A friend of mine once pointed out the fact that there are so many literary and intellectual Pakistani writers. This friend,
like me, is an avid reader and also happens to be Indian. Her comment stuck in my mind for some time, as I thought about all of the books I have read (and obsessed over) that are by Pakistanis. I thought about the reasons why I have loved these books and how they may shape my own writing.
I remember myself as an adolescent, reading away in my room and aspiring to be a writer myself one day. I also vividly remember when I was first introduced to a Pakistani writer. It was Tehmina Durrani and the book was My Feudal Lord. It wasn’t exactly light reading, but I was pretty awe-inspired by her story and most importantly, her courage to publish it. From that point on, I continued my search for amazing Pakistani (and other South Asian) novelists and writers, finding renewed inspiration through each discovery. I suppose it was my position as a young Pakistani female growing up in the Middle East. The question of identity becomes pertinent very early on when you are living in between worlds. Thus my interest in reading, books, and authors held a meaning that went beyond sheer entertainment to pass idle time.
Since then, I have discovered many favorites and have recommended their books to friends from all walks of life. So you can imagine my delight when Granta Magazine (a London-based literary magazine) did a special edition on Pakistan last year and featured some of the authors that are at the top of my own favorites list. Names like Kamila Shamsie, Mohsin Hamid, Daniyal Mueenuddin, and Mohammed Hanif came atop Granta’s featured list. The scope and depth of each one’s writing is diverse in range and perspective. However, I think the commonality between all of them is their deep insight and authenticity. Their identities as Pakistanis are relevant to the stories they create, but the stories they create are not only relevant to Pakistanis. They provide thoughtful and thought provoking plots while also providing socio-political commentary that is neatly interwoven into the fabric of their stories and the make-up of their characters.
Some of these writers have been criticized for appealing to a “Western” audience and not being representative of the diverse and “local literary scene” in Pakistan. Perhaps if you view their work from one dimension this may be true, but reading and writing are both subjective pursuits and I think there is a great amount of talent that cannot be denied in the work of these writers even if they have gained their acclaim in the West.
Most importantly, the world, specifically the Western world, is able to get a glimpse of a Pakistan that is often lost in the media. While these works of fiction are not “about Pakistan” in the literal sense, they are about how Pakistanis are like everyone else when it comes to human emotions and identity. They have stories to tell — stories about love, life, loss, friendship. I continue to find inspiration in their ability to channel a unique voice that is still relatable.
Granta 112: Pakistan
Kartography by Kamila Shamsie
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin
A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif
Songs of Blood and Sword by Fatima Bhutto (nonfiction)