Literature in search of a language

Published: February 7, 2011

Karen Armstrong’s session on Sunday was packed to the brim. PHOTO: EXPRESS

KARACHI: While most people visited the Karachi Literature Festival for acclaimed writers, others gathered in the Maharani Hall of Carlton Hotel, Karachi, to catch up with those writing in Pakistan’s regional languages.

A one-hour session on Sunday afternoon, moderated by author and journalist Mohammad Hanif, focused on how creativity is not hostage to language. What matters, the panelists said, is the creative process.

The session titled “New and Emerging Writings in Pakistani Languages” featured Sindhi writers Hassan Dars and Attiya Dawood, Urdu writer Ali Akbar Natiq, Punjabi writer Mudassir Aziz and English writer Bilal Tanweer.

Natiq, who writes both poetry and prose, believed the process of creating poetry and prose was completely different. “Poetry needs ambience. To create that, every night after 10, I switch off the lights and read in candlelight. Sometimes, while in the middle of something else, a line comes to you. A story, however, is born in society. When you walk around and try to observe society critically, you see so many stories that are waiting to be picked up,” he said.

Speaking about inspiration, Dawood said that she had almost given up on finding an appropriate ending to her autobiography when a trip back to her village made it all too clear for her. “I started writing my biography during a three-month residency in India. But I couldn’t seem to write a good ending. Then, a magazine approached me for an interview where I was inspired to find myself in a whole different way. That is where I wrote the last chapter,” she said, launching into a reading.

Aziz, who has recently compiled two books, spoke about how Punjabi and Sindhi traditions were similar and stressed that for years, poets had never gone to school or college but had had wisdom. “This thought is similar in the traditions [of both the cultures],” he said. One of the compilations is the work of Aziz’s maternal grandfather, who was a chief justice during the era of Ranjit Singh. It is called “Aakheya Qazi Ne” (Qazi said) while the other is a compilation of the imam of a mosque in Aziz’s village who wrote in the style of the Sindhi sufis.

Translations are a form of work close to Tanweer as well. “Translating and writing are very similar to me. Every translator thinks of primary elements before beginning to translate. Your own creativity also comes out but it isn’t appreciated as much,” he said.

Aziz agreed: “The translation industry brings cultures together. If works were not translated, we would never have been able to read Tagore, Kafka or Chekhov. These translations help us promote our work internationally.”

Published in The Express Tribune, February 7th, 2011.

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