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The lesser society reads, the safer writers are: Mustansar Hussain Tarar

Tarar is perhaps the most popular of contemporary fiction and travelogue writers in Urdu. He claims he has the capability to write another Aag Ka Darya, a novel on the Partition written by Qurratulain Hyder, but she could not have written a novel like his Bahao that talks about the disappearance of a civilisation.

Tarar’s mass popularity is perhaps the reason why he keeps distinguishing himself from other Pakistani writers. No other Pakistani writer has been honoured like him, he says: a lake in the northern areas has been named after him. But, in the same breath, he says critics need to pay attention to other contemporary fiction writers, particularly Khalida Hussain and Sami Ahuja.

Source: The Herald

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The Kites Are Leaving

By

My children live in the Lahore compound where I spent much of my own childhood, the fourth generation of my family to do so, with members of three of these generations presently alive and resident, including my parents, who built a house on part of the front lawn three decades ago, and my wife and me, who live in the old house, which was constructed three decades earlier. When I was a child, Lahore was home to three million people, and our neighborhood was a leafy, grassy expanse speckled with bungalows. Now Lahore is home to three times as many people, and our nearest neighbors are shopping malls, restaurants, apartment buildings, offices — crammed close together, with little green.

The flying foxes are gone, snakes are rarely to be seen, a mongoose glimpsed only once or twice a year, slipping into the round opening of a drain. We have two dogs, though, and chickens, and we have let our trees grow full and mighty, to block out the concrete structures pressing in on us, and high on one tall tree in our back lawn, far above the treehouse wrapped around lower branches near its base, floats a nest that belongs to a pair of birds of prey that my children call hawks but are in actuality black kites: brown with light and dark markings the color of parched earth and damp soil, patterns like scale armor on their breasts, powerful, hooked beaks and wingspans wide enough to startle, almost equal to the outstretched arms of a man. Read more

Source: New York Times


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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Faiqa Mansab

By Aminah Sheikh

faiqa

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

My stories arise from discontent, disenfranchisement, the periphery. Mainly because I’ve grown up in a country that refuses to accept its own plurality, is determined to forget its history even as it flounders on the brink of self-destruction.  I internalized the subliminal conflicts of daily life wrought with issues that should be clichés but were my reality: patriarchy, lack of opportunity and gender discrimination. I, as an individual—woman, thinker, writer—was at odds with the limiting and reductive social constructs of my culture. And I read and wrote to make sense of everything around me.

Being an educated woman; being a writer, and writing in English particularly, make me a minority, and these realities have pushed me to resist labels, categories, and monolithic ideologies, in life and so perhaps my very identity is a site of resistance. How can I not write?

I’m a product of the textual multi-verse. Stories are my home, and literatures in Urdu, Punjabi, English, as well as translated literature from around the world, have informed my intellectual landscape.

Writing was not a conscious choice. I write in English but my diction is steeped in cultures, languages and literatures that are not English. I feel privileged to have a voice with multiple and multifarious echoes that coalesce together to form new patterns. I have to write to stay in touch with who I am. I am most myself when I write.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

This House of Clay and Water is very close to my heart. It’s a love story. Love as incarceration, and intertwined inextricably with tragedy, is an important theme in my novel, and the metaphors of walls and boundaries represent that idea in a way. I’m fascinated by the dichotomies of appearance and reality, duplicity, the panopticon gaze of society which exists to police others and force into conformity. I write mostly about all of these themes and about self-deception, the struggles of ordinary women to achieve extraordinary personal heights as my protagonist Nida demonstrates with her refusal to be corrupted by the world around her.

Imposed gender roles lie at the heart of this novel and the body is an important symbol. But it’s not a male body. The body of the other is shown as a commodity — to be claimed, owned and discarded — it is the site of power struggles for men.

My novel focuses on the various kinds of love and its failure. When I write, I’m only ever trying to tell a good story that will engage the deepest parts of the reader’s heart and mind.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

I want to write the kind of books that crack the reader’s assumptions about life and universal truths, about human nature and the condition of being human. I like fiction which gives value to the action happening inside character’s minds and hearts.

