The death of the short story has long been reported, but it simply refuses to die. And this is hardly surprising. From time immemorial, we remember bedtime stories as our mothers and grandmothers tucked us into our beds. Scherezade saved her life and won the heart of a king with her storytelling.
Pakistani authors have recently been making their mark in this genre. An entire edition of the Granta magazine has been dedicated to Pakistan. Founded in 1889 by students at Cambridge University, Granta has a long and distinguished history, publishing early work of many writers including A. A. Milne, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. The Observer once wrote of Granta, “In its blend of memoirs and photojournalism, and in its championing of contemporary realist fiction, Granta has its face firmly pressed against the window, determined to witness the world.”
With contributions by Daniyaal Mueenudin, Ali Sethi, Mohsin Hamid, Kamila Shamsi, Nadeem Aslam, Mohammed Hanif, Declan Walsh, Jane Perlez and Ayesha Jatoi, amongst others, the publication is a mix of memoirs, poems, fiction, and “reportage”, striving to showcase nuances and complexities of Pakistan, a country so misunderstood.
With the political turmoil that this country is immersed in, there is certainly plenty to write about here. The arts and fiction is also flourishing, inspired by the upheaval and events, needing a creative form of expression where the electronic media dominates.
This year heralded the year of Pakistani authors and in its most recent publication, Kinglake Publishers sought to publish the 10 best stories from the submissions they received in a compilation entitled, Ten Modern Short Stories 2010. The submissions poured in from entrants spanning nations worldwide and they finally chose stories by authors from Pakistan, UK, USA, Australia, South Africa and India. The stories in the book reveal different styles of authors and their short stories.
Kadir writes the best short story in the book,“Two is an Odd Number”, of a couple who have a chance encounter on a commercial flight, and how their relationship and lives progress; a marriage; adjusting to different lifestyles and then a divorce. It isn’t till after the divorce that each realises how deeply involved they are with the other. Kadir writes in a style that is economical and clipped, to the point, and has its own unique flavour. Though Kadir doesn’t waste words being overly descriptive, his story is emotionally poignant and touching.
I also enjoyed reading “The Blanket”, a story by a South African author. The story resonated with the chilling undertones of apartheid. The author writes with her memories as a child when she first saw the horrors of the way the blacks were treated so differently, and with it, she developed a deep-rooted guilt.
“Special Treatment” by Mark Swain was racy and amusing and written in a style that was quite colloquial and chatty, almost like pub gossip.
The book was a good read, and it is certainly gratifying to see Pakistani writers emerging at the top of global literary publications where competition is so fierce.
I also had the opportunity to read and review Life’s Too Short; another book published by encouraging writers to submit. The winning story is “Lucky People” by Sadaf Halai, about a married couple who rent a portion of their home out to pay their bills and are faced with a young couple and the divides of the generation gap. The story that won my heart was “To Live” by Bilal Tanweer. The story of a young boy sneaking out of his house to meet a young girl and the problems he faces in a terrorism-torn country. My favourite author, Mohammad Hanif translates an extract from a shockingly explicit women’s journal: I never knew such stuff existed! Bina Shah writes a sad story, Mehreen Ajaz writes a story without cultural boundaries.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Life’s Too Short and it gave me pride because all the authors are emerging Pakistani talent chosen from amongst 800 contributors.
If you’re an art lover, then get your hands on the first edition of The Sohbet Journal of Contemporary Arts and Culture. In the inaugural issue, Atteqa Ali and Ayesha Jatoi have presented a journal in collaboration with the National College of Arts (NCA), the premier art school in the country, comprising critical essays, artists’ projects, contributions by curators, and interviews. It is a visual treat. This issue also has a conversation with Salima Hashmi on NCA.