In Pakistan, the realisation of linguistic rights is an issue placed within the gamut of national rights, provincial autonomy and the acceptance of diversity. This is raised time and again by those who subscribe to progressive political ideologies. The contemptuous treatment meted out to mother tongues spoken in Pakistan is outrightly deplorable. However, individuals and groups continue to resist this oppression. Amjad Saleem Minhas is one such person who decided to establish Sanjh Publications in Lahore some years ago to promote and publish creative writing in mother tongues. Sanjh has successfully published some powerful works in Punjabi besides bringing out original work and translations from other languages spoken in the country.
But as it has turned out, over the past few years Sanjh Publications has become one of the leading publishing houses for contemporary Urdu prose as well. What is unique about Sanjh is the choice of writers — of all ages — it offers. Most were less established or lesser known in the literary canon. The publication of books by these writers either informed the readers about some significant writing unknown to them or changed their perceptions about contemporary Urdu writing.
Let me stick to some notable works of fiction published by Sanjh in recent years. After publishing the much talked about Ghulam Bagh by Mirza Athar Baig in 2006, Sanjh published Sifar Se Aik Tak (novel), BeAfsana (short stories) and Hasan Ki Surat-i-Haal (novel) by the same author. Baig’s confident appearance on our publishing scene brings a new sensibility and expression to appreciate and convey our existential and social conundrums. In the same year as Hasan Ki Surat-i-Haal, Sanjh published Naulakhi Kothi by Ali Akbar Natiq. Set in rural Punjab of a few decades before and after the partition of British India in 1947, Natiq’s compassionate treatment of an individual who otherwise represents an oppressive order establishes him as an insightful writer with an ability to comprehend the complexities of human nature.
Speaking of partitions, displacements, conversions and migrations of people over generations, Khalid Fateh Mohammed’s Shahr-i-Madfoon is another important novel to have come out over the past couple of years. The Partition and migrations are dealt with an emotional detachment at one level, but present a highly emotional saga of anguish at another. This anguish stays within us as individuals and as a collective since Partition and gets morphed with time to express itself in ways that make us inflict more pain on our individual selves and on each other. Amir Rana in his novella Saaey (which I am finishing at the moment) deals with that internal and external angst of inflicting pain on the self and others when his protagonist wanders between reality and illusion, finally embracing religious extremism.
Someone whose signature blend of reality and illusion, imaginative prose and political struggle makes him different from others is Sami Ahuja. He is not a new name in fiction, but he chose Sanjh for the collection of his short stories, Bujhartein Nigarkhanay Ki. Ahuja’s latest work reminds me of the short fiction written by the dissident writers in Eastern Europe between the 1960s and 1990s. The paradox remains that the experience of European writers with socialism contrasts with the dream of South Asian writers for socialism. But the resistance to oppression from both makes their writing comparable to each other.
Finally, those worth a mention here published by Sanjh include Chowrangi, a collection of short stories by the remarkable French fiction writer of Urdu, Julian, and Mirwah Ki Raatein (novella) by Rafaqat Hayat. Julian has a talent for fictionalising real lives. Hayat inventively tells the tale of how a young man deals with life and fulfils his sexual desires within a constrained and complex rural society. The novella is more existential in nature than a commentary on the external environment.
The writer is a poet and essayist based in Islamabad. His collection of essays Crimson Papers: Reflections on Struggle, Suffering, and Creativity in Pakistan was recently published by Oxford University Press
Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, April 16th, 2017