Pakistani official debuts at 79 with tales of the Frontier

September 13th, 2010 - 11:51 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Sept 13 (IANS) It is never too late to take a shot at writing. Retired Pakistani official Jamil Ahmad, 79, who spent several years in the tribal regions between Pakistan and Afghanistan, will publish his debut anthology of short stories from the frontiers next year.

“The Wandering Falcon” will be published by Penguin Books’ prestigious Hamish Hamilton imprint in 2011, a statement by the publishers said Monday.

Ahmad is one of the oldest debut authors to have been signed up by the publishing house, it said.

“The Wandering Falcon” will be simultaneously published in Great Britain, India and US.

Compared by the publisher to “Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini, “The Wandering Falcon” is a collection of stories that throws light into the life and culture in the forbidding tribal regions, it said

A story from the anthology, “The Sins of the Mother”, about a couple from Baluchistan who risk everything by fleeing from their tribe, will be published in the new Pakistan issue of the Granta magazine.

Ahmad began his career in 1950s as an official in the Pakistan embassy in Kabul and also served before and after the Soviet invasion in 1979. He was encouraged to write by his wife Helga, who typed the handwritten manuscript on a typewriter with German keys.

Senior editor of Penguin Meru Gokhale, who acquired the book, said: “I was tipped off by a friend in Pakistan that a remarkable book had been written. Jamil Ahmad is an extraordinarily talented writer. The ‘Wandering Falcon’ is stark, compelling, wise, emotional yet unsentimental all at once.”

Simon Prosser, publisher of Hamish Hamilton said: “I was struck by the clarity and power of the writing, and the way it brings to life a place and a world which has remained hitherto largely unrecorded.”

Ahmad, born in Jalandhar in 1931, holds a bachelor’s degree in law and master’s degree in history from the University of the Punjab. As a member of the Civil Service of Pakistan beginning in 1954, he served mainly in the frontier province and in Baluchistan.

He was posted as a minister in Pakistan’s Embassy in Kabul at a critical time before and during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. At the time of his posting in the Frontier Province, he acquired a working knowledge of Pashto and the fluency continued to improve with increased usage.

At one point, with the help of some friends from the Afridi tribe, he walked into the Tirah Valley, the heartland of the Afridis. This initiative created quite a stir, as it was the first-ever venture into this territory by a government representative.

He currently lives in Islamabad with his wife Helga Ahmad, a nationally recognized environmentalist and social worker who was awarded the Fatima Jinnah Gold Medal in 2007.

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