KARACHI, Dec 22: Reading is not a dying habit in the age of the electronic revolution. This was the core of a lecture titled ‘Reading culture in an electronic age: is reading a dying habit in Pakistan?’ delivered by noted critic Muneeza Shamsie at T2F on Friday.
Ms Shamsie began her talk by suggesting that one could not write if one was not a reader. She said these days there were a number of creative writing workshops but she was a self-taught writer and started to write 10 years after her marriage. She said her husband helped her in her creative pursuits and bought her a typewriter. Ten years of absence of intellectual work (that is, finishing school and getting married) was not easy.
In those days there was no easy access to writers such as Doris Lessing. Fortunately she had travelled and had a bunch of literary friends who suggested quality books to her. Also, she had subscribed to a reputed magazine, Granta, which kept her abreast of literary happenings.Afterwards, Ms Shamsie said, she began writing for Dawn and penned book reviews for it.
Today she read books as a judge for different literary prizes.
She said it was important to read Pakistani writers because they were writing about their own experiences, and quoted Kamila Shamsie who had once said that she had discovered two worlds, one of Peter and Jane and the other where she lived. She touched on the issue of Pakistani English writers and termed it ‘unfair’ to suggest that they were writing what had been written 50 years back in regional languages, and that if they wrote about 9/11 critics would say “Oh, they are pandering to 9/11”.
Ms Shamsie said it was important to read one’s own material and mentioned books such as The wandering falcon by Jamil Ahmed and River of smoke by Amitav Ghosh. She termed them culture-specific.
With regard to poetry, she took the name of Agha Shahid Ali and praised his ghazal writing ability for incorporating the legends of Laila Majnoon into the subject of the genre.
She reverted to fiction and showered praise on Julian Barnes’ Booker winning novel The sense of an ending.
Ms Shamsie said in the 1960s and ‘70s the debate ‘is the novel dead’ caused quite a bit of stir in literary circles, and such debates would result in literary discourses. With the advent of the electronic age people feared that books might vanish. At that point she quoted writer Stephen Fry’s famous sentence, “books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators”.
In favour of the argument she said that when she was young, children used to read comics and the older lot said the comic reading generation would never read books. But that didn’t happen. She argued: “People are aware of what is out there.”
Ms Shamsie then talked about websites such as ‘asymptote’ that were doing a good job in spreading the literary message. She told the audience that it was through one of the websites that she got to know that Lorca wrote ghazals and qasidas as well. She reiterated that she didn’t think there was any danger to the book reading culture.
During the question-answer session, Ms Shamsie said there was a huge difference between Indian and Pakistani literary scenes because the former had proper infrastructure. She lauded events like the Karachi literature festival for creating a meaningful discourse and generating an interest in books among the people.