Filled with almost 200 million people speaking nearly sixty languages, brought into nationhood under the auspices of a single religion, but wracked with deep separatist fissures and the destabilizing forces of ongoing conflicts in Iran, Afghanistan and Kashmir, Pakistan is one of the most dynamic places in the world today.
Whether its news or fictions, when it comes to nation like Pakistan, for authors its very subjective and fictional, and for readers like me, it’s no less then a thriller. It is this thrill factor that I love the most when reading fiction evolved from socities like one we have in Pakistan. The Economist claims that,
“LIFE in the modern West is thin gruel for writers. Rich, comfortable countries provide too little jeopardy to drive a decent plot. The 19th century produced the West’s best fiction; today, readers must look to the developing world. “.
I found this article in a recent weekend’s issue, and thought to be worth sharing. The article specifically talks about John Freeman’s Gantra, The Magazine of New Writing. From the writers who are living outside the country – Kamila Shamsie and Nadeem Aslam – to those going back – Mohsin Hamid and Mohammed Hanif – to those who are living there and writing in Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Baluchi and English, there is a startling opportunity to draw together an exciting collection of voices at the forefront of a literary renaissance. Other contributors include Fatima Bhutto and Basharat Peer.
Considering forign authors, it was Louise Brown’s The Dancing Girls of Lahore which caught my attention first, and brought me into this dark writing culture. Brown renders an intimate portrait of one family there that is compelling in its strangeness and its humanity. Shuttling for months at a time between Heera Mandi and her middle-class world of Birmingham, England, Brown details the goings-on of Maha, her five children, and the people and places in their tiny universe.
Anyway coming to the Economist, and Gantra, “Granta: Pakistan” is a delight, starting with its cover, by one of the artists who decorates the jewel-coloured trucks that teeter along the country’s hot, smoggy roads covered in visions of alpine springs and blushing maidens. The surreal cheerfulness of the snow-covered peaks and scarlet lovebirds contrasts brilliantly with the darkness of the pages within. The stories are mostly about violence, much of it against women. In Nadeem Aslam’s “Leila in the Wilderness”, a child bride’s husband, wanting a son, kills the girls she produces. Trapped, she grows wings (an echo of the magical realism born of the dark times in 1970s Latin America). The story seems to take place in some distant past, until a mobile phone rings. “The Sins of the Mother”, a story by Jamil Ahmad, a 79-year-old whose first novel is shortly to be published, tells of a Baluch couple who elope and are given sanctuary by soldiers until their tribe comes after them. They kill themselves. Their kinsmen leave their son wandering in a sandstorm.
Mohsin Hamid’s “A Beheading” ends with the event, and imagines the moments leading up to it, from the victim’s point of view. Mohammed Hanif’s “Butt and Bhatti”, a story of a gangster who loves a nurse, describes the mad randomness of Pakistan’s violence. The nurse rejects him. In his fury, he shoots into the street and hits a driver who ploughs into some schoolchildren, setting off three days of riots in which many are killed. The gangster disappears into the crowd. The nurse dreams of him.
Torn between the modern and medieval worlds, Pakistan is a painful place. The violence in these stories speaks of a new country struggling to be born. When it emerges, it may not be a pretty sight.
Source: The Economist [16th Sept 2010]: Lovebirds and murder