Pakistani literature, that is, the literature of Pakistan, as a distinct literature gradually came into being after Pakistan gained its nationhood as a sovereign state in 1947, while remaining largely in the shadow of Indian English Literature. The common and shared tradition of Urdu literature and English literature of India was inherited by the new state. Over a period of time, a body of literature unique to Pakistan has emerged in nearly all major Pakistani languages, including Urdu, English, Punjabi, Balochi, Pushto and Sindhi.
The nature of Pakistani literature soon after independence aroused controversy among writers due to its being centered heavily on the negative events related to the India-Pakistan partition. According to Gilani Kamran (GC University), Pakistani literature was expected to take a new direction along with the new state of
at this point, but did not immediately meet this expectation. Pakistan
Saadat Hassan Manto (1912-1955), a prominent writer of short stories of the South Asia, produced great literature out of the events relating to the India-Pakistan independence. The literature, which came out of the period that followed, is considered to have been progressive in its tone and spirit. According to several critics, it had not only evolved its own identity, but also had played a significant role in documenting the hardships and hopes of Pakistan in the latter part of the 20th century.
Most Pakistanis adore poetry and commonly memorize long poems. A mushaira (poetry reading) in Pakistan can attract hundreds of listeners. Among classical poets in the Urdu language, Mirza Ghalib is perhaps the most widely admired. Ghalib, who wrote in the 19th century, is known for his lyrical and spiritual ghazals. Ghazals are the most popular form of poetry in the Urdu and Persian languages.
The official national poet of Pakistan is Allama (“the Wise”) Muhammad Iqbal. He earned the title of poet-philosopher of Pakistan not only because he was an exceptionally talented poet, but also because he was active in the politics of his time. In 1930, he called for the creation of a separate Muslim state in northwestern British India. He wrote poetry in Urdu and Persian and gave university lectures in English.
Faiz Ahmed Faiz is perhaps the most adored modern poet in Pakistan. Faiz began writing poetry in the 1950s after a distinguished journalism career. His ghazals are primarily concerned with class struggle, rather than the conventional themes of love and beauty. A progressive writer, Faiz was also a political dissident, and military governments banned his poetry from television and radio. Ahmad Fraz, Muneer Niazi, and Parveen Shakir are some of the other popular Urdu-language poets of Pakistan.
Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, a Sufi mystic who in the first half of the 18th century wrote about love and Sindhi life, is the most revered poet of the Sindhi language. His poetry is widely recited by illiterate and educated Sindhis alike. Khushal Khan Khattak is the most famous poet of the Pashto language. In the 17th century, he wrote poetry describing the beauty of women and nature, using military metaphors. The most well known poet of the Punjabi language is Bulleh Shah, of the 17th century, whose poetry challenged the religious orthodoxy. In recent years, short stories and travelogues have gained literary prominence, in addition to poetry.
India gained independence from Britain in 1947, a year that marks a watershed in the course of modern Indian literature. Independence forced writers to grapple with the ideals and realities of being part of a new nation. On one hand, there was euphoria at the new freedom. On the other hand, as part of independence, the Indian subcontinent was divided into two separate nations, India and Pakistan—India dominated by Hindus and Pakistan by Muslims. (In 1971 part of Pakistan became the independent nation Bangladesh.) During the decades leading up to independence, Hindus and Muslims had become increasingly divided within
. The partition of the newly independent country into two nations was accompanied and followed by severe violence. Especially hard hit were the new border areas: the divided territories of Punjab in the northwest and Bengal in the northeast, and the disputed area of Kashmir at the India-Pakistan border. India
Partition caused millions of people to be uprooted from their home territories or to suffer division within their families. Much Indian and Pakistani fiction after 1947 explores, in one way or another, the effects of partition on Indian culture. Another ongoing concern is the rapid rate of change that India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are experiencing in an era of increased globalization and of the migration of people from the Indian subcontinent to other parts of the world, especially Western countries. A significant development in Indian literature in the mid- and late 20th century was the rise of female writers and feminist writing.
