KARACHI: The quality of Pakistani fiction writers writing in English is very good and Pakistani literature is now coming to its own. This was said by eminent literary critic Muneeza Shamsie while making a presentation titled ‘New millennium, new writers’ at an Oxford bookshop on Khalid bin Waleed Road on Friday evening.
Ms Shamsie made it clear from the outset that talking about the new writings did not mean they represented works of young authors because it included 80-year-old Jamil Ahmed whose book ‘The wandering falcon’ had gained popularity in recent times. She said Jamil Ahmed drew on his experiences as a civil servant recreating a timeless tribal culture penned in a style which prompted the following reaction from a British reviewer: “Is this a novel or a collection of short stories?” Praising the book, the Pakistani critic commented the writing was beautiful in which tribal rivalry was highlighted with slow intrusion of modernity.
Ms Shamsie said that Pakistani English fiction writing also had to do with those who had migrated to other parts of the world, and mentioned the name of Nadeem Aslam who was 14 years old when he left for England from Gurjanwala. His first novel ‘Season of the rainbirds’ was an imaginative piece of writing which dealt with religious bigotry that took root in Pakistan during Ziaul Haq’s rule. His second novel ‘Maps for lost lovers’ was on honour killing. She argued the writer had treated Britain and Pakistan as one place, interweaving Pakistani culture into his text. His next two novels were ‘The wasted vigil’ and ‘The blind man’s garden’.
Ms Shamsie said Mohammed Hanif’s ‘A case of exploding mangoes’ was framed by the mysterious crash of Gen Ziaul Haq’s airplane – an irreverent satire of the general’s friendship with the CIA. His next novel ‘Our Lady of Alice Bhatti’ had black humour. It’s not as expansive as his first book but was a biting comment on Karachi’s daily violence.Ms Shamsie said Mohsin Hamid, Kamila Shamsie and Uzma Aslam Khan grew up in Zia’s era and their books reflected that period. She touched on Uzma Aslam’s three books ‘The story of noble rot’, ‘Trespassing’ and ‘The geometry of God’, the last one based on the historical discovery of a fossil (fictionalised in the book) and the arrest and trial of a 70-year-old character for teaching the theory of evolution. ‘Thinner than skin’ was her latest novel, she said.
Speaking about Mohsin Hamid, Ms Shamsie remarked that his books exemplified sophisticated writing. She admired the intricate text, particularly the monologue, which the writer had used in ‘The reluctant fundamentalist’ where the character of Changez was speaking with an American and it’s difficult for readers to figure out whether the Pakistani protagonist was a terrorist or the American character was a CIA agent.
She said H. M. Naqvi’s book ‘Home boy’ like Hamid’s ‘The reluctant fundamentalist’, was against the backdrop of the 9/11 bombings and delineated the life of a young Pakistani imagining himself to be a New Yorker. She then touched on Kamila Shamsie’s books ‘In the city by the sea’, ‘Salt and saffron’, ‘Broken verses’ and ‘Burnt shadows’. She said the writer merged elements of Pakistani culture and art into her text. Her book Kartography, she told the audience, had the East Pakistan debacle at the centre of the story.
Ms Shamsie commended the way Roopa Farooki had written ‘The flying man’ (a fluid and lively story about a gambler, a conman and a liar) and ‘Half life’ (which pivoted around a Punjabi military office and a Bengali poet). She also spoke highly of Musharraf Ali Faoorqui’s books, especially ‘Between clay and dust’ which dealt with a courtesan (tawaif) and a wrestler (pehlwan) and had links with the famous Urdu novel ‘Umrao Jan Ada’. The presentation was followed by a question-answer session.