Freelance writer, Donald Hubbard is a guest blogger today on Cayenne Lit with his insightful look into the great phenomenon that is Pakistani Writing in English (PWE). Here is the first of his two posts on the subject:
Pakistani Writing in English (PWE) has been shaped by two seminal mirroring events of the real and metaphorical midnights of Partition from India in 1947 and the publication of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children in the 1980s. The former event left Pakistan, its land and its people, a geographic stepchild, seen in largely derogatory terms; a country that has been maligned, misunderstood and seemingly broken. In Bapsi Sidhwa’s Cracking India, even the title suggests a splitting apart – like a wishbone – only with Pakistan left holding the ugly, stubbed bone of Partition.
The latter event put postcolonial Indian literature on the map, made its author a literary superstar, while Pakistani writers remained largely speechless – stifled and suppressed – the literary stepchildren of both midnights, overshadowed by the rich storytelling and infinite fecundity of Rushdie’s India. Haunted by stigma, PWE has struggled to find a unique voice, forever waiting for its own “Midnight’s Children moment.” But perhaps what the critics fail to realize is that we may be witnessing that moment now.
And in this moment we have watched as the barren artistic scene in Pakistan suddenly blossomed with some truly high quality fiction. Unquestionably one of the most thought-provoking and accomplished novels of 2007 was Moshin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist. For the first time, the Booker shortlist considered a Pakistani writer, and as a result of this recognition, coupled with a liberalization of political policies on censorship, came an exuberant awakening of Pakistan’s literary soul.
In the compressed space of a few years came Mohammed Hanif’s bold debut novel A Case of Exploding Mangoes, which made the 2008 Booker shortlist, the remarkable Nadeem Aslam’s The Wasted Vigil and Uzma Aslam Khan’s Trespassing, and Kamila Shamsie’s forthcoming Burnt Shadows, an ambitious narrative that may be competing for a spot on the Booker list with the youthful Ali Sethi’s debut novel, The Wish Maker (June 2009). These original new voices have begun a trend that effectively ends the years of literary inequality and drought.
But the trajectory of PWE is closely linked with that of Pakistan’s future. In a country thought of as nothing more than bloodthirsty jihadis, military dictatorships and oppressed women, fiction may well be the only way the West is likely to gain insightful exposure to Pakistan. A country where the future is so uncertain the ordinary citizen may wonder if there will ever be any lasting peace, or will the country dissolve completely into a failed state, spilling out an army of militant Muslims and nuclear weapons in all directions? Yet, it’s in the midst of that turmoil, the tension and uncertainty, that great literature is born. That is where PWE will forge its own identity, its own defining moment. Where it will meet and depart from Rushdie and company and become its own unique experience.
To be continued…
About Donald Hubbard
Donald Hubbard has always been fascinated with other cultures, places and peoples. A well-read student of U.S. foreign policy with an area of expertise in South Asia, his natural curiosity and research led him to a specific interest in the troubled country of Kashmir, which was introduced to him in the 1980s after reading Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. Since that time his love affair and particular affinity for the land and its people has become something of a curious obsession. He is currently at work on a novel set in Kashmir. As a book collector, autodidact and avid reader, his personal library has grown over the past twenty-five years and is now approaching 1800 volumes of modern literary fiction, nonfiction (especially current events and world politics/history), Kashmir history and fiction, religious history, science, and world literature with an emphasis on post-colonial Indian literature.