Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Short Introduction to Pakistani Literature in English

There is a purist view of art according to which it would be futile to categorize literature at all. According to this view the best art, and literature is a form of it, transcend national boundaries both geographical and ideological. As such it would be paradoxical to speak ok say, American and Russian literature; either it is literature, an art form of the purest kind, or it is not. And from this point of view, with which Henry James would have agreed but many others would not, it appears chauvinistic to set out to study Pakistan literature in English. This is what Zulfikar Ghose, an expatriate writer of Pakistani origin must have had in his mind when to my question who in his opinion were the best writers from India and Pakistan he replied:

I do not know enough of their work to have an opinion I must repeat that I despise labels categories are for clerks in bureaucracies and have nothing to do with art the worst category invented for writers is the nationalistic one as thought some sort of literary Olympic games were in progress A writer is interested in the best literature wherever it comes from and a writer who makes a special place in his reading for the works of his countryman and women has to be one who is more interested in a who’s who type of gossip than he is in his art:
Ghose’s acerbity of tone and the assertion that literature must not be given critical attention for non-literary reasons is of course justified this has been done too often as we shall see in the following survey of trends in the criticism of Third World literature in English. The problem of evolution has assumed political rather than aesthetic forms in Third World literatures to a degree quite unprecedented in modern English literatures. The critical debate in the new literatures in English is, in the last analysis, connected with colonialism. It was colonialism, which created cultural arrogance among European critics and a corresponding sense of inferiority among the colonized. Now, in a reversal of this pattern, the Europeans tend to be patronizing and the Third World critics chauvinistic and ethnocentric. The first issue, which rises in this connection, is whether these new literatures are indeed so different from English literature as understood traditionally, as to call for different criteria of evaluation:
The problems referred to are aspects of a general problem of evaluation. Is this new body of writing to be judged as an extension of literature in English, and by the international standards associated with it, or does it, of cultural and linguistic and possibly other reasons, require some quite different critical basis? Readers of Transition will recall that the correspondence columns for a long time carried an argument about the ‘impudent’ assumption b non-Africans that they could criticize African authors.
But even if the literatures are distinctive wholes, and certainly their themes and sensibility does support this view, it does not follow that non-literary criteria should be used to evaluate them.
Modern African literature came to be given critical attention in the west in the 1950s. a number of reviews were written by anthropologists whose interest was anthropologists rather than artistic. One critical term that was often used was ‘simplicity’. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958) was said to be simple and the emphasis was on the informative, as opposed to the artistic, value of the novel. Keith Waterhouse, while referring to Achebe’s No Longer at Ease (1960) said in the New Statesmen:
We want a lucid, uncluttered account of the way life is changing in these territories. We want sound competent craftsmen to put up the framework later when the chronicles of change are more or less complete some very fortunate writers indeed will be able to fill the framework in wallowing in the new luxuries of characterization motivation depth psychology and all     of it.
This evolutionary view of creativity is based on the assumption that the African is less sophisticated in his response to reality than his western counterpane. Others argue that discrepant criteria should be used for evaluating western and African literatures because the African sensibility cannot be expressed in western literary forms. This hypothesis is based on the assumption that there are no universals, no possibility of transcendence of ethnocentric ways of apprehension and, by Implication, no such thing as a classic – a work of art which will appeal to people who do not belong to the culture in which it was first produced this is an extreme interpretation of this culture-bound hypothesis. Here is one of the most balanced statements of this doctrine:
It is unrewarding, therefore, for the non-African reader and critic to look at any of the three major genres in contemporary African writing the novel, poetry, and drama solely from the perspective of western literary criteria and terminology. This is too much like trying to force a glove with three fingers onto a hand with five. Instead we must look at African writing not only for whatever similarities with western literary forms may be, but also once we have fully identified these for what is different. And therefore, African
This is only a roundabout way of saying that there can be different evaluative criteria for different kinds of literatures written in English: an assertion which can and has led to critical anarchy in the past and which must not be accepted without reservations. And one of these reservations in the political one; to be precise, the nationalistic one.
