Another side of the story

Kamila Shamsie in The Guardian:

Hamid256 The story of the Pakistani novel in English starts with tragedy and unrealised potential. In 1948, within a year of partition, 36-year-old Mumtaz Shahnawaz was killed in a plane crash, leaving behind the first draft of her partition novel, A Heart Divided. Her family published it in the 1950s, but the question of what the novel might have been had she worked on it further remains unanswered.

As with any nation, but particularly a new one, Pakistani literature’s story cannot be told without the backdrop of history. In 1947 the English language itself was a vexed and contradictory space: on one hand the language of colonialism; on the other hand the language in which undivided India’s politicians (Jinnah, Nehru, Gandhi, Liaquat et al) presented their demands for independence to the British. In the newly created state of Pakistan it was also the official language, while Urdu was the national language. However you look at it, English represented power and privilege. The corollary of this was to create a division, still in place, between English language writers and those who work in Pakistan’s other languages. The combination of English’s close links to officialdom and the ‘nation-building’ mindset of a newly independent people for whom patriotism was all-important did the English language novel few favours. While Urdu writers such as Saadat Manto, Intezar Hussein and Abdullah Hussain were producing dynamic, challenging work, the English-language novel was, in the 1950s, all but moribund.

Picture: Mohsin Hamid: Booker longlisted novelist and at the forefront of the new wave of Pakistani writing.

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