Continuing its series of articles on Indian and Pakistani independence, The Guardian has a piece today by Kamila Shamsie on Pakistani literature, looking at the reasons why Indian lit took off, while Pakistani is yet to receive its due recognition.
There is no denying the significance of years of military rule and censorship – and vastly different population sizes – in the different trajectories of the Pakistani and Indian novel but, as with all things subcontinental, there is also a cricket metaphor lurking: ‘the fast bowler effect’ as Mohsin Hamid puts it. From the 1980s until now, India has produced a steady stream of deadly fast bowlers – not because of anything genetic or temperamental particular to it, but because great success leads to emulation, just as every cricket-playing boy grew up wanting to be Sarfaraz or Imran, Wasim or Waqar. The importance of pairs is key – a single bowler or writer is exceptional; double the number and people start spotting a trend of which they can be a part. While India’s writers were attracting the attention of readers and marketing departments, and being an Indian novelist became a viable way of earning a living, Pakistan continued to think gloomily that, in novels as in tourism, the world was far more interested in India. One Pakistani writer might slip through the cracks here and there, but received wisdom had it that our ‘Midnight’s Children moment’ would never come.
Thankfully, she does include a list of interesting authors/books to check out:
Uzma Aslam Khan’s Trespassing (shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ prize, Eurasia region); Nadeem Aslam’s Maps for Lost Lovers (shortlisted for the IMPAC award), Mohsin Hamid’s Mothsmoke (winner of a Betty Trask award). Last year, the inaugural list of Penguin’s new imprint Fig Tree included Moni Mohsin’s The End of Innocence – and already one of the most keenly anticipated literary debuts of 2008 is Mohommed Hanif’s A Case of Exploding Mangoes. The short story form is well served, meanwhile, by Aamer Hussain, whose fifth collection Insomnia was published earlier this year, and Imad Rehman whose I Dream of Microwaves has yet to find a home in the UK but was published to critical acclaim in the US.