Nationalism, again a consequence of colonization, has been a major force to reckon with in the Third World. In African countries too the slogan that literature should serve the cause of nationalism has had its heyday. In the first Congress of Negro Writers in 1956, for example, a delegate exhorted African artists to ‘try to look at art through political’. The Second Congress in 1959 held in Rome also emphasized the political basis of art. In the last few years the artists themselves have been less willing to tolerate these prescriptive formulas and, as a consequence, the formulas have lost their force. African critics are however, nationalistic and even question the right of non-Africans to criticize African literature. This is merely a political conflict, that between the colonizer and the colonized, which has taken a literary form and is expressed in the idiom of aesthetics rather than politics.
In the West Indies, the Guyanese magazine Kyh-over-al (1945-1961) tried to ‘stimulate a West Indian theory and practice of literary and cultural criticism‘. Another such magazine, The Beacon (1831-1933), from Trinidad, insisted that West Indian writing ‘should utilise West Indian settings, speech, characters, situations and conflicts’. In other words, that it would not be imitative as it had been in the past. This was all a part of an effort to create authentic West Indian literature. But once such a literature was produced, the critical response to it was in many ways similar to that towards African literature. Very often certain themes, prominent because of historical experiences, are accepted as a criterion of value. Braithwaite, a famous West Indian writer, makes the fragmentation of West Indian culture and identity his major theme. And then this theme, or an extension of it, become a critical standard:
Indeed this notion of estrangement from one’s community and landscape become in Braithwaite’s various critical articles or surveys of West Indian writing the main criterion for judging individual Caribbean writers.
Once again one notices the tendency to judge literature in terms of ideas and themes related in some way or the other to the experience of colonization.
And this tendency is also noticeable in the criticism of Indian literature in English by Indians. I will pay more attention to it because the cultural situation and the political forces influencing Indian critics are very similar to those which influence Pakistani cities. Thus, in order to understand what literary criteria should be used to evaluate Pakistani literature in English, it would be most relevant to understand what criteria have actually been used by Indian critics to evaluate Indian literature.
Indian literature in English, like the other new literatures of the Third World, began as a consequence of the confrontation of India with the West. However, it was not a literature of protest but that of imitation in the beginning. Henry Derozio (1809-1831), Kashiprosad Ghose (1809-1873), Michael Madhusudan Dutt (1827-1873) and Bankim  Chandra Chatterjee (1838-1894) were some of the pioneers of Indian creative writing in English’. Butt this writing was more derivative rather than creative. Ghose and Dutt, one of Tom Moore, the other of the lesser, romantic Byron, and Aurobindo Ghose (1867-1924) wrote a delicate kind of Victorian lyric in Love Songs and Elegies (1898’. Even Sarojini Naidu, famous though she was, wrote merely meretricious pseudo-romantic verse in the style of the nineties.
At first, barring encomiastic reviews, there was almost no Indian criticism of this literature. Bhupa Singh, the chronicler of Anglo-Indian fiction, did, however add a brief appendix to his book about some Indian writers of fiction. Singh’s book was published in 1934 and he has not mentioned any writer who gained fame later. Criticism egan in earnest in the 1950s and K.R. Srinivasa Iyenga’s book study of Indian writing in English (1959) by an Indian critic. Narasimhaiah’s The Swan and the Eagle (1968), R.S. Singh’s Indian Novel in English (1977) and Uma Parameswaran’s A study of Representative Indo-English Novelists (1976), to mention only three studies, came later. There are also a large number of researches articles, some sub-standard and others good, which are produced in Indian or by Indians writing in Western journals. In other words a lot is being written about Indian writing in English at present.
The most important and balanced account of this criticism and its concerns has been given by Feroza F. Jussawalla in her book entitled Family quarrels (1985). She tells us that critics have been concerned more with the nationalistic theme and variants of it than with other factors. It was nationalism which led to the major debate in Indian criticism it should, be produced in English at all. The other main concern is with Indianness, the success a writer achieves in creating literature with a genuinely Indian quality. The manipulation of long age to express Indianness and the endorsement of nationalism implicit in such a demand are also derived from nationalism.
The choice of the English language, as I mentioned above, has been one of the major problem of Indian criticism. There are many levels and aspects of this problem. At the most polemical level Indian critics object to the use of the English language because, as Feroze Jussawalla reproducing the argument of .P. Mehta puts it:
Indians write in English to impress the British, to gain a wider readership international and national; Indians want the world to see that nationalist India is different; they distrust the vernaculars because the are not universal language, and because of their Western education and Western models; they write at the inspiration of Western writers.             
At a more sophisticated level, Indian critics have invoked the extreme version of the Sapir-Whorf hypotheses in their discussion of the possibility of using English to convey Indian reality. The extreme version is an interpretation of the hypotheses put forward by the American linguists Edward Sapir (1884-1939) and Benjamin lee Whorf (1897-1941). According to this:
There are no restrictions on the amount and type of variation to be expected between languages, including their semantic structures, and that the determining effect of language on though is total.
It was claimed on the basis of this hypothesis that Indian cultural experience, and by analogy any culture bound experience, can only be communicated in the language in which it is experience by a person who speaks that language as a mother tongue. In the 1960 the Whorfian issue became important when a special issue of Indian writing Today referred to it in the editorial. The crux of the issue was whether Indianness could be expressed in a foreign English; Mulk Raj  Anand’s use of indigenous expressions; and Raja Rao’s syntactic deviations have all been attacked or praised by the critics more of success on communicating indianness, a nationalistic c0ncern, than for artistic validity.
The writers themselves, o at least the best ones, were more concerned about art than politics. R.K. Narayan had the following to say about their use of English:
We are still experimentalists. I may straightaway explain what we do not attempt to do. We are not attempting to write Anglo-saxon English. The English language, through sheer resilience and mobility, is now undergoing a process of indianisation in the same manner as it adopted the U.S. citizenship over a century age, with the difference that if is the major language there but here one of the fifteen.
But language remained a major issue such as it is not in African or Caribbean literature.
Another major issue, also connected with nationalism, is that of alienation and expatriation. Indian critics have felt that expatriate (or western) writers, Kamala Markandaya and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala for instance, are not capable of representing Indian reality authentically. Uma Parameswaran assert that writers who are ‘not as rooted in Hindu culture as the native-talents or early writers lack as Indian sensibility’ and their portrayal of Indian reality is not competent.” According to this ethnocentric criterion Jhabvalaabd Markandaya’s understanding of India reality erroneous or at least flawed, indeed this is exactly what P. Balaswamy argues in his criticism of Markandays’s A Handful of Rice (1966). And Jhabvala, inspite of her brilliant portrayal of Indian life, has largely been found fault with because she is unflattering to Indian and British alike. J.S. Lall in a review of Jhabvala’s novel Heat and dust (1975) said:
Mrs. Jhabvala’s marriage to an Indian is not an automatic key to an understanding of India. This is only partly a book about India. It hardly matters; clearly it is written for markets that pay.
This is not true for, though marrying an Indian does no make one a novelist, talent does. And Mrs. Jhabvala has the rare talent for portraying society realistically. Her novel The Nature of passion (1956), for instance, is one of those rare works of fiction which contain deep insights into the minds of Indians of different classes and backgrounds. Its theme is that the nature of passion In India is compromise and it is truthful yet sympathetic towards Indian ways of feeling and thinking. The critics, it appears, are ready to praise only those who are Indian nationalists, who are close sympathetic to Indian traditions and not those who are objective, detached or fault-finding. To quote Jussawalla:
Traditionally, once a Brahmin crossed the seas, he lost his position of status. Contemporary criticism merely invokes a similar authoritarianism. The concerns with the effort categorize writers as native sons and expatriates is a function of a narrow brahmanical point of view.
Probably the most chauvinistic secriterion invoked for the evaluation of literature is a writer, attitude towards the Indian leader Gandhi. The cult of Gandhi clouded literary judgment so much that even R.K. Narayan was criticized for his controversial treatment of Gandhi in waiting for the Mahatma (1955). It is, indeed, ‘ironic that it is in the treatment of Gandhism that critics have been most partisan in their value judgments about literature’.
The state of criticism in Third Worlds literature in English in general and that of Indian literature in particular has been dealt with at such length to point out that the nationalistic pitfall in particular and non-literary criteria in general must be avoided in the criticism of any literature. They have been avoided, or are at least less in evidence, in Pakistani literature but only because there is very little Pakistani criticism of this new literature in existence. Almost the only area in which work does exist is in bibliography. Since 1965 the Journal of Commonwealth Literature has been publishing a brief note followed by a bibliography of Pakistani writing in English and other languages. This bibliographical note was written by Syed Ali Ashraf in the beginning. Then Maya Jamil and later Alamgir Hashmi started writing it. Unfortunately the note is hardly analytical nor is it meant to be. What is worse is that it is also incomplete since many publications in English are obscure and it is almost impossible for anyone to keep track of all that is being printed in the country. Book reviews are mostly indiscriminating and full of clichés and praise. Hashmi’s own book reviews, especially those which are published in foreign journals, are free of these faults. However, as a critic even Hashmi is impressionistic rather than analytical and Pakistani criticism still at a very unsophisticated level.
