Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Short History of 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:
We do not know enough of their work to have an opinion we must repeat that we 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.

Beginning of 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, 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, 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 lack of criticism on Pakistani 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 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.

Pakistani authors of English literature on the global scene
Pakistan came into existence in 1947 and for all technical reasons this is the year that should be marked as the root year for the country's literary history. The genesis of a national identity in Pakistan took some years to develop, so the reflection of this identity in the country's literature was also not immediate.

Urdu, Pakistan's national language retained its sovereign position in society for some years. The tremendous upheaval that was caused by the largest migration of people in modern time was also mirrored in the literature of the new state.

The word realism could best describe this early phase in Pakistan's literary history. One of the writers whose work best depicts this phase is Saadat Hassan Manto who is best known for his short stories and who, because of the controversial topics that formed the main themes of his stories, is often compared to D.H. Lawrence.

Over time Pakistani authors evolved their own distinctive style in the major languages of the country including Punjabi, Balochi, Sindhi and Pashto. Initially, English was in no way the language of choice for a country built on all things patriotic, but the British Raj left as its legacy its language, now considered the lingua franca of the world. The English language's influence on Pakistani literature cannot be ignored.

Attia Hosain published her novel Sunlight on a Broken Column in 1961 that portrayed life for a young Muslim woman in pre-partition India. This was followed by what is considered the first cohesive English novel written by a Pakistani author — Zulfikar Ghose's Murder of Aziz Khan that was published in 1967.

Ghose's poetry was also present in the first two major anthologies of Pakistani literature in English: First Voices (1965) which included the young Taufiq Rafat and Pieces Eight (1971) which introduced Adrian Husain, Nadir Hussein, Salman Tarik Kureshi and Kaleem Omar.

Urdu writing was seeing a resurgance in Pakistan during the period, leading to a lull in creative English literature.
The '70s saw the emergence of the young and dynamic Tariq Ali who as a student was elected President of the Oxford Union debating club and whose voice began to be recognised more widely when he engaged in debates with high profile figures such as Henry Kissinger and Michael Stewart against the war in Vietnam.
With a strong socialist/leftist conviction Ali has become known for his precise perspectives on politics in Pakistan and an unwavering strong stance against imperialism. Ali's first book, Pakistan: Military Rule or People's Power, was written in 1970. He has written a series of historical novels about Islam: Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree (1992), The Book of Saladin (1998), The Stone Woman (2000) and A Sultan in Palermo (2005). His latest works include Conversations with Edward Said (2005); Rough Music: Blair, Bombs, Baghdad, London, Terror (2005) and Speaking of Empire and Resistance (2005).
Books to celluloid

The accomplished Bapsi Sidhwa published her first novel, The Crow Eaters in 1978. This wonderful novel describes the life of the Parsi community and has a staid realistic tone to it. Her other novels have taken up different themes altogether: there is The Bride (1983) which explores the conflict between the male-dominant values of agrarian and urban societies while An American Brat tells the story of 16-year-old Feroza who travels to the United States from Lahore and illuminates the difficulties that arise when the search for self-definition and one's cultural upbringing are not aligned.
Bapsi Sidhwa's ground-breaking novel remains Ice-Candy-Man (1988, later titled Cracking India) which highlights the terrible cataclysmic events of Partition as seen through the eyes of a young observer. The story was beautifully told and was later captured on celluloid by famous director Deepa Mehta in her movie Earth.
It was also in this decade that British-born Pakistani playwright Hanif Kureishi won the George Devine Award for Outskirts (1981). Kureshi visited Pakistan in 1984 and wrote of his struggle in self-identification in the shape of a memoir The Rainbow Sign (1986) — an attempt to reconcile the two worlds he lived in.
His most famous work is My Beautiful Laundrette, a screenplay about a Pakistani-British boy growing up in 1980s London for a film that won the New York Film Critics Best Screenplay Award and an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay. One of Kureshi's books The Buddha of Suburbia (1990) won the Whitbread Award for best first novel, and was also made into a BBC television series with a soundtrack by David Bowie.
In 2000-2001 a novel he wrote (Intimacy) was loosely adapted to movie format by Patrice Chéreau - which won awards at the Berlin Film Festival including a Golden Bear for Best Film and was also translated into Persian by Niki Karimi in 2005. The movie adaptation of Kureshi's drama The Mother won a joint First Prize in the Directors Fortnight section at the Cannes Film Festival.
The '90s heralded a glowing new chapter in Pakistan's history of English literature and it started with Sara Suleri. One of the most gifted writers of this period, Sara is the daughter of renowned journalist Z.A. Suleri, Sara, who has been professor of English at Yale University since 1983, wrote her first book in the shape of a memoir.
The book titled Meatless Days (1989), is a haunting one that stitches together intensely private biographical moments with national history.

She followed this with a non-fictional work, The Rhetoric of English India (1992) and a final farewell to her father, Boys Will Be Boys: A Daughter's Elegy (2003).

Collective writings
Another name that is now well known in Pakistani literary circles is that of Aamer Hussein — a short story writer and critic. Hussein's early work appeared primarily in journals and anthologies in the late '80s and early '90s. His first collection of stories, Mirror to the Sun, was published in 1993. Since then, he has published four other collections - This Other Salt (1999), Turquoise (2002), Cactus Town (2003), and Insomnia (2007). He has also edited a volume of stories by Pakistani women titled Kahani (2005).
One writer who tends to portray the lives of social outcasts, loners, losers, the deprived and the dispossessed is Adam Zameenzad. The writer was born in Pakistan and spent his early childhood in Nairobi. Adam attended university in Lahore and became a lecturer there. He has had five novels published: The Thirteenth House (winner of the David Higham Prize); My Friend Matt and Hena the Whore; Love, Bones and Water; Cyrus Cyrus and Gorgeous White Female. His latest work Pepsi and Maria, a novel about the lives of street children, was published in 2004.
Nadeem Aslam started writing while quite young. Born in Gujranwala, Pakistan, Aslam was 13 when his short story got published in Urdu in a Pakistani newspaper. He moved to the UK with his family a year later. His debut novel Season of the Rainbirds was published in 1993 and won two awards and his second novel Maps For Lost Lovers was published in 2004.
Animal Medicine was the name Bina Shah gave her first collection of short stories. It was published in 2000 and followed by a novel, Where They Dream in Blue (2001) and The 786 Cybercafé (2004). In 2005 her essay titled A Love Affair with Lahore was published in an anthology called City of Sin and Splendour — Writings on Lahore that was edited by Sidhwa. Bina published her second collection of short stories — Blessings — this year.
International acclaim
Another name that often crops up in Pakistani literary circles is Kamila Shamsie. The writer grew up in Karachi, a city that was the focus of her first novel In The City By The Sea (1998) and which was short listed for the John Llewelyn Rhys/Mail on Sunday award in the UK and earned the author the Prime Minister's Award for Literature in Pakistan in 1999. Her second novel Salt and Saffron, was also well received and in 2000 she was selected as one of Oranges 21 Writers of the 21st Century. Her third novel, Kartography and her most recent work, Broken Verses have won the Patras Bukhari Award from the Academy of Letters in Pakistan.
Mohsin Hamid, author of the famous novel Moth Smoke was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award. Indian actor and director Rahul Bose has plans to adapt the book for his film. Hamid's second novel (published this year) The Reluctant Fundamentalist was on the New York Times bestseller list and explores the effects of 9/11 on a Pakistani man in New York.
In the same vein there is a whole list of new writers who have recently been published including Saad Ashraf, Sorayya Khan and Feryal Ali Gauhar, Uzma Aslam Khan, Sehba Sarwar, Suhyal Saadi and many others. There are many more writers worth a mention, but who could not be accomodated due to the usual excuse... No space! But let it be known that the new world order has also heralded a time when English literature in Pakistan has finally come into its own.

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R said...

This "Short History of Pakistani Literature in English" is short but not history, is not about "Pakistani" literature and is not about "literature" but only a fast flying biird's eye view of some forms of it. It is only about 1947. As readers of Post-Colonial Literature, we realize immediately that many important Pakistani writers are not mentioned. Those writers and writings mentioned are like descriptions in a bookseller's catalog. A critic or historian has not written this material. There is a large amount of criticism of Pakistani Literature in English that can be found in many publications in many countries now, if you know enough about it. Indian writing always gets more attention but it does not mean that there is a lack of research and criticism of Pakistani Literature in English.

NeoEnglish System said...

Thanks you so much for your comments. I understand that the article lacks some important writers and it's only a bird's eye view. I would really appreciate if you could make some contribution to this article or this site.

Anonymous said...

Mr. R it will please you to know that an International Centre for Pakistani Writing in English has been set up under the rubric of Kinnaird College for Women, headed by eminent poet, M. Athar Tahir. If you or any other researchers/students or faculty would like to know more regarding the Centre or would like to give us any input, so please get in touch with me through

Ayesha Ibrahim
Assistant Director

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