Musings of a Reader: New Trends in Contemporary Pakistani Fiction in English

Published in the 15th issue of Zau magazine in May 2016

Before I came to the US to study Comparative Literature, I was sure that I would not be focusing on Pakistani literature in English as my academic area of research. Sure, I liked most of the novels I read, but I didn’t feel like they compared to the other great works of World Literature that I read and enjoyed and that blew my mind so much more than the Pakistani novels. Since I came here, however, I’ve been rethinking this. Because, regardless of literary merit, it is still important to study the literature being produced in English in Pakistan and to figure out how we can think of them in a broader world literary system, how they might fit into our conceptions of postcolonial or even transnational literature, and what it can tell us about Pakistan as a society in all its complexity.

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Musings of a Reader: On Amitav Ghosh and the Importance of Historical Fiction

Published in the 14th issue of Zau magazine in February 2016

I’ve been a fan of historical fiction since long before I knew what the term meant. When I was ten years old I read Patricia Reilly Giff’s middle-grade novel Nory Ryan’s Song, which is set in Ireland during the Great Potato Famine of 1845. At that time, I was, of course, completely unaware of Irish history and of the mass level of destruction that this watershed event caused for Ireland – what I cared about was the story of Nory, a young girl trying to help her family survive the famine and the cruelties of their English landlord while having adventures in her coastal hometown of western Ireland. The historical setting of the novel was superfluous to ten-year-old me, apart from creating the very specific circumstances that Nory’s story grows out of – how she and her friend Sean try to prevent their neighbor from being evicted when she can’t pay rent, how she sings to her little brother to distract him from his hunger, her dream of one day reuniting with her older sister in Brooklyn.

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Musings of a Reader: What Happened to Pakistani Television?

Published in Zau magazine in August 2015

As a principle, I am against the whole “things were so much better in the olden days” line of argument. I think it’s a lazy argument to make, and that nostalgia and distance inevitably make us believe that the past was better than it actually was. I usually roll my eyes when this line is thrown around during discussions of technology (“You kids with your smartphones and your Facebook – in MY day, we used to play out in the streets”) or the state of contemporary literature (“In the past, people read TRUE literature, not the Fifty Shades junk of today”). But just like rules are made to be broken, principles are made to have exceptions, and I, too, have an exception to my general aversion to romanticizing the past: I genuinely believe that the Pakistani dramas of the ‘70s and ‘80s are eons better than the crappy shows of today, with their one-note characters and their weepiness and their constant need to make a virtue out of suffering.

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Musings of a Reader: The Handmaid’s Tale and Why Dystopian Fiction is Necessary

Published in Zau magazine in March 2015

Up until quite recently, I used to be one of those literary snobs. You know the ones I’m talking about – those who turn up their noses on “genre” fiction, pooh-poohing at the intricately-built worlds of fantasy or the implausibility and outlandishness of the crazy science of sci-fi. “What do those books have to do with the real world,” I would say to myself derisively, as I devoured book after book of “realistic” fiction. (The irony of the fact that the worlds of the realistic fiction I loved so much were every bit as constructed as the worlds of fantasy or sci-fi was, of course, completely lost on me.) It seemed to me a lazy escapist move to lose yourself in worlds that are so far removed from “reality” – from the social order and the issues within this social order that “realistic” fiction, I felt, explored and critiqued. What was fantasy or sci-fi or dystopian fiction if not a bunch of characters having wacky adventures in a world nothing like our own? Then, something happened that made me reconsider my (ignorant) position on at least one of these genres: I read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

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Musings of a Reader: Regarding Characters and their Likeability

There’s a debate a friend of mine and I have regularly while we’re discussing books. Sometimes, she really dislikes a book I recommend (which totally breaks my heart, by the way, because, let’s face it, sharing a deeply loved book with someone is like sharing a secret, hidden part of yourself, and if that person doesn’t like it, it’s like a rejection of the worst kind), and more often than not, her reason for not liking the book is: the main character was so unlikeable. Now, this friend of mine has awesome taste in books and I totally respect her opinions on most things; but, on this one point, we always just agree to disagree. My argument is that the presence of an awful, hateful character doesn’t mean the book itself is awful. And besides, why does a character have to be likeable anyway?

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Musings of a Reader: The Wonderful World of YA Fiction

Honestly, I thought this column would be a breeze to write. Like I mentioned the last time, talking about books is one of my top favorite things to do. But it’s turning out to be surprisingly difficult. See, when reading books is such an integral part of your existence, it’s hard to know where to start or what books to talk about. Should I start at the beginning, from the books my mom would read to me before I could read myself? The Dr Seuss books, with cats in hats and the fox wearing socks, and Ibn-e-Insha’s Billo Ka Basta poems which I memorized and would recite to my parents during long car rides? Or is it better to talk about the books I read more recently, the works of writers like Italo Calvino and Julian Barnes, which make me marvel at the mind-blowing narrative techniques or clever turns of phrases? In the end, I have decided to talk about some books which I personally really love and which offer some great writing and wonderful stories, but often don’t get talked about or worse, get dismissed entirely. I’m referring to young adult or YA fiction.

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Musings of a Reader: The Beginning

Talking about books is one of my top favourite things to do. It’s right up there with eating French fries and, you know, actually reading the books I love talking about. This was why I refused to study literature as an academic subject for a long time. “You mean you get to discuss books at length? And you get graded for it? That seems too much fun to be real. There must be a catch.”  Thankfully I got over it, and was ecstatic to discover, in one of my first literature classes, that I could gush about the many qualities of Mr Darcy and it would count as my assignment. The joy! The point being, talking about literature, to me is just plain fun.

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