As yet no Pakistani university offers a course in either Pakistani or even in African, west Indian and Indian literature in English. However, recently the University of Peshawar in its journal entitled The journal of the English Literary Club has been publishing the works of Pakistani writers and even critical articles and reviews of these works. Earlier, the University of Karachi used to publish Venture which published some excellent articles on Pakistani Quarterly, the weekend magazines of  the English Dailies and institutional magazines too have been publishing short stories and poems but very little criticism. The Nation (Lahore) has, however Published several articles on Pakistani literature in English and the Muslim and the Frontier post publish short stories. The Star and eveningwear from Karachi, publisher humorous pieces and Dawn group of newspapers too publish reviews and occasional poems. Perhaps the only journal in Pakistan which has been a serious forum for debate about literary matters and as published some of the most talented young poets of Pakistan is The Ravi, the magazine of the prestigious Government College Lahore It was in The Ravi that the debate whether Pakistani writers should use English for creative work was carried on. And it was in the pages of this magazine that many poets whose works will be dealt with in detail in the chapter on poetry first achieved publication. The Government College also publisher another journal entitled Explorations. This is the product of the Department of Ravi, University research journals hardly contain articles on Pakistani literature in English and there is no equivalent of the prestigious Indian academic journals such as the journal of Indian Writing in English.
Because of this lack of criticism the history of Pakistani literature in English has yet not been written though such histories exist for other Third World literatures in English. This book is being written to fill this gap. This book is historical as well as critical. It is this latter aspect of it which is a source of its strength as well as weakness: strength because criticism is always required to crate the criteria for evaluating creative writing; weakness because this criticism is a product of my personal judgment which could well be prejudiced, mistaken or erroneous. The mistake, however, will not proceed from chauvinism at least. I have, therefore, tried not to use non-literary criteria to evaluate literature, whether a writer is, in any sense of the word, nationalistic, Islamic or traditionalist is of no relevance to the judgment of his work. Pakistani literature is being studied not for nationalistic reasons but simply because it too is one of the new literatures of the Third World written in the English language. The definition of Pakistani therefore, is loose rather than strict; cultural rather than political. I have for instance, included several works of e   expatriate writers like Zulfikar Ghose, Hanif Kureishi and Tariq Mehmood though some of them do not even call themselves Pakistani but are of Pakistani origin and their works are relevant to Pakistani literature.
Some writers who have written prolifically have been given no attention whereas others who have produced only one slim volume of verse or a collection of short stories have been commented upon. This has been done for one of the following two reason: either the writer has not collected his separate writings in a single collection or, and here my personal judgment come in, I have not considered the work worthy of critical attention at all. In the latter case the work has been mentioned in the bibliography and may be read and given a different interpretation y some other critic. If a work does exit in the form of a book and had not been mentioned in the bibliography it has not been read by me and I would be most grateful if someone makes it available. However, I venture to ass that such works will be very few indeed because I have made every effort to read every important literary work written by Pakistanis. I have confined myself to that part of the country which used to be called West Pakistan till the separation of Bangladesh in 1971. Logically the creative works of East Pakistan till 1971 should have been dealt with but, unfortunately, they could not be procured inspite of my best efforts. It was because of this limitation that I decided to limit myself to that part of the country which is called Pakistan now.
This is a history and the arrangement is chronological. I have started with pre-partition fiction and then proceeded to deal with the fiction of the fifties and so on till the late eighties poetry, drama and prose have been given separate chapters. Great literary figures too have been given separate chapters. The conclusion sums up the themes of Pakistani literature in English and attempts to compare this literature with other Third World literatures.

It is hoped that this book will generate interest in Pakistani literature and its criticism. It may also help the common reader as well as the specialist of Commonwealth of Third World literature in English language. This knowledge is useful not only for understanding the phenomenon of the rise of new literatures in English but also for understanding the nature of creativity itself. And that is a question which finally transcends all labels and all questions.

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Anonymous said...

The above "Short Introduction to Pakistani Literature in English" attempts a large subject but sells us short both for precise information and any useful analysis. Very few Pakistani writers are mentioned, and no critical understanding or historical perspective is to be seen here. I'd need to surf the net more for a reasonable introduction to this country's English writers and writing. Good luck!

Devang said...

Thanks for the comments !
But this could have been better and more informative.
To me, it seems to be less about Pakistani English Writing and much about Indian English Writing.
Moreover there is nothing related to themes, technique and message of Pakistani English Writers.

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