Partition and change
Partition has been a literary subject in many of the Indian languages, as well as in English. Khushwant Singh’s English novel Train to Pakistan (1956) is one of the earliest novels to evoke the horrors of the violence that accompanied partition. Saadat Hasan Manto is an author who lived first in India and then in Pakistan. In his eloquent Urdu short stories, Manto bears witness to the personal trauma as well as the societal and national tragedies brought about by partition. In his most famous story, “Toba Tek Singh,” (translated in Kingdom’s End and Other Stories, 1987), Manto depicts the dislocation of populations at partition as an absurd event seen from the perspective of the inmates of a lunatic asylum. Pakistani writer Bapsi Sidhwa’s gripping English novel Ice-Candy-Man (1988; later published as Cracking India, 1991) portrays the events of 1947 through the eyes of a little girl. Indian writer Bhisham Sahni’s Hindi novel Tamas (1974; Kites Will Fly, 1981) is another chronicle of partition.
After 1947, the realist and progressive trends in Indian fiction, represented by earlier writers such as Premchand and Mulk Raj Anand, continued in the fiction of writers from every region of India. Notable works include U. R. Ananta Murthy’s novel in Kannada Samskara (A Rite for a Dead Man, 1965), a work about the decaying Brahman community in a village in the state of Karnātaka; Hindi writer Shrilal Shukla’s Raga Darabari (The Melody Darbari, 1968), a novel about rural life in north India; Chemmeen (Shrimp, 1962), Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai’s celebrated Malayalam novel of the fishing community in the state of Kerala; and Vyankatesh Madgulkar’s Bangarwadi (1955, The Village Had No Walls, 1958), a Marathi novel about shepherds in the state of Mahārāshtra.
An important development concerning literature with a social conscience is the movement of Dalit (Oppressed) writing. In Dalit writing, men and women of marginalized and low-caste communities write poetry and fiction about their own lives and communities. Poisoned Bread (1992), edited by Arjun Dangle, is an important anthology of Dalit writing. The volume includes works by Namdeo Dhasal and other major Dalit writers.
In the 1960s and 1970s experimental and avant-garde trends in Indian writing were seen in both poetry and drama. Well-known plays include Girish Karnad’s Tughlaq (1964), a modern political satire based on the life of a sultan of medieval
; Marathi playwright Vijay Tendulkar’s Shantata! Court Chalu Ahe (Silence! The Court Is in Session, 1978); and Badal Sircar’s Bengali drama Evam Indrajit (1962; And Indrajit, 1979). Delhi
After independence, female writers have become more prominent in India. In exquisitely crafted, passionate short stories in Urdu, Ismat Chughtai depicts the injustices of women’s lives in Indian society, especially in Muslim circles in India. Bengali writer Mahasweta Devi has won great acclaim for her short stories, in which she draws upon her experience working with marginalized groups in eastern India. For her achievements, Devi was awarded the Indian government’s highest literary award. Creating an array of memorable characters in powerful novels and short stories such as “Stana-dayini” (“Wet Nurse,” 1976), Devi exposes the exploitation of women and of the lower classes, and the double exploitation of women of the lower classes.History of short story in Pakistan
On the eve of Independence in 1947, Pakistan inherited the common and shared tradition of Urdu literature that belonged to the literary culture of the Indian sub-continent. The state of literature soon after independence had aroused a great controversy among the writers. Literature was expected to have a new direction, though it was rather early to relate literature to any undefined expectation. Saadat Hassan Manto (1912-1955) turned the painful, partition-related events into great literature. The fiction and poetry of the period that followed was largely progressive in its tone and spirit. It has not only evolved its own identity, but has also become the socio-cultural document of an era of hope and hardships.
At the time of partition in 1947, Pakistan shared the literary culture of the Indian sub-continent, which had a history, and a long line of distinguished literary reputation. Iqbal and the Progressive Writers appeared in its immediate perspective, and this phenomenon of writing related Pakistan to its literary past. But unfortunately, fratricidal riots on the eve of independence gave birth to a widely different and ominous situation where the decline and fall of human nature made many values and things questionable, and a literature based on communal tension, on mass massacres, arson, and on the refugee camps, emerged under the stress of a large scale migration of people from one dominion to the other. It was a highly distressing state of affairs, and along with it, a new brand of fiction appeared, which is generally known as the Tales of the Riots, and describes the holocaust of the Partition. As a matter of fact,
The Era of Short Story
The writers who wrote the stories about the riots were rather too close to the areas of the woeful incidents, and had mostly observed the happenings as eyewitnesses. M Aslam (Raks-e-Iblis: The Devil’s Dance) and Rasheed Akhtar Nadvi (The Fifteenth of August) and Qudratullah Shahab (Ya Khuda: Oh God) represent the pathos of human suffering in their tales. They give the scenes of ruthless killings, and the life in refugee camps where men, women and children are exposed to uncertainties and hardships of every kind. Of the writers of his time, only Saadat Hassan Manto (1912-1955) could have a detached view of the genocide on both sides of the border. He was able to turn pain-giving events into great literature. He remained impartial, took no sides, and wrote with detachment and passion about the atrocities committed in a state of utter madness. As a matter of fact, the crisis of human nature and the decline in moral conduct and behaviour during those early years of independence form the structure of Saadat Hassan Manto’s stories about the Partition. Saadat Hassan Manto: turned the pain of the Partition into great literature. The foremost among the short story writers of the subcontinent.