So for me, unless a character speaks to me intimately I don’t have a story. I start writing only when a character begins to live with me and I hear them constantly. I don’t plot and plan. I write what I hear from the character. Once I have a first draft, and it’s often a slow process, it takes me a year to write the first draft, only then do I proceed to edit. I start from the top every day to edit. Again, it’s a rather slow process but the good thing is that I have very few edits by the time it goes to an agent or publisher.

I prefer working in the morning after the boys have gone to school, but I also work after they’ve all gone to bed. But that’s only when I feel I won’t be able to sleep if I don’t write whatever I have thought of to add.

I want to be able to write stories that leave a residue behind with the reader, because those are the kinds of stories that I have always loved. Anton Chekhov, Milan Kundera, Bohumil Hrabal and Michael Ondaatje are some of the writers who awoke the wonder of words in me and whose stories I go back to repeatedly. I am not shy of overreaching in my writing. I aspire to the highest models.

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Excerpts: This House of Clay and Water by Faiqa Mansab

This House of Clay and Water (1)BHANGGI

My body, ji, isn’t my own. It’s a communal vessel for lust that finds expression in dark corners. I learnt that early in my life, na. I am like the spaces that belong to no one; a dirty thought never acknowledged.

This cage of bones and flesh that holds me prisoner . . . makes a mockery of me and my desires, destroys me daily. How can anyone be held responsible for the body they’re born with, ji? Who can help that?

Growing up, I’d watched men haggle with the older hijras, over the price of an hour of guilty pleasure. It’s the price of a life they squabble over, and it’s cheaper than an old chicken. Few hijras live past the age of forty. We trade our lives for a few rupees, ji, agree to bear the burden of desires, confidences and diseases that no one else will. Women are more trouble. More expensive too. Hijras are simpler; no questions asked, even if caught by the police—some of whom are regulars too.

Some prefer about anything else to a woman.

I watch the Nightingales every night. Once the streets are empty and everything is quiet and even the dogs stop barking, the silence is broken only by the sounds of occasional cars passing by, or a drunkard, yelling at a cat underfoot, the hijras known as Nightingales emerge from the few houses in the alley, a space that is only ours: the hijra chawl.

There are five of them, and their haunt is the crossing, where the narrow alleyways meet. Twinkling like fireflies in their sequined shirts and shiny synthetic silks, they laugh and chat as they wait for the regulars. They are prettier than the other hijras, whose job is to beg in the streets by day; they act as pimps for the better-looking ones. The beggar hijras look different. Their powdered faces look grey, and the exaggerated thick eyebrows and painted red lips only accentuate the hardness of their features. It is a poor disguise. as soon as one looks into their eyes, one knows.

They all said I was pretty too. I would be a Nightingale when it was time, not a pimp beggar. I could hardly wait. Nightingales are important. They bring in the big bucks, so everyone treats them well. They get the best bits of meat in the curry, and the best clothes.

The Nightingales stand together at the corner,  talking, laughing, and at times  a  hearty  guffaw  would  carry  in on the night air and thrill me as I lay in the small room, listening.

They were happy, I thought. as a child, laughter is all you need as proof of happiness. as a child you don’t know there are so many different kinds of laughter—like different varieties kinds of birds. Some are flightless.

They share a bidi, and the ends glow in the darkness. Sometimes they share a bottle of homemade liqueur. and I long to try both. Even though I know it is Shaitan’s drink. Or maybe because I know it is.

Gulabo, the master, the guru of our community, found me as a newborn, wrapped in a filthy bloodied towel outside the door of daata’s dargah. She took pity on me, she says. She fed me and clothed me, yes? She looked after me, even when those who’d helped me abandoned me. They didn’t want me. They didn’t want the shame that comes attached to me, a hijra.

Gulabo took care of me. She was also the one who sold me the first time, when I was eight. I was nothing more than an investment, an object to barter for little conveniences: indemnity from the police and a discount at the grocer’s for an hour every night, maybe a few rupees sometimes from a street wretch, if times were hard. That is the only life I am entitled to. There is nothing more, nothing else.

