"A writer and nothing else: a man alone in a room with the English language, trying to get human feelings right. " ~John K. Hutchens, New York Herald Tribune, 10 September 1961

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Bookworm: Arise

As a follow up to the original "Bookworm" blog post, I need to add that The News has its own literary section, dubbed 'Literati' and apparently runs a Zia Mohiuddin column on its front page (NOS). I must confess, that its been close to five years since I last picked up The News and in that interim have fallen quite in love with Books & Authors instead, so my ignorance needs to be appreciated.

In addition, I have been directed to a few equally informative links, posted at the end of the blog post containing among many, NYT's podcast book reviews, which yet again goes to show the limits to which literary podcasts are being put to. However, let's not talk about that, shall we?

Another interesting blog is a Booker Prize shortlist - Indra Sinha - the author of Animal's People. That brings up the rear to Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist and brings the number of nominated desi authors to two. Both books, it seems, have sold very few copies in England although Hamid's book I know, has done quite well in the US.

Out of the 6 links I was directed to, 4 were Indian which yet again goes to show how far the people on the other side of the border have come in terms of literary achievements. There needs to be a forum in Pakistan by which the creative talents of this country are heard. There is a very apparent gap between the two nations in terms of this. Even our writers write about widely differing things - you'll see a trend in most Indian authors - to write the common man's story, while ours almost always deal with the elitists - a small segment of the population. Are we really going to wake each other up to the horrors and realities of this nation by our own tales? Is this what will bring our people out of their stupor? The new "It crowd" generation of writers seems to have one thing in common: a demeaned sense of reality (and morality too, for that matter). It may seem naive, but I cling to the opposite side with an odd strain of optimism. In the end, my stories are real, they talk about reality and what's in the present and now, and how inevitably, the people we trust, and in particular - family, the importance of which - we must never underestimate. Perhaps my own strong relationship with the people in my life inevitably brings me back to this again and again, but I believe to be whole, we don't need to look very far in our lives. We don't need to write books upon books showing us mirrors to our own lives, albeit in twisted and convoluted ways.

Given, I find a comfortable home in the upper middle class, and there are times when my pride comes in the way of my better judgment, but I am no elitist. I must confess: I don't know how the very elite in our country live, and will go out on a limb to add another thing: I don't want to. I'm quite content with life on this side of the tracks. I do not look over the fence at the other side with longing, I do not look at all. And there are others like me. So how really do books like Kartography (from an author I admire: Kamila Shamsie has shown me much through her work), Moth Smoke, Trespassing and the like help us? What do they say about the country? What tales do those words weave? There are no common issues - issues understandable by all - issues like class, sectarianism, extremism, zina and the Hudood Ordinance and its true interpretation in Islam - the differences between that and how it's depicted socially. There is no mention of religion at all and yet the clash between the modernists and the moderates and the extremists has been a decades long one. So what subset of the population do these stories really represent? Because it isn't the upper middle class, in fact the middle class is entirely absent in these tales. The stories don't seem to be about anything - they don't seem to want to bring the population to its knees - to force them to understand both sides of conflicting issues. They seem only to add more fuel to the fire, to propagate not educate, to generalize not dissect, to be read and not understood. How true do their stories really ring, and are they truly written with a purpose in mind? The reason Pakistani authors are not completely on the map, is because we don't write about serious things - we pick up "safe" topics - nothing beyond the ordinary excites us.

Things must change if we expect to move forward. The next generation of writers - today's generation of writers must exact change, must think outside the box - must not sink in the mud of the writers preceding them.

Now is the time to surface, isn't it?

Links referenced in this post:
Indra Sinha's Blog
The Hindu's Literary section
New York Time's Book Review Podcasts

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello! I'm newbie in Internet, can you give me some useful links? I know only about Yahoo [url=http://yahoo.com]Yahoo[/url] http://yahoo.com Yahoo