From a “place too far and remote” to the “rollercoaster effect”

An abundance of English literature from Pakistani writers, say panellists.


Saadia Qamar February 07, 2011

KARACHI: There was a time when “poor Bapsi Sidhwa” was rebuffed by publishers when she wanted to get her writings about Pakistan published.

“’You are writing about a place too far and remote’” was the explanation Sidhwa received from publishers, narrated Muneeza Shamsie at a session, ‘Promising, New Writing in English’, on the second day of the Karachi Literature Festival. The panel consisted of Shamsie, Ishrat Lindblad and Amberina Kazi while Sadia Shepard moderated the discussion.

But now there is a surge in English literature coming from Pakistani writers, in what Shamsie called a “rollercoaster effect”.

“Young writers want to communicate with the rest of the world,” she explained, “earlier there was a lack of awareness and communication.”

“There should be a promise from the publishing world,” remarked Amberina Kazi, an English professor at Karachi University, “that they will provide a strong infrastructure to the emerging new talent.”

“The talent was always there,” said Shamsi, “from Zulfiqar Ghouse to Bapsi Sidhwa and many years ago, Mumtaz Shahnawaz, a poet, whose talent can’t be denied.” She said that the poets did not receive the recognition that they needed.

Amberina Kazi spoke of good homegrown writers.

“There is a great band of talented people, who need encouragement in order to blossom into excellent writers. Editors, publishers and teachers should give that little push that students need,” she said, almost pleadingly.

There were also some readings by Rabia Pirani and Kiran Bashir Ahmad while Zunaira Nadeem recited poetry titled “Thoughts in Verse”.

Teacher Ishrat Lindblad talked about ‘Midnight’s Children’, calling it the birth of “Magic realism to the English novel.” Talking in terms of change and trendsetting at the global level, Lindblad explained how speaking English with a regional accent is now accepted.

“After 9/11, the Western attitude to Eastern writers changed,” she said, “moreover, India has become old hat and people are more interested in Pakistani writers and their work.”

Kazi rounded off her talk with some advice for writing enthusiasts.

“Write on a wide variety of issues surrounding the social background,” she said, “what is nearest to the people living here and problems about Pakistan”.

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