Subcontinent’s stories flower in India
Madhusree Chatterjee

Writers like Nadeem Aslam, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Ali Sethi and Hanief Kureishi have found a steady readership in India
Writers like Nadeem Aslam (extreme left), Daniyal Mueenuddin (top), Ali Sethi (left)
and Hanief Kureishi have found a steady readership in India

THE ever-growing popularity of Indo-Anglian writing and the publishing boom in India have opened the floodgates for English writers from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh as well.

Authors from neighbouring countries are increasingly publishing their books in India, which offers them a sizeable audience still hooked to the written word.

They have inched their way up the Indian best-seller lists with powerful books that combine gripping narratives, snapshots of socio-political realities, history and commentaries.

The leading lights of this talented group include writers like Kamila Shamsie, Ali Sethi, Mohammed Hanif, Nadeem Aslam, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Mohsin Hamid, Uzma Aslam Khan, Shahabano Bilgrami, Hanief Kureishi, Tariq Ali and Khaled Hosseini — most of whom have either stayed abroad or have traveled extensively.

"This trend is all about globalisation. India has played a major role in helping Pakistani writers come out," journalist Najam Sethi, editor of the popular Lahore-based newsweekly The Friday Times,
told IANS.

Like Pakistani musicians, even Pakistani writers are making money in the developing Indian market, Sethi said.

"Reading is an important activity of the Indian middle class and fiction writing in English is popular in India. The local market in Pakistan cannot sustain English writers. Call it the third world ontology," said Sethi, who was in the Capital to attend the launch of his son Ali Sethi’s debut novel, The Wish Maker.

The Wish Maker, published by Penguin Books-India in July as part of its prestigious Hamish Hamilton launch titles in the sub-continent, represents the coming of age of English writing from the Islamic trio (Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan).

Ali’s story is nostalgic. Young Zaki Shirazi, who returns to Pakistan from the US to attend his cousin Samar’s wedding, walks down the memory lane to narrate the tale of his growing up years in the changing socio-cultural and political scenario in Pakistan, weaving in the turbulence of the nation.

In August, Shazia Omar, a young novelist from Bangladesh, will launch her novel, Like a Diamond In the Sky — published jointly by Delhi-based publishing house Zubaan and Penguin Books-India.

"Writers in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan are now feeling confident about expressing themselves in English — not in Queen’s English but in the language that captures the atmosphere of their countries," Urvashi Butalia, founder of Zubaan said.

"In fact, we have several talented young women writers in English from Bangladesh like Niaz Zaman, Naila Kabeer, Shireen Huq and Firdous Azim, who sell in India," Butalia said.

Omar’s Like a Diamond In the Sky is about 21-year-old Deen, who is dismayed by poverty and trapped in negativity. Deen and his companions represent the despair, hopes and aspirations of a generation struggling to survive in the harsh realities of modern Dhaka.

Conflicts, trauma, memories of the Partition, terrorism, clash of cultures, closed Islamic societies and alienation, are the overriding themes of the novels from the three nations.

According to Pakistani writer and essayist Muneeza Shamsie, the first cohesive English novel in Pakistan was written by an expatriate, Zulfikar Ghose in 1967 titled The Murder of Aziz Khan. It was a tragic tale of a Punjabi farmer during Partition.

Since then, writers like Bapsi Sidhwa, Tariq Ali, Hanif Kuerishi and even Tehmina Durrani have carried Pakistani contemporary literature to the subcontinent and the world.

Novelist Hartosh Singh Bal feels that "since these are the crises spots in the subcontinent, they churn out interesting stories".

For instance Nadeem Aslam, a Pakistani writer, explores the complexities of war and its aftershocks in his novel The Wasted Vigil.

"It was a violent world," says Aslam, who has been to Afghanistan several times.

Contemporary writers from Pakistan and Afghanistan, said Ali Sethi, are trying to reject the conservatism that has been imposed by a more Wahabi form of Islam in the recent decades.

"Almost all young writers from my region are questioning the socio-political realities, including war and terror," he said.

Mohammed Hanif, a former Pakistan Air Force officer, probed the mystery surrounding the death of former Pakistan president Zia-ul Haq in his dark political satire Case of the Exploding Mangoes.

Farmer-turned writer Daniyal Mueenuddin, meanwhile delves into the feudal upper class in Pakistan in his collection of eight short stories, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, which is layered with political subtexts.

Mohsin Hamid’s watershed novel, Moth’s Smoke, is a tale of Lahore banker Darasikoh Shezad, who loses his job and takes to a life of crime and drugs.

"The world has become a smaller place and better connected. There are many more platforms, leading to more visibility — and the kind of literature coming out of Pakistan, Bangladesh and even Sri Lanka now is outstanding. After all, English binds the language because of our colonial past," Diya Kar Hazra, editorial director of Penguin Books-India said. — IANS