’.
Usman Ghafoor: In‘a way, yes, because it reflects one’s tastes and interests, one’s bent of mind, et al.
Nadia Butt: Yes. If I appreciate D.H.Lawrence or Henry James or Sophocles, it shows that I am in line with them and agree with their philosophy of life.
Ali Shah: Not what I read but how I assimilate it or refuse to do it at all, is but one-sided facet of the real Me. By way of caveat, mind should not turn upon itself in its contemplation. Knowing oneself and solipsistic introspection are two different things.
Q8. Are editors the sinners in the hands of angry gods?
Athar Tahir: Depends on the editors and the extent of their ‘sinning.’
Usman Ghafoor: It is unfortunate that editors should be considered ‘sinners in the hands of angry gods,’ whereas what they might only be doing is pointing out drawbacks in the society and the individuals.
Nadia Butt: Oh, a very difficult question!! But very interesting. You can say yes and no both! Well after all the teachers are more experienced than us if they do not let us have our way all the time. May be it is for our own benefit and no; necessarily their own!
Ali Shah: Editors may be sinners in the eyes of mortified, very mundane mortals!
Q9. How do editors make readers hate reading?
Athar Tahir: By pomposity and pontificating.
Usman Ghafoor: Perhaps, by making things rather difficult to comprehend.
Nadia Butt: When they demand too much perfection in writing and end up in stressing the need of books far too much as writing is the outcome of what you have read… Sometimes it may have a negative effect on the students but not always.
Ali Shah: I would rather answer this question by taking up its contrary i.e. how should we make readers love reading. How exactly should we define an ideal reader is a hard question to answer. By publishing what directly concerns my human condition and reflects my hopes, my aspirations as a human being is one way of making readers not hate reading. Reading at any rate would always lag behind life in that it would be typified and petrified in the act of composition but life would move ahead. Therefore, capturing the essence of life in words is what would ever interest readers when they come into aesthetic contact with them.
Q10. Tell us something about the kinds of books you prefer?
Athar Tahir: Art, Literature and Sufism.
Usman Ghafoor: Books that intrigue me have got to do with human beings, relationships and love. I could be reading Thomas Harris’ “I’m Ok, You’re Ok” as well as Gulzar’s ‘Dastakhat’ or ‘Chand Pukraaj Ka’; Deepak Chopra’s ‘The Path to Love’ as well as Faulkner’s ‘Sound and the Fury’. This is also why I’m more prone to biographies than books on history – they have a more personal, human touch to them.
Nadia Butt: Well my taste keeps changing from time to time. I never prefer a particular kind of book to another kind. A time comes when I decide reading Russell and begin from The History of Western Philosophy up to In Praise of Idleness. Then when I get a chance to read Sigmund Freud I take to his Theory of Psychoanalysis. Sometimes Indian writers take my fancy and I like to delve into Anindhati Roy and Anita Desai. The list is endless
Ali Shah: At an advanced stage of learning one should read almost everything but for beginners, as we are, books that would help us attain a panoramic view of the knowledge in its historical progress are to be devoured voraciously. In World literature, we should read classical classics by Shakespeare, Goethe, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Balzac, Zola, Dickens, Thomas Hardy and scores of others and modern classics by Maxim Gorky , James Joyce, Franz Kafka, D.H. Lawrence, Gabriel Marquez, and other 20th century great writers. In History, we must have at least a sufferable knowledge of man’s struggle through time, from his evolutionary ascent to his post-modern descent and all the events inter-spacing these two extremes. In short, we should acquaint ourselves with what I usually call integrated history of mankind encompassing substantially something of every discipline.
Q11. There is a general dearth of good readers and writers nowadays. How can the students be motivated in developing and polishing their reading and writing skills, and what role can The Ravi play in this?
Ahar Tahir: The Ravi should re-invent itself as a serious fun-place. Workshops an seminars or writing, visits to publishing houses, interaction with leading journalists and authors, greater interface with intellectuals, group readings of interest-generating texts would help. Mere printing is not enough.
