Four Talks and a Funeral

By Anjum Altaf

In September I was in the US for a month for a series of lectures and presentations. Three of them were recorded and are available for public viewing. I am linking them here for those who might be interested in any of the topics which are very varied.

Most of the talks are on YouTube so a proxy would be needed for viewing them in Pakistan because of the continuing ban on YouTube. I am presuming readers are technologically adept enough to navigate their way to a solution.

University of Michigan, Center for South Asian Studies

April 5, 2013


University of California at Berkeley, Institute for South Asia Studies

September 8, 2014


Cornell University, College of Art, Architecture and Planning

September 16, 2014


(More easily viewed here in two parts):

Part 1 –
Part 2 –

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, DC

September 24, 2014


There was one earlier presentation I made to the incoming freshmen class at LUMS during Orientation Week on August 28, 2014. The theme was that effective training requires a solid foundation of general education. It is much more sensible to educate first and train later rather than to train first and (try to) educate later. The latter strategy almost always fails leaving behind unidimensional professionals.

LUMS, Orientation Week

August 28, 2014


The objective of these talks is to start public conversations. No change is possible unless there are ideas in circulation about which people engage each other converging through discussions to understandings that can energize political action. It is not enough to be passive readers. I would like you to use the space for comments to air your views and especially your disagreements.

Now to the funeral:

All these presentations were made when I was the dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at LUMS. Soon after my return from the US I died in that role and was reborn as provost of Habib University in Karachi. Incidentally, Habib University has the kind of foundational education that was the theme of the lecture at LUMS. For details see the description of the liberal core at Habib.

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6 Responses to “Four Talks and a Funeral”

  1. Tariq L. Rahman Says:

    I’d really like to hear the ‘Perspectives on Small Cities in Pakistan’ talk from Cornell but, unfortunately, the link is not working. Is there any other way to access it?


    Tariq L. Rahman
    University of Oregon

  2. Talha Says:

    ‘Perspectives on Small Cities in Pakistan’ talk from Cornell is not working (I’m trying to view it from US). I can not find this talk on the small cities website as well. Can you please upload a different link.

    LUMS Alumni & Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

  3. Anil Kala Says:

    Although this comment isn’t related but a funeral was mentioned so I thought I might as well relate this……

    I was in a funeral a couple of days back, it was unusual. An acquaintance having three successful doting sons died at the age of 69 years. The arrangement was elaborate and highly ritualistic. A large gathering of mourners had assembled at the crematorium eager to lend a helping hand. Predictably there were multiple directions and suggestion how the “arthi” should be lifted, which side it should face, whether the shroud should be removed first or last and so many others. It is amazing that after millenniums of going through these rituals we are still lost in the nitty-gritty of senseless rituals. But I am not narrating this to highlight our propensity to pay unusual attention to ritualistic details, this funeral was really unusual. While all went along the predictable line but as the pyre was lit and last of the ritual i.e. the pot filled with water crashed at the base of “chita”, purohit ordered the three brothers to stand at an empty space and called everyone to assemble around them. Then he delivered a talk on philosophical aspect of life, death as its finality, “Sadgati” and “Moksh” objectives to aspire for. After the talk he asked us all “to stand in silence for two minutes for the departed soul” and then everyone formed a queue and one by one shook hands with the three brothers and left. This was unusual, a western tradition slowly creeping into our consciousness.

    I thought this is good we must assimilate what is good, after all “आ नो भद्रा क्रतवो यन्तु विश्वतः” (Let noble thoughts come to us from every side) is a maxim from Rig Veda. But what we forget is that we should also discard what is no more relevant and passé. This same purohit insisted on having a pyre of नौ मन (about 9×37 Kg ) wood instead of more eco-friendly electric cremation.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Anil: My first thesis adviser in the US died unexpectedly. He was a father-figure to me and I was emotionally overcome at the funeral ceremony. I recall the family coming over and asking why I was crying when they were not. I understood after that incident that people grieve in different ways and there is much acculturation involved in our practices. I also understood that my way was not the only way nor the only rightful way. Now when I see people not crying at a death I don’t assume they are bereft of sorrow; just that they have a different way of mourning.

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