The first ten years after Independence were a period of hectic human activity and of movement of people in Pakistan. The refugees from
Intizar Husain’s Chand Grehan (The Lunar Eclipse) was published in 1953, and was followed by another short story Dinn (The Day) published in 1956. He wrote short stories in a widely different framework – the experience of migration to Pakistan. He expounded the concept of Hijrat, and looked upon the experience of migration within an extended perspective of individual and collective memories. The old home in
Mumtaz Mufti (d.1996) is remembered for his short stories based on psychological realism. But it is, in fact, his image of the Muslim girl, which makes his fiction relevant to the view of life in
In 1988, Mahmud Wajid’s collection of short stories, Mausam ka Masiha (The Redeemer of Weather) described the plight of the Biharis in an indifferent and insensitive world.
Athar Tahir’s collection of short stories in English was published in 1990. Rukhsana Ahmed’s collection of short stories appeared in 1992. Her short story The Nightmare describes the nostalgia and anguish of a Pakistani young woman in Britain where she has faced acute problems of adapting to an alien culture. It is a pathetic tale of dislocation, and projects the problem of exposure to foreign cultures in the life of Pakistani women.
Poetry in Pakistani Literature
Meem Rashed (1975), and Faiz Ahmad Faiz (1984) had already made a name in modern poetry in the War years (1939 – 1945). Rashed’s Mavra (Beyond) was published in 1940, while Faiz’s Naqsh Faryadi (Complaining Sketch) came out in 1941. These collections were slim volumes of poetry. The maturer poetry of both Rashed and Faiz was published after 1947. Faiz’s Zindan Nama (The Prison Poems 1956) and Sar-e-Wadi-I-Sina (In the Sinai Valley 1971) give a wide spectrum of his creative talent. He employed erotic ghazal phraseology for the interpretation of socio-political reality. He believed that human suffering made life ugly. His cult of the Beautiful was social and human, and he admired those who struggled for a better future for common man. His poetry gave solace and hope to men in the developing societies of the post-colonial Afro-Asian world. Faiz Ahmed Faiz is considered among the giants of socio-political poetry
Rashed’s La Mussavi Insan (x = Man) published in 1969, and Guman ka Mumkin (Speculations) published after his death in 1976, give him a very significant place in modern Urdu literature. His poetry is metaphysical, both in its content and treatment. He has portrayed the intellectual situation of educated Muslim generations of the early decades of this century, who had been confronted with the worldview where the traditional theological map appeared to have become outdated, and in its place, a lonely world looked them in the face. Rashed’s poetry employs emotion matured by thoughtful contemplation, and claims a close reading for rendering a rewarding meaning. His poems Israfeel ki Maut (death of Israfeel), and Safar Nama (A Travelogue) are lovely pieces of great poetry. Rashed’s poetic world is inhabited by crowds of bewildered men, by Adam, Angels, and by an archetypal figure – Hassan the pot-maker, and even by God. In a wider sense, Rashed has, through his poetry, addressed the educated generations of his culture at one of the most critical moments of their history.
Wazir Agha’s poems made nature a subject of discovery, and portrayed what is pleasant and good-looking in its various forms. He added man’s sub-conscious self to the view of the human being and described his deeper spiritual anguish in a changing world. He believed in the sanctity of the Soul and portrayed it in metaphors that give finite descriptions to the amorphous phenomena. His poems also reveal a rational treatment, where the mind of the man of science appears to be entering the world of poetry in an unpoetical age.
Nevertheless, the cry of the dislocated man was heard in Munir Niazi’s poetry. His weird imagery of ghosts and witches externalised the state of extreme dread, which generally haunts man when he enters a new environment with the details of massacres, arson and the genocidal scenes in his childhood imagination.
