Prodigious and prolific | Political economics

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This work ethic bears an uncanny resemblance to British historian and polyglot Arnold Toynbee, author of the prodigious 12-volume book A study of history. While preparing his schedule to work on one of the greatest scholarly enterprises of the 20e Century, Toynbee had estimated that given the scale of the business, it would require him to work from dawn to dusk, non-stop, for 40 years.

Thus, he embarked on his dream project, without taking a vacation or a day off. He continued to work even on the occasion of Easter and Christmas. He finished A study of history in 30 years, 10 years earlier than the initial calculation.

When it comes to the commitment to writing about deep topics, Professor Tariq Rahman seems to have taken a leaf out of Toynbee’s book. His book on jihad is a case in point. However, unlike Toynbee, he avoids venturing into bulky megaprojects like A study of history or James George Frazer The golden twig. Professor Rahman is the embodiment of self-discipline. He is incredibly thorough in his research projects.

Before starting his book on jihad, he learned Arabic, mostly on his own, and managed to acquire a sufficient command of the language. His self-discipline and meticulous pursuit of research goals must be the result of family grooming. He comes from an educated family. He went to Burn Hall School in Abbottabad, near the Pakistan Military Academy, where his father taught mathematics to cadets. Rahman thus spent his adolescence in a strictly regulated environment. Later, he joined the army and did his long PMA internship for two years. The time spent at the military academy must have some influence on his temperament.

He left the army probably because his inquisitive nature was not well suited for this profession. While Professor Rahman professes no considerable measure of affection for his years in the military, his style and etiquettes carry the influence he must have imbibed at the PMA.

Despite a long-standing friendship, I have yet to see him dressed casually or unkempt, even during leisure hours at his house. His sophisticated demeanor also reflects his style of teaching. He’s probably the only faculty member who walks into class, donning a red gown, minutes before class starts, and leaves his class exactly at the stipulated time. In faculty meetings, he arrives on time and whenever his advice is requested, he gives it in English. His lectures are perfectly structured and the means of communication is strictly English. Procrastination is foreign to him. E

He reaches his writing table at 9 a.m. and begins to write. Some writings deal with extremely difficult subjects. He finishes his daily business at 6:30 p.m. Almost every year Professor Rahman releases a book. So far there has been one on social history of Hindi-Urdu, one on names, one on jihad, followed by wars, representing the views of middle-ranking officers, the lower class, and the widows of martyrs. The last one just came out.

His next book is the English translation and interpretation of Ghalib’s poetry is ready to go to the publisher. Expect it to be scintillating work. Making poetry immersed in the Indo-Persian cultural ethos in English requires courage and perseverance. As Professor Rahman works on a book project, he simultaneously plans the next one. Such zeal is rare, especially in Pakistan.

For his research, he undertakes journeys to obscure places. It operates without a research assistant. Writing and publishing while based in Pakistan is a Herculean task. Modesty is another of his unfailing traits.

One of Professor Rahman’s early passions was to unravel the impact of language on politics. His early works deal with this extraordinarily important subject. After completing his PhD at the University of Sheffield on EM Foster, he decided to part ways with literature and focused his attention on language as a determinant of culture/ethnicity.

He studied the language from various angles. He forged the synthesis of different disciplines like cultural studies with the main emphasis on language, politics, sociology and history. This synergy brought subtlety to the argument he put forward. This intellectual complexity in synthesizing divergent disciplinary impulses became more pronounced in his later works.

Education and pedagogy are the areas on which Rahman has written extensively. He is one of the few scholars with a deep understanding of the issues plaguing our education system. These insights into the Pakistani education system and the ills that afflict it make Rahman an invaluable human resource. Yet its services have been grossly underutilized.

Research is his first love but he is not afraid of administrative tasks. His tenure as Director of the National Institute of Pakistan Studies at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad was a resounding success. It is strange that despite being one of Pakistan’s most decorated scholars, he was not appointed Vice Chancellor.

Rahman’s services for the advancement of knowledge have been recognized not only in Pakistan but also in other countries. Truth be told, in our country, those who excel in their respective fields can be easily bypassed. Chicanery and nepotism rule the roost. The presence of scholars like Rahman is barely tolerated. The fact that Rahman is Dean of Education at the National University of Beaconhouse is a credit to the institution.


The author is a professor in the Faculty of Liberal Arts, National University Beaconhouse, Lahore

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