Wednesday, 8 April 2009
Renaissance of Literature in Pakistan - A Nation Which Wins Nobel Prizes & Sets World Records in Academia Can't Be A Failed State
By Sikander Hayat
Pakistan these days is going through a perilous time and indeed I have no doubt that it will come out of it stronger and my belief is based on the reasons that may sound trivial but are the backbone of a living, functioning society which is proud of itself.
I recently came across an article in Financial Times, a UK newspaper, which was written by William Dalrymple in which he argues that Pakistanis are finally not only catching up with the literature coming out of other countries in South Asia but in some cases producing a better quality work then their counterparts. He starts off by arguing that Pakistanis due to various circumstances in the past were not able to produce the kind of work that they had previously done but now the things are changing. According to him “Something remarkable is happening in Pakistani
writing. Ten years ago, the most interesting English-language books coming out of south Asia were by Indian authors. In 1997, when The New Yorker published a photograph of hot young writers from the subcontinent, there was one Sri Lankan – Romesh Gunasekara – but all the other writers were from Indian or Indian diaspora backgrounds. There was not a single Pakistani in the group – and with good reason: in 1997 there was almost no interesting English-language writing coming out of the Islamic Republic.
It was a similar picture in Urdu literature. The old heroes of Urdu literature, such
as Manto, had died and no one of comparable talent seemed to be coming up to replace them. The suspicion of writers on the part of Pakistan’s establishment and the pervasive atmosphere of military censorship had a stultifying effect: Pakistan’s greatest poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, spent most of the end of his life in Pakistani prisons. In contrast, India was producing an array of authors who were feted around the world: Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, Arundhati Roy and the Desais mère et fille.”
Then he tells us what actually is happening in the literature world of Pakistan at the moment by saying and what are the factors which are bringing upon this change “A decade on, the case is very different. The Booker shortlist of 2007 contained a Pakistani writer for the first time: Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist was one of the most thought-provoking novels of that year and received deservedly fabulous reviews. Now, within a few years of Hamid’s success, a raft of other Pakistani novels have appeared, causing a considerable stir in the literary world.
A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif, is something new in south Asian fiction: a darkly comic political thriller that is also a thought-provoking satire attacking the brutality, stupidity and hypocrisy of Pakistan’s military dictators. Not surprisingly, Hanif has yet to find a Pakistani publisher. Nadeem Aslam’s latest, The Wasted Vigil, set in contemporary Afghanistan, is even more observant
and beautifully written than his wonderful Maps for Lost Lovers. Kamila Shamsie’s Burned Shadows is a sweeping historical narrative that moves its characters from Hiroshima to 9/11, and is her strongest book to date.”
Finally he challenges the Indian authors by discussing a work by Daniyal Mueenuddin called ‘Other Rooms, Other Wonders’, to come up with a similar quality of work. According to Dalrymple “
If there was one thing the new Pakistani fiction seemed to be lacking, that was a Midnight’s Children – a single text to which the word “masterpiece” could unquestionably be attached. Now that moment may have come, in the shape of Daniyal Mueenuddin and his collection of short stories In Other Rooms, Other Wonders.
It is certainly one of the finest works of fiction to come out of south Asia this decade, rooted in a rural landscape with each story ending in a shell-burst of loss and tragedy. Unlike anything recently published in India, Other Rooms throws the gauntlet down to a new generation of Indian writers. For the first time, there is serious competition for them over the border in their beleaguered neighbour.”
I am sure of the resilience of Pakistanis, weather it be science or arts or for that matter in any field of life. I ask the world belong to tell me how many failed states have won Nobel prizes ( Physics & Economics), how many failed states have students who set world records by scoring
23 A’s under the United Kingdom Examination system. Don’t call us a failed state just because you wish us to be a failed state. When, we come outside on the other side of this dark tunnel that will be because of the creativity of our people. Pakistanis are working hard to not let the darkness engulf them and they deserve a second look by the world at large.