The traditional ghazal poetry found its most powerful voice in Nasir Kazmi (d.1972). (Ghazal is traditional poetry in Muslim culture based on mystical love phraseology). He wrote ghazals in a new strain of feelings, and made ghazal a vehicle of sorrowful experience. His ghazal is memory-based and its pathos emerges from recollections of past associations. His poetry had great appeal in the early years of
In poetry, the note of political protest was represented by Habib Jalib (1995) , and Ahmed Faraz. Fehmida Riaz wrote her poems to project the feminist view of reality in the male dominated social order. In the tradition of ghazal poetry, Parveen Shakir’s verses made a popular appeal for a fresh view of life and nature. Her ghazal poetry enriched the tradition with new metaphors and images.
An anthology of poetry in English language, named First Voices, was published in 1965. It introduced Ahmed Ali, Zulfikar Ghose, Shahid Hosain, Riaz Qadir, Taufiq Rafat and Shahid Suhrawardy. This anthology was edited by Shahid Hosain and published by Oxford University Press,
The state of literature soon after independence had aroused a great controversy among the writers. Literature was expected to have a new direction, though it was rather early to relate literature to any undefined expectation. The short story on communal riots had fairly confused the spectrum. The writers who had migrated to Pakistan had their own views on literature. Nevertheless, in 1951, Mohammed Hasan Askari (1978) made a statement that literature in Pakistan had come to a dead end, and there was inertia in literary activity. According to him the way out of this inertia lay in the discovery of national spirit for the inspiration of literature. In 1960, Askari’s Sitara Ya Badban (The Star or the Sail) was published which attempted to resolve the controversy. There was no sense, he said, in being blown by the wind of popular ideas. Only the Pole Star guided the ships on the heavy seas. Askari’s view was a calculated commentary on the western influence as an informing principle of literary activity. But the image of the Pole Star, though good and practicable for old navigation, could not define the nature of literary activity in
The issue, which had been overlooked by Askari, was formulated by Jilani Kamran in his book Nai Nazm ke Taqaze (Principles of New Poetry) published in 1964. He pointed out that the real issue was that of literary identity, which could impart a distinctive coloration to literature produced in Pakistan. He offered the solution in the formulation of the question: Who am I? – Which was supposed to provide cultural identity to one’s writing. Jilani Kamran introduced Sufism as the framework of poetic writing, and recommended the use of the Sufic Pronouns (I and Thou) as measures of emancipation from the morbid and unproductive social environment. His first collection of poems Astanze (The Stanzas, 1959) experimented within the stipulated requirements and his later work Bagh-e- Duniya, (The World Garden) published in 1987, elaborated his thesis by creating a literary model on the synthesis of Muslim ethos and Western learning. Bagh-e-Duniya was inspired by the idea of Muslim cultural renaissance. It is a long poem, with the archetypal figures of the Murshid-e-Qum (The Wise Man of Qum), the Children of Iblis, Sheikh-e-Jehan, Zinda Rud (Iqbal’s poetic name), Alberuni and Ibn-e-Arabi. This poem by Jilani Kamran offers a hopeful view of reality and constructs the vision of a future in modern poetic idiom.
The novel in Pakistan
The novel in Pakistan emerged with Qurratulain Heider’s Aag ka Darya (The River of Fire, 1957). It has been generally held that the novel is about the problem of self-identity, yet it moves in a wider orbit and traverses the curvature between self-identity and the collective identity of the people who were placed in a critical situation on the eve of
Abdullah Husain’s Udas Naslain (A Tale of Sad Generations, 1963) is the tragic story of three successive generations living in British occupied India between 1913 and 1947. It begins with the 1857 War of Independence where an ordinary employee of the East India Company is richly rewarded for saving the life of Colonel Johnson, the Commanding Officer, from rival Indian soldiers. The offspring of this richly rewarded person, Nawab Roshan Ali Khan, arrive in Pakistan in 1947 without any material possessions. The happenings between 1857 through the First World War, and Jallianwala Bagh (1919) and World War II and the migration to a new country, convert the household into a history of sad generations. The large-scale social and political change, a sort of revolution, had shattered what seemed what seemed to have been sacred in their memories and estimation. In a sense, this novel narrates a family story where a household, built on sheer chance in 1857, becomes a part of upper middle class, possesses no higher view of life to guide the conduct of its members, and is pushed by circumstances towards 1947, and to
Tariq Mahmud’s Allah Megh De (Send Clouds, Oh God), Altaf Fatima’s Chalta Musafir (The Ever Traveller), and Salma Awan’s Tanha (The Lonely Person) make East Pakistan the theme of their fictional imagination. Though these novels were written and published after 1971, they provide a deep insight into the life in
Prose fiction had, indeed, become the leading mode of writing in Urdu literature after
Jameela Hashmi’s novel Dasht-e-Soos (The Soos Wilderness) published in 1984 was in the tradition of historical fiction. It portrayed the mystic life of Mansur Hallaj who was sentenced to death in AD 922 for his Sufic utterance of Ana-al-Haq. Jameela Hashmi revived the historical novel writing which had discontinued after Nasim Hijazi’s Akhari Chattan (The Last Rock) published in 1951. Nasim Hijazi’s novel narrated the story of the fall of Khawarazm in Central Asia before the ruthless attacks of Changez Khan in 1220.
