Pakistan Takes a Turn at Global Literature

Pakistan Takes a Turn at Global Literature

Granta commissioned the cover for its Pakistan issue (autumn 2010) from Islam Gull, a truck and bus painter in Karachi.

The London-based literary magazine Granta has dedicated an issue to the writing and art of Pakistan. At a recent campus event, Granta editor John Freeman and CISA faculty members agree that this is no isolated event.

They are now part of global fiction, in a way that nobody, especially Urdu writers, have ever been and perhaps ever will be.

Although its print circulation is modest, about 55,000, the London-based quarterly Granta wields the prestige needed to introduce and promote national literatures to increasingly global reading audiences, in English and English translation. Sometimes, as in Granta "place issues" dedicated over the years to India, Russia, Germany, Australia and, this fall, Pakistan, the editorial selections may help to define what a current national literature consists of or, in other words, to make a canon.

"This is both the worry and the opportunity of it," said Granta editor John Freeman at an Oct. 29 speaking event organized by the UCLA Center for India and South Asia. UCLA Associate Professor of Comparative Literature Aamir Mufti and Professor of History Sanjay Subrahmanyam, director of CISA, joined Freeman in a panel discussion.

The writers of fiction, memoir, poetry, essays and reportage who represent Pakistani literature for the issue produce their work in Urdu, English or some other of the country's 70 languages. They are living and departed, men and women, urbanites and exiles, and they don't write only for Pakistanis. Mufti pointed out that Mohsin Hamid and Mohammed Hanif, for example, are "hugely popular" in India, and that the late Saadat Hasan Manto and "great" Intizar Hussain have established worldwide reputations.

According to Mufti, Pakistani arts today are receiving a new kind of attention from the West, and the literary artists are responding with self-consciously made Pakistani – as opposed to "Urdu," "Muslim," "South Asian" or some other – literature.

"They are now part of global fiction, in a way that nobody, especially Urdu writers, have ever been and perhaps ever will be," Mufti said.

Why now? Freeman said Granta's place- and diaspora-oriented issues emerge at the "collision between interesting writing and interesting times." He noted, however, that an issue on Pakistan might have appeared any time in the last three decades or so.

Because the magazine waited this long, "Granta 112: Pakistan" appears in print and web editions with some overlapping content. Among the web exclusives are four satirical pieces on "How to write about Pakistan," which stress the centrality of mangos and such verities as, "Pakistan is just like India, except when it’s just like Afghanistan."

To read the web edition of Granta 112 and to order a copy in print, visit Granta online.

Published: Tuesday, November 02, 2010