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‘9/11 events are frequent benchmarks in Pakistani fiction’

‘9/11 events are frequent benchmarks in Pakistani fiction’

KARACHI: Personal and political cannot be separated in the novels of Pakistani writers writing in the English language, said scholar David Waterman while discussing salient features of his book, Where Worlds Collide: Pakistani Fiction in the New Millennium, at the Alliance Francaise Karachi on Monday evening.

Waterman, director of the Department of Applied Foreign Languages at the University of La Rochelle, France, earlier set the tone of his talk by claiming that while Pakistan was a young nation it had an old cultural heritage. He said globalisation had brought into focus Pakistani novelists writing in English, and their narratives countered some of the prejudices in the West. He claimed that the novels penned in the 21st century were “first-rate fiction, deservedly receiving critical and popular acclaim”.

Waterman said the current crop of writers represented the second wave of Pakistani fiction, the pioneers being the likes of Bapsi Sidhwa and Hanif Kureishi in the 1970s and ‘80s. The central issues in Sidhwa’s stories were post-colonialism, women’s liberation and emigration, etc.

The present group of writers took a little time to pick up the torch. There were several reasons for it, one of which was the 1971 civil war as it was hard for them to make it part of their collective psyche. In that regard, Sorayya Khan’s novel Noor was an example of how history could be examined dispassionately.

Waterman said Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist was about personal and political identity, and the film made based on the book did not correspond to what he (Waterman) had imagined, because the novel gave very little information and left the rest to the reader to activate his/her imagination.

He defined Hamid’s story as the “grey area between what’s personal and what’s political”, the idea of identity as a social construct. He argued the events of 9/11 had far-reaching consequences becoming frequent benchmarks in Pakistani fiction.

Waterman then shifted his attention to Kamila Shamsie’s In the City by the Sea. He termed it representative of her Karachi novels in which the city turned into the hub of family life. At that point he commented that the political and the personal could not be separated in Pakistani fiction; and in support of his point of view he mentioned Shamsie’s another book Kartography in which “group identity was symbolised by Karachi after 1971”.

Talking about Nadeem Aslam’s novel The Wasted Vigil, he said people from different backgrounds came together in the story acknowledging the pre-Islamic Pakistan. Aslam’s Maps for Lost Lovers touched upon immigrant communities and their vulnerabilities.

Homeboy by H.M. Naqvi had 9/11 at its centre, said Waterman, in which protagonists were arrested and mistrusted everywhere they went, and the bubble of their American dream got burst. He said that on his way to Karachi from France, he saw the film, Selma, on flight. It dealt with the same theme as Naqvi’s book, he said.

Waterman called Mohammed Hanif’s A Case of Exploding Mangoes “the best example of historical fiction, a ‘critique of Gen Zia’s presidency”.

About writer’s style, he said it’s written in a way that “you invent a story, and even if it’s false, there’s a chance that it might be true”. Hanif proposed one out of many possible scenarios that gave the story “an ethical edge” and the chance to invent minor characters, said Waterman.

In The Geometry of God, Uzma Aslam Khan discussed oppositions between religious beliefs and science using blindness as its central metaphor, Waterman said, telling the audience that the last chapter of his book Where World Collides featured journalists because they wrote social commentaries.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2015

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