Ashfaq Ahmed’s Gadaria (The Shepherd) published in 1954, was a fictional comment on the social and political conditions of the time. In 1960s he wrote series of radio-features, and created his famous character Talqeen Shah who behaved as a moral mentor in the social environment given to hypocrisy though he himself is inclined to hypocritical conduct. Ashfaq Ahmed emphasised the use of moral norm in fictional work and created characters to illustrate the graph of human nature in a changing society. In 1984-1986, his serials of television plays Tota Kahani (The Parrot Story) and Aur Dramay (More Dramas) gave a variegated account of men and women placed in dubious moral situations. Ashfaq Ahmed denounced modern western education and recommended return to cultural roots. He generally introduced wise old men in his plays and short stories to provide folk-wisdom for the guidance of common people. He used his writings purposefully and attempted to make the good prevail in an erring human environment.
The post-Independence years can also be regarded as an era of women writers. After Independence, the rise in literacy among women had been the major motivation behind the feminine interest in literary activity. In short story, Mumtaz Shirin, Saira Hashmi, Nishat Fatima, Anwar Ghalib, Farkhanda Lodhi, Zahida Hina and Neelam Bashir have made valuable contributions and have extended the range of female fiction writing. Zahida Hina’s Raah mein Ajal hai (Death is in the Way, 1993) is transcultural in its theme, perception and treatment. Her short stories have a wide spectrum and combine romance with realism in their fictional structure. Anwar Ghalib’s Naddi (The Stream, 1982) and Abu Zamaan (The Father Time, 1992) have philosophic themes. The conflict between Body and Soul forms the matter and subject of Naddi, and the sharp antagonism between various psychological attitudes appears in Abu Zamaan.
With the migration of Pakistani families to the countries in the west and to the Gulf States, the overseas writings have formed a distinctive category of literature. Sabiha Shah has portrayed the life of Pakistani engineers and technical workers in the Gulf States in her collection of short stories Sheeshay ka Saiban (The Glass Tent, 1990). Iftikhar Nasim has described the peculiar experiences of Pakistanis and Asians in
The writings in the English language, which had appeared as a literary trend in the early years of Independence, have gradually formed a tradition and a large number of writers of the younger generation have taken to writing in the English language.
Bapsi Sidhwa’s novels The Crow-Eaters (1978), Ice Candy Man (1988) and The American Brat (1993) describe the life of Parsi families in Pakistan in a transcultural setting. In her novel, The American Brat, a young Pakistani girl is exposed to various hazards in
Minorities and Pakistani English Literature
Meanwhile a new academic discourse revealed that some of the best English literature was coming from minority and migrant groups in the West and Britain’s erstwhile colonies. In 1984, the British-born playwright Hanif Kureishi, having won the 1981 George Devine Award, came to Pakistan for the first time. Hanif had thought himself English, but England has perceived him as Pakistani — and his work tried to bridge the two. He wrote a haunting memoir The Rainbow Sign (1986) about this and his
Sara Suleri’s creative memoir Meatless Days opened up a new dimension: there was never a work, which occupied a space between fiction and non-fiction, with chapters divided according to metaphor. It was loved for its beautiful tightly-knit prose. Over the next few years, the number of Pakistani English language writers grew rapidly. Adam Zameenzad published four novels and won a first novel award, as did Hanif Kureishi, while Nadeem Aslam won two. Tariq Ali embarked on a Communist trilogy, and an Islam quintet; Bapsi Sidhwa received a prize in Germany, an award in the USA, and published her fourth novel The American Brat (1993). Zulfikar Ghose, who had written around 10 accomplished novels, brought out the intricate and complex The Triple Mirror of the Self about migration and a man’s quest for identity, across four continents.