Growing up, I found refuge from the neighbourhood boys in the dilapidated junk shop with the kabbadiya. I hid there because, by then, I already knew why the bigger boys chased me. No one followed me into the dark alley where the kabbadiya lived, usually passed out on his piles of outdated books, magazines and newspapers. There was always a lantern burning low, hanging on the wall inside the shop, the corrugated-iron shutter only half closed. Two gigantic piles of newspapers, so old they were stuck to the floor, held the runner of the shutter up. I squeezed in between those two columns of newspapers, panting, listening to my thudding heart, waiting for the dreaded whispered insults of the eldest boy with the cruel eyes. Often the boys didn’t follow. They were afraid of the kabbadiya. People said he was a jinn. Few people had seen him in years.

But the kabbadiya found me one night.

I’d gone to sleep looking at the colourful pictures in a tattered, yellowing magazine. It was the smell of his  breath that awoke me. It was hot and sharp. I’d smelled it on men before, yes? It was Shaitan’s drink. I woke up with my hands reflexively covering my head to avoid the blows I knew would follow. But they didn’t. The kabbadiya pulled me out of the corner.

‘You’ve been here before, haven’t you?’

I nodded; I couldn’t get my tongue to detach from the roof of my mouth.

‘You  leave  the  magazines  lying  around.  You  wouldn’t make a good thief. You know who I am?’

I nodded again. He was the junk-shop owner. The jinn.

His eyes were sharp, dark.

‘You don’t know.’ He gave a short laugh and said, ‘That’s new. I used to be the gossip for years. Whose shame has taken over mine, I wonder, that people no longer talk about me. Well, what does it matter? There’s plenty of that to go around.’

He sat down with a big laugh, on the single, broken chair in the corner. He looked at me.

‘a little hijra, eh?’

He looked down at his hands. He had the magazine I’d been ogling. I was ashamed. It was full of pictures of women. Beautiful women, ji.

He raised his eyes to me and asked, ‘Can you read?’ I shook my head.

‘are you mute?’

I shook my head. He laughed softly. ‘Come here. Sit. are you hungry?’

I  didn’t  respond. My  legs  were  still  shaking. My  heart, curious and fearful, waited for the jinn to do something jinn- like. From a small half-broken wooden crate next to his chair, he took out a newspaper shaped into a cone and began to unfold it. It revealed two chapattis carefully nestling some vegetable curry. He gave half of his dinner to me.

‘Eat. I cooked it this morning. It’s fresh. Eat.’

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The Nothing by Hanif Kureishi, book review: Bombastic theatrical style over substance

By Lucy Scholes

nothingA Hanif Kureishi novel with an elderly, incapacitated and impotent protagonist, there’s something I never thought I’d read, but here he is. Waldo was a once celebrated film director, who used to run with the great and the good, his now defunct study a shrine to his illustrious life and career: Baftas, “birthday cards from Bowie and Iman,” a photo with Joe Strummer. Vanished is his “fuckability,” that “ass you’d pay to bite”; these days he’s not so much a shell of the man he once was, but rather the bloated carcass. Obese, weak and riddled with illness – “diabetes, prostate cancer, an ulcer, early MS, constipation, diarrhea and only one good hip, a cough, phobias, addictions, obsessions and hypochondria” – he’s bed- or wheelchair-bound: Rear Window’s L. B. Jefferies played by a late career Marlon Brando.

Spying on his neighbours passes the time – “I sit here like a large fly at the windowpane, investigating fantastic lands across the way” – but the object of his obsession is his wife, Zee. She’s twenty-two years younger, and the only woman he’s ever truly loved, the “one whose body I enjoyed more than any other,” (including those “magical fucks” of his LSD-tinged, California commune days with the “live-in lesbians”). Now, however, Waldo suspects she’s making a cuckold of him with his sort-of friend Eddie: a freeloading throwback from old Soho, a “dirty-minded raconteur” who’s a sucker for celebrities, “his voice smoky with public-school corruption and changing-room decadence.” Read more

Source: independent.co.uk


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New Release: House of Clay and Water by Faiqa Mansab

This House of Clay and Water (1)Set in Lahore, This House of Clay and Water by Faiqa Mansab explores the lives of two women. The book published by Penguin Random House India will release in May.

