From my bookshelf: ‘Kafka’s work is so grim you shouldn’t be smiling at all, but it’s still hilarious’
Q: What are you currently reading?
A: I am re-reading two of Atta Shad’s poetry anthologies in Balochi, Shap Sahar Andeim and Rochger. He died in February two decades ago and I saw him being mentioned by friends on social media, which made me want to read his work again.
I was in my teens when I started reading his work, which make more sense to me when I read them now. He created a new language to express emotions and thoughts which had never been expressed in Balochi and I did not give much importance to that as a teenager. But when I think of it now, it seems like an incredibly courageous thing to do. He was mocked and even his close friends thought he sounded absurd. But almost two decades after his death, he is seen as the person who changed Balochi poetry for good.
Q: Which books do you return to again and again?
A: The Trial by Franz Kafka, Catch 22 by Joseph Miller, A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif and many more. What’s common in these books is dark humour. But I love The Trial more than any other book because its subject matter is so dark that you don’t want to laugh at it, but you do. Kafka’s writing is so grim that you shouldn’t be smiling at all. But, and I don’t know why, it’s still hilarious.
[The character] Yossarian from Catch 22 has stayed with me. His only goal is to not get killed in the war. Not getting killed in Balochistan is the best service you can do to yourself.
Q: Are there any books you were unable to finish?
A: I could not finish War and Peace. I thought I had the stamina to finish that book after reading Brothers Karamazov and Anna Karenina, but I could not. I’ve had a very unique experience with Salman Rushdie’s writing. Although I believe he’s one of the best living novelists, I don’t usually enjoy reading him. I’ve not finished any of his books except Midnight’s Children.
That said, I’m quite eager to read Salman Rushdie’s latest novel, The Golden House, which according to reviews, is relevant in a world ruled by Donald Trump.
Q: Do you think there is a great Pakistani novel?
A: Qurratulain Hyder’s Aag Ka Darya is the greatest Pakistani novel, if you can call it a Pakistani novel at all. Its language, storytelling and atmosphere are so exotic that it seems unreal. But I think it’s the most truthful piece of writing about South Asian history, religions and politics.
I believe Abdullah Hussein’s Udaas Naslain is one of the best novels I’ve ever read. But he hasn’t got any international recognition for it. That’s sad.
Q: Which living poets, writers or dramatists do you admire most?
A: There are numerous living writers I am fond of, but I admire Mohammed Hanif most. I can relate to him. A village boy becomes a fighter pilot, then a journalist and eventually a successful novelist. I would’ve never dared writing if I hadn’t known him.
Published in Dawn, March 8th, 2017