Bridging the gap

Published: June 28, 2015
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The need to establish a strong connection with culture dominates a vast portion of Pakistani literature in English. Many fiction writers have used the sights, sounds and flavours of the so-called ‘Pakistani experience’ to elicit an emotional response from readers.

Some authors have taken a trip down memory lane to recall with troubled nostalgia a past that defines the silent sacrifices of a nation. Others have used indigenous humour and cultural references to breathe life into a page and set the tone for a narrative. The emphasis on creating a powerful sense of time, space and setting serves a significant purpose.

It is widely believed that language is the vehicle through which a literary work develops its identity. It is the compass and point of reference which determines its direction. However, many Pakistani authors who chose to write in English have to overcome a language barrier. Writing in English about a country where the common discourse is in Urdu and other regional languages creates the need to fill cultural gaps with subtle details.

Fortunately, the experiment has produced favourable results. In the initial days, glossaries were carried with books by Pakistani authors to explain unfamiliar terms. This practice has now fallen out of favour. We now live in a time when a writer can become a best-selling author across the world even though he or she writes bilingual prose tinged with countless unexplained references.

Nonetheless, this does not mean that the language barrier has been completely eliminated. Most English writers who write about Pakistan will continuously encounter this problem as it is the only way their work can be deemed authentic. However, only an astute writer can understand that literature goes beyond the aim of opening the portals of an unfamiliar world. The growing need to draw upon the Pakistani experience cannot compromise on its humanising influence.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 28th, 2015.

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