Nida, intelligent and lonely, has married into an affluent political family and is desperately searching for some meaning in her existence; and impulsive, lovely Sasha, from the ordinary middle class, whose longing for designer labels and upmarket places is so frantic that she willingly consorts with rich men who can provide them. Nida and Sasha meet at the famous Data Sahib dargah and connect–their need to understand why their worlds feel so alien and empty, bringing them together.

On her frequent visits to the dargah, Nida meets the gentle, flute-playing hijra, Bhanggi, who sits under a bargargh tree and yearns for acceptance and affection, but is invariably shunned. A friendship—fragile, tentative and tender–develops between the two, both exiles within their own lives; but it flies in the face of all convention and cannot be allowed.

Faiqa Mansab’s accomplished and dazzling debut novel explores the themes of love, betrayal and loss in the complex, changing world of today’s Pakistan.

About the Author:

Faiqa Mansab finished her MFA in Creative Writing with Distinction from Kingston University London, in 2014. She has been published in The Missing Slate, Running Out of Ink, and The Friday Times. She also has an MPhil in English Literature from Government College University Lahore. She teaches creative writing as visiting faculty in Kinnaird College Lahore. This House of Clay and Water is her debut novel.


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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Sabyn Javeri

By Aminah Sheikh

sabyn

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

I write because I can. In the sense that I have something to say and I can say it in an interesting and engaging way. Or so I hope…

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

I just came out with my debut novel Nobody Killed Her (HarperCollins) which is the story of two powerful women focusing on how an outsider infiltrates the world of political dynasties. It’s a court trial centering around the assassination of a female political leader, and each question throws up memories of the past, dragging the reader deeper into the narrative — except that the narrator is unreliable . . .

Up next is a book of short stories titled Hijabistan, out early next year by HarperCollins again. It is a collection of short stories on the theme of the veil, both as a garment and as a psychological barrier. I’m told I have a quirky outlook to life! I love challenging the existing perception of things and that is what I want to explore in these stories. Looking at things from a fresh perspective. What does the Hijab mean to the wearer and to the onlooker? Is it a threat, a weapon, a safety net or an entrapment? These stories explore the garment and its psychology in a very different way and I’m super excited about it. Also, the short story form is my first love, so it’s like returning home.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

Less is more.

Who are your favourite authors?

Ismat Chugtai, Hanan Al-Shaykh, Judith Hermann and Gillian Flynn. I’d read anything by them.

Chugtai for her boldness (she was writing about feminism before the term was even coined) Hermann for the simplicity of her prose, Al-Shaykh for being a natural story teller and Flynn because she’s a master plotter. And also Javier Marias, I suppose, for his insights into human behaviour. His short stories move me.

What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.

A very short story called “The Session” about a difficult moment between a therapist and her client. It was an exercise in narrative tension told very much through what was left unsaid. It was challenging to create such a pregnant atmosphere with minimum words.

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Nadeem Aslam: ‘I take delight that my initials in Urdu look like a pen by an inkwell’

By Nadeem Aslam

I sleep in the afternoon and evening and get up at 11pm. I am at my desk at midnight and I write until six or seven in the morning. I have been working this way for 25 years now. The quietness deepens at night and everything feels saturated with stillness. From 7am till midday, I read. It is often said human beings don’t come with an instruction manual; but I believe that books – libraries – are the instruction manuals for human beings. To read a great book is to realise that everything is already known. I also look at the newspapers. Many things in my books come from real life; but a novelist has to be careful in transporting a real event into the landscape of a novel. It is patient work, like moving a lake from one place to another with a teaspoon.


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Book Review: This story of star-crossed lovers set in Pakistan is a must read

UK-based Pakistani author Nadeem Aslam’s sixth novel, set in contemporary Pakistan, is a story of love set in a world beset with sectarian violence.

Nadeem Aslam never disappoints his readers and the characteristic features of his novels – vividly beautiful, lucidly painful and yet surprisingly convincing – tend to leave a lasting impression.

It was this overwhelming sense of reverence for the Pakistan-born author that led one to flick through this brilliant novel, which combines realism and fable in a tale that is exhilarating as it counters despair with hope.

The Golden Legend is a thrilling novel and carries more realism than meets the eye. Just like “the spring of hope” and “the winter of despair” that Dickens mentioned in the opening paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities, Aslam’s fantastic work seems to reverberate with paradoxes and yet sounds surprisingly convincing. Read more

Source: Hindustan Times


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Excerpts: Nobody Killed Her by Sabyn Javeri

thumbnail_Nobody Killed Her PosterNEW YORK, 1982

The first time we met, you were wearing borrowed clothes. You sat there in your too big platforms, bell sleeves and a neckline that plunged sharply to the right. Your yellow jumper hung loose over your thin frame. Your head was defiantly uncovered, your frizzy hair as rebellious as your nature, your heart-shaped mouth stubbornly set. Later you told me that your friend Yasmin had lent you the clothes because your mother stopped your monthly allowance. She thought it would make you give up politics.

Your mother didn’t know you well.

Looking deceptively sunny in that blinding yellow, you smoked as Yasmin stood behind you, searching through a high bookshelf. I had never seen a girl of your stature smoke. Or sit publicly without a veil.

‘Ashtray,’ you ordered and Yasmin came running up with one. To avoid staring, I looked up at the highest shelf, my neck craning as I tilted my head all the way up, then bending as I looked down to the last. I wondered if you had read all those books.

Perhaps it was my head bobbing up and down like a duck  in water that caught your attention. Sit, you gestured, and I nervously looked around for a chair to park myself on. I noticed your forehead crease in a frown as you crossed your legs like men do. You leaned back, stretching your hand over your knee and it was then I knew. With downcast eyes, I settled on the floor.

‘What’s your name?’ you asked at the exact moment I opened my mouth to say, ‘I want to be in politics.’

You pretended you hadn’t heard and I knew from then on not to speak unless spoken to. Nobody can say I wasn’t a good learner.

That much, at least, is true.

Yasmin brought tea and as she handed around the cups, you asked me again what my name was.

‘Nazneen Khan,’ I said. ‘But everyone calls me Nazo.’

You smiled and I said, ‘Madam, I am working in Aijaz Sahib’s dry cleaners. You know Aijaz Sahib from Jackson Heights? He sent me to you. He said you help people fleeing the General’s regime. My whole family was murdered in the coup. My father was a doorman at the Parliament. He resisted when they tried to break in. Later the General’s men came to our house and killed everyone. I hid under the bed … survived somehow…’ I could not carry on talking.

You didn’t offer me any condolence. Instead you said, ‘Can you type?’

And that was how it all began.

Bailiff: All rise!

Clerk: Judge Muzzamdar will be presiding over this case. Bailiff: The court is now in session. Please be  seated.

Judge: Good Morning. Calling the case of Mr Omar Bin Omar versus Miss Nazneen Khan on the assassination of former Prime Minister Rani Shah. Are both sides ready?

Prosecutor: Ready for the prosecution, Your Honour. Defending Counsel: Ready for the defence, Your Honour.

Clerk: Your Honour, the plaintiff Mr Omar accuses the defendant of premeditated murder and of espionage against the state. The defendant is represented by the able and veteran lawyer Mr Hamidi while the plaintiff, being a known human rights lawyer, has decided to prosecute the case himself. Given his knowledge of law, and his closeness to the murdered politician, the court requests that his lack of criminal practice be overlooked and Mr Omar be allowed to prosecute.

Judge: Permission granted. Prosecutor Mr Omar and Counsel Mr Hamidi, please present your opening  statements.

Prosecutor: Your Honour, Miss Nazneen Khan, commonly known as Nazo,  has  been  accused  of  conspiring to assassinate the country’s first female Prime Minister, Madam Rani Shah. Although the body was charred in the explosion, new evidence has revealed that her death was not due to the suicide bombing as was previously believed, but by a bullet shot at close range. Almost as if by someone seated right next to her…

Counsel: Objection! Judge: Sustained.

Prosecutor: Very well. Let me start by asking a very simple and straightforward question. Miss Khan must answer why it is that she, who sat right next to Madam Shah at the time of the assassination, managed to escape unscathed, while Madam Shah lost her life. Now, Miss Khan, tell the court who sat where…

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