Usman Ghafoor: The students can be inspired, obviously, but not pushed beyond a point.Reading is a habit, which an individual has to cultivate by himself; and writing is a skill that comes with time and practice. There aren’t any short cuts. Every year, The Ravi inspires students to put forward their best contributions. Well, it can only go so far, unless the people associated with the magazine take it upon themselves to create some kind of interactive articles/poetry. But that would actually be outside of the magazine’s
Rabia Butt: Relieve The Ravi can make a lot of difference in goading students in enhancing their writing talents. You see writing is a skill which can be acquired unlike poetry. So if the editors are determined to encourage students to participate actively in the weekly workshops I am sure they will discover some great writers hitherto unknown to the teacher of language in the busy academic routine.
Ali Shah: Unfortunately an unhealthy kind of instrumental rationality prevails in our academia. Humanities and sciences are at loggerheads with each other. We should therefore try to heal this rupture so persuasively described by C.P. Snow in his 1959 essay, ‘The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution.’ Aldous Huxley , in his wonted encyclopaedic incisiveness also stressed the need of integrated education. Pristinely, it was Plato who in his magnum opus, Republic, emphasized through Socrates the importance of a rounded education. The Ravi can therefore induce students, not only Ravians, but others too, by striving to create a meaningful thoughtful space of reflection where bread-and-butter mentality would be complemented by an enquiry into ideas. Unless we read extensively we can’t write prolifically and we won’t be able to read as long as we are preoccupied with hundred ways of coining it in.
Q12. If you are, once more, made the editor of The Ravi, what would you do?
Athar Tahir: That which would impel the students to read and write, re-education is needed.
Usman Ghafoor: I’d give it my cent per cent, just as I gave it my cent per cent when I was the editor of The Ravi, eight years back. I’d be making use of all possible resources at hand, and of course my own little ‘brain’, just as I did before. Except that, naturally, since I am better equipped now, the results would be different.
Nadia Butt: To have a separate more detailed section of interviews and profiles.
Ali Shah: If made the Editor of Ravi once again, I’ll do all 1 couldn t do earlier on.
Q13. Why do you think The Ravi enjoys such a celebrated reputation in the literary circles?
Athar Tahir: Its longevity and steady standard of output.
Usman Ghafoor: Largely, because of its glorious past.
Nadia Butt: Due to the fact that it is one of the very few publications of Lahore which has never compromised on quality and has maintained the tradition of publishing the best works of the celebrated writers as well as students.
Ali Shah: It may be because a glorious past always comes to the rescue of present but chiefly because there is something in it to be celebrated.
Q14. What is the value of observation in life?
Athar Tahir: Life without observations is life in a hole of a mole.
Usman Ghafoor: Observation is a very important part of learning. But, I doubt if observation itself can be ‘learnt’.
Nadia Butt: Observation is one way to read life in all its hues. It opens new vistas of thought in man …in another way observation is a food for thought and imagination and they are the life blood of literary writing.
Ali Shah: Let’s not use the word observation for it rather keeps us from observing a much more supreme and splendid trait of human life of which observation per se is only an effect i.e. our sense of action and mobility or our evolutionary urge to improve our existence. Seen in this context, death and stagnation are the only alternatives to lack of observation.
Q15. Your favourite issue of The Ravi?
Athar Tahir: Special Poetry Issue of 1973/74
Usman Ghafoor: I didn’t have the chance to go through many of the previous issues of The Ravi, but during my time, I loved Farah Zia’s edition. It was a literature student’s delight.
Nadia Butt: My own edition!! Talk of Narcissism! Cannot help it. I view The Ravi as a baby of the editor’s mind and as a good parent you ought to love it more than anything else.
Ali Shah: Still waiting for it!
Q16. What message would you like to impart to the readers of The Ravi?
Athar Tahir: Read, think and write.
Usman Ghafoor: Never judge ‘The Ravi’ by its cover. ‘The Ravi’ runs deep.
Nadia Butt: I would say that we as readers, let’s say as seasoned readers, must not always practice negative criticism. It is quite a tendency in the present day intellectuals that they think that the ready way to prove their scholasticism is to indulge in criticism against any piece of literary writing. We should try to have a generous heart and appreciate the efforts of the body of sub editors and above all the editor of the Ravi for putting so much hard work in bringing out a voluminous issue which is a product of not a few days, weeks or months but a whole year!!
Ali Shah: Know Thyself!