Frontier writers: Mirroring angst from Af-Pak, Kashmir

January 19th, 2011 - 11:04 am ICT by IANS  

By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi, Jan 19 (IANS) The socio-political ferment in the Pakistan-Afghanistan and Kashmir regions has sown the seed of a very powerful genre of literature, both fiction and non-fiction, that mirrors the harsh realities and gut-wrenching human stories that abound there.Four powerful books emanating from the northwestern frontier region and Kashmir in a span of two months prove that frontier writers are still looking beyond the realm of imagination for stories about the plight of their land and people.

Three of the books are by Pakistan-based writers - Shehryar Fazli’s “Invitation”, Amir Mir’s “The Bhutto Murder Trial: From Waziristan to GHQ” and Bina Shah’s “Slum Child” - while the fourth is “Collaborator”, by Urdu journalist Mirza Waheed from Kashmir.

According to Pakistan-based writer Shehryar Fazli, writers’ engagement with socio-political situations in Pakistan was much more than elsewhere in the region. Concurs writer Ali Sethi, the author of “Wish Maker”: “The world is getting more interested in literature from Pakistan and Afghanistan because it wants to understand certain events that have taken place in the region.”

“Invitation”, a novel by Fazli (published by Westland Ltd), goes back to the 1970s in a Karachi noir that follows young Shahbaz, who has returned home to Pakistan after several years, through the high-life, scintillating cabaret night clubs, corruption and opulence of Karachi to recreate the darkest days of Pakistan’s history in the days leading up to the creation of Bangladesh.

Fazli said it was a way to connect to the era that shaped the history of Pakistan’s crusade for democracy and the accompanying turbulence that has carried itself forward through the decades, defining the chequered growth of the nation. “I had missed out on those years,” the writer said.

Journalist Mirza Waheed, who works in London as an editor for BBC’s Urdu Service, has set his novel “Collaborator” in the Kashmir of the 1990s. It captures the dislocations and suffering of the average Kashmiri at the peak of insurgency when “Indian soldiers appear from nowhere to hunt for militants on the run”.

Four teenagers who spent their afternoons playing cricket or singing ballads down by the river disappear one day to cross into Pakistan. Their lives scatter to end in a bloody reunion.

The writer, mentored by pioneers of the genre Mohammed Hanif, the author of the “Case of the Exploding Mangoes”, says the book is a tribute to those who have faced the militants’ wrath in the frontier terrain.

“And what are my Pakistani brothers thinking…if they can make out what is happening here (in Kashmir) from their faraway picket…” the protagonist says.

The borders in Waheed’s tale blurs in death as it ends with a prayer for all the departed souls.

Quoting figures cited by the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, he said “more than 70,000 people have been killed in Kashmir since 1989″.
“Around 8,000 people have disappeared; at least 25,000 children have been orphaned; and over 4,000 people are in Indian prisons,” he said. Thousands of women have been widowed in the conflict and there are at least 2,000 half widows whose husbands are missing. The government refutes the numbers, the writer adds.

Leading investigative journalist of Pakistan and former editor of the Weekly Independent Amir Mir, whose gripping non-fiction “The Bhutto Murder Trial: From Waziristan to GHQ” (published by Westland Ltd) was released in December, says his book “is a serious investigation into Benazir’s assassination”, a catalytic event that changed the political course of the country after the hanging of her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Mir said he has raised questions in his book whether “Benazir’s killers will ever be brought to book”.

“Although the United Nations Inquiry Commission’s report into her assassination released in April 2010 stopped short of naming Musharraf as Bhutto’s killer, it did go much further and and give broad hints about his role in the security lapses…,” he said.

The assassination of Punjab governor Salman Taseer has brought the spotlight back on his son Atish Taseer’s book about his father and Islam, “Stranger to History: A Son’s Journey Through Islamic Lands”, in which he tries to understand Islam and his difficult relationship with his Islamic father.

According to the author, the “book started with a letter to an estranged father in Pakistan”, a complex real life situation.

For journalist-turned writer Bina Shah, “the human suffering in Pakistan is as grim as the political situations in the country”. Her novel, “Slum Child” is one of the first novels about the Punjabi Christian community in Pakistan narrated through a child, Laila, in Karachi.

Documentation of contemporary socio-political realities in fine print became a wave a few years ago with Mohammed Hanif’s “Case of the Exploding Mangoes” in 2008.

The trend was consolidated over the next three years by writers like Daniyal Moiunuddin, Nadeem Aslam, Kamila Shamsie, H.M. Naqvi, Mohsin Hamid, Basharat Peer, Moni Mohsin and several others.

But historians say it began with the partition which was used by classical writers like Bapsi Sidhwa, Ismat Chugtai, Khushwant Singh and Saadat Hasan Manto to pen gut-wrenching stories of emotional trauma and loss.

(Madhushree Chatterjee can be contacted at

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