Over the years, writers from India's Islamic neighbours- Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan- have climbed their way up the Indian best-seller charts with powerful books that blend riveting narratives, socio-political realities, history commentaries, insights into their countries and ways of life.
The ever-growing popularity of Indo-Anglian writing and the publishing boom in India have opened the gates for English writers from the three countries to publish their books in India and also sell them to an Indian audience that is still hooked to the fine print.
“This trend is all about globalisation. India has played a major role helping Pakistani writers come out,” journalist Najam Sethi, the editor of the popular Lahore-based newsweekly The Friday Times, told this writer in the Indian capital.
Like Pakistani musicians, even Paksitani writers are making money in the developing Indian market, Sethi said. “Reading is an important activity of the Indian middeclass and fiction writing in English is popular in India. The local market in Paksitan cannot sustain English writers. Call it the thrid worldf ontology,” said Sethi, who was in the capital to attend the launch of his son Ali Sethi's debut novel, “The Wish Maker”.
The leading lights of this talented clutch of writers from Pakistan, Afghnaistan and bangladesh include writers like Kamila Shamsie, Ali Sethi, Mohammed Hanif, Nadeem Aslam, Danial Moinuddin, Mohsin Hamid, Uzma Aslam Khan, Shahabano Bilgrami, Hanief Kureishi and Tariq Ali, Khaled Hosseini - most of whom have either stayed abroad or have travelled extensively.
Conflicts, trauma and meories of the parition, terrorism, clash of cultures, closed Islamic societies and alienation, are the overriding themes of the novels from the three nations.
According to Pakistani literary writer and essayist Muneeza Shamsie, the first cohesive English novel in Pakistan was written by an expatriate, Zulfikar Ghose in 1967 titled, “The Murder of Aziz Khan”. It was a tragic tale of a Punjabi farmer during Partition.
Since then, writers like Bapsi Sidhwa, Tariq Ali, Hanif Kuerishi and even Tehmina Durrani have carried Pakistani contemporary literature to the sub-continent - and the world.
Novelist Hartosh Singh Bal feels that “since these are the crises spots in the sub-continent, they churn out interesting stories”.
“The society is screwed up and people are caught in extreme situations,” says Bal.
For instance Nadeem Aslam, a Pakistani writer, explores the complexities of war and its aftershocks in his novel, “The Wasted Vigil”. “It was a violent world,” says Aslam, who has been to Afghanistan several times.
Contemprary writers from Pakistan and Afghanistan, says Ali Sethi, are trying to reject the conservatism that has been imposed by a more Wahabi form of Islam in the recent decades.
“Almost all young writers from my region are questioning the socio-political realities, including war and terror,” he says.
Mohammed Hanif, a former Pakistan Airforce officer, probed the mystery surrounding the death of former Pakistan president Zia-ul-Haq in his dark political satire, “Case of the Exploding Mangoes”, while farmer-turned writer Daniyal Mueenuddin, in his his collection of eight short stories, “In Other Rooms, Other Wonders”, delves into the feudal upper class in Paksitan. The book is layered with political subtexts.
Mohsin Hamid's watershed novel, “Moth's Smoke”, is a tale of Lahore banker Darasikoh Shezad, who loses his job and takes to a life of crime and drugs.
“The Wish Maker”, published by Penguin Books-India in July as part of its prestigious Hamish Hamilton launch titles in the sub-continent, represents the coming of age of English writing from the Islamic trio (Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan).
Ali's story is nostalgic. Young Zaki Shirazi, who returns to Pakistan from US to attend his cