TRENDS Pakistani writing has made its mark on the English literary scene, and suddenly the world seems to have woken up to a whole lot of new experiences
The launch of Jabeen Akhtar's ‘Welcome to Americastan' and former Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Akhtar's autobiography ‘Controversially Yours' are the two most recent books from Pakistan that have hit our bookshelves. Suddenly, there has been a rise in the number of Pakistani writers that we are reading and seeing.
Our list seems to be growing from the good old staple of Zulifkar Ghosh and Saadat Hasan Manto. It's clearly a post 9/11 development and our growing curiosity about these writers who occupy the ‘Islamic world'. Not to forget that book trafficking between what seemed distant worlds is now on a high.
In the 1980s, Bapsi Sidhwa rose to prominence with ‘The Crow Eaters' (1980) and the Partition saga, ‘Ice-candy-man' (1988).
Slowly there emerged writers who wrote evocatively on Pakistani society and other themes. In 2001, a surge of English novels revolving around various experiences caught the imagination of readers across the world.
Muneeza Shamsie and her daughter Kamila Shamsie's writings and novels are considered among the foremost works in Pakistani women's writings. Uzma Aslam Khan's ‘Trespassing' was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize in the Eurasia region and Aamer Hussein's novella ‘Another Gulmohar tree' was nominated for the Commonwealth Prize.
Mohsin Hamid's novel ‘Moth Smoke' received critical and public acclaim, paving the way for the nomination of his second novel, ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist', for the 2007 Booker Prize. In 2009 Mohammad Hanif's ‘A Case of Exploding Mangoes' won the overall Commonwealth Best First Book Prize. Daniyal Mueenuddin's ‘Other Rooms, Other wonders' won the 2010 regional Commonwealth Best First Book Prize.
Indian readers are discovering the joy of reading Pakistani literature in English. Mohsin Hamid's ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist' and ‘Moth Smoke' and Ali Seth's ‘The Wishmaker' are among the most widely-read books by the youth. H.M. Naqvi's brilliant debut ‘Home Boy'— which was awarded the 2010 DSC prize for South Asian Literature — is already flying off bookshelves for its racy plot and interesting characterisation.
Apart from these literary gems, biographies of well-known personalities have made their mark. The media promotion of books also plays a big role. Aditya, a journalist who is an avid reader, contends that Pakistani writing in English explores, like Indian writing in English, various themes, ranging from identity to subaltern culture. “Pakistan literature is similar to Indian literature. Hanif Kureishi's plots and storylines can be compared to Amitav Ghosh while Muhammad Hanif's writing can be compared to that of Aravind Adiga's as they depict the realities of subaltern life with low-brow humour.” Sajani Mrinalini Dutta, a management consultant, whose repertoire of reading is wide-ranging, speaks with knowledge about Pakistani writers in English.
“My favourites are Ali Seth, Aatish Taseer and Hanif Kureishi. Besides possessing a good style of writing, Taseer's approach to Muslim culture is well-explained in ‘Stranger to History'; I love Seth's backdrop and descriptions in ‘The Wishmaker' and most of Hanif Kureishi's works have got nothing to do with Pakistan but is about displaced people, which makes it universally appealing. I love his old-world English and observations.”
Rahul Bajaj, a management student, agrees. “I like the multi-lingual cadences of Pakistani English. Also, each author writes on different themes. Their writing isn't only about identity, terrorism or women's position in Pakistani society. They address a gamut of issues, such as urban and suburbia lifestyles and problems. Maniza Naqvi, Daniyal Mueenuddin and Kamila Shamsie all write about contemporary Pakistani society.”
“My favourites include Nadeem Aslam's ‘Map for Lost Lovers' and Aatish Taseer's ‘The Temple Goers' and ‘Noon'. Maybe because of the poetry of their language, Urdu, even their English has a lucid feel to it,” Rhea, a linguist, opines.
The Granta issue in Pakistan is highly recognised, and scores of authors are either being awarded or nominated prizes in literature. The ever-increasing turnout of prominent Pakistani authors in the Jaipur Literature Festival is evident that their works have a following in India.