History and fiction: ‘Pakistani writers are introspective’
KARACHI: Author and journalist David Waterman believes that the most optimistic characteristic of contemporary Pakistani writers is their introspective approach — they see issues as lying within themselves as opposed to external interferences.
Waterman expressed these views at Alliance Francaise de Karachi during a talk on his recent publication, titled ‘Where Worlds Collide: Pakistani Fiction in the New Millennium‘, on Monday. According to him, the introspective approach has its roots in the writings of 1971.
Waterman, a professor at the University of La Rochelle, has worked extensively on Pakistani history, culture and literature in English. Where Worlds Collide: Pakistani Fiction in the New Millennium, published in February 2015, discusses the works of post-Partition Pakistani writers whose novels were published in the 21st century.
In his book, Waterman writes: “The fictional slice-of-life representations provided by these contemporary Pakistani writers take into account everyday issues, stories of individuals and their families, their joys and sorrows and fears, and place them in the context of the bigger story of Pakistan as a nation — a nation with a long and rich cultural history, which has only been a nation as such for 65 years yet has survived despite predictions of its failure.”
Naming the works of Hanif Qureshi and Bapsi Sidhwa as pioneers of contemporary Pakistani fiction in the 1970s to 1980s, Waterman said that themes such as the status of women, South Asian immigration and militancy shaped the diaspora’s identity in those times.
He referred to Mohsin Hamid’s ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist‘ as an answer to how social identities are formed. Talking about the book, Waterman said that the 9/11 tragedy became the benchmark in contemporary fiction.
Voicing his thoughts on Kamila Shamsie’s ‘In the City by the Sea‘, he said that it is in works like these that the city becomes the hub of family life and identity comes off as a social product. “Personal and political identity cannot be separated in contemporary works of fiction,” he said.
He mentioned Shamsie’s ‘Kartography‘ while talking about themes of emigration and immigration. He said that immigrants are expressed as ‘vulnerable’. In contrast, he said, HM Naqvi’s ‘Homeboy‘ questions whether the immigrant communities are “well-integrated” or are simply “being tolerated well”.
According to Waterman, Mohammed Hanif’s ‘A Case of Exploding Mangoes‘ is the best Pakistani historical fiction. “Among current writers, Zia[ul Haq] comes up a lot though he never comes across well,” he said, adding that Hanif’s work, like all other historical fictions, has a greater chance of doing what a historian cannot as fiction raises questions that history cannot.
Waterman said that another noticeable characteristic of Pakistani fiction is the ‘collective trauma’ that has been passed down from and to generations. He added that it is similar to the kind found in the works of post-1971 war. According to him, it is a case similar to that of the Irish-American Civil War of 1865, over which anger persists even today.