It is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine, for instance, the history of literary fiction in English coming out of India and its neighbouring countries without paying close attention to Pakistan. From Mohammed Hanif to Moni Mohsin, Fatima Bhutto to Ali Sethi, Nadeem Aslam to Mohsin Hamid, the list of writers based in Pakistan, or of Pakistani origin, is diverse and distinguished. But these five that follow deserve a special mention, simply because their understated charm and power to delight are not celebrated often enough — or as much as they should be.
The Crow Eaters, Bapsi Sidhwa
One of the funniest novels by a Pakistani writer, The Crow Eaters was Sidhwa’s first published book. Set in the early years of the 20th century, it tells the story of Freddy Junglewalla, who moves his family — his pregnant wife, baby daughter and irritable mother-in-law — from their ancestral home, somewhere in the hinterland of Pakistan, to the glittering cosmopolis of Lahore.
In the city, he embarks on a successful venture, but as Freddy’s fortunes grow, so does his bickering with his mother-in-law, the domineering Jerbanoo. Written in faux-elegant British English, every sentence of this large-hearted novel is laced with wit. An endearing portrait of the Parsees in Pakistan, this is a gripping read from the beginning till the end.
The Wandering Falcon, Jamil Ahmad
A quiet but haunting debut, this collection of stories by a Pakistani civil servant who spent several years in Baluchistan was much acclaimed for its delicate realism. The characters — poor peasants, tribal lords — are drawn vividly from life and are usually the stuff of news reports coming out this region. Ahmad brought these figures to life with poetic brushstrokes and in his unfailingly controlled prose.
Written over a period of time, the stories were retrieved from his drawer and published in this volume when Ahmad was in his 70s. The collection was nominated for the Man Asian Literary Prize, one of Asia’s most prestigious literary awards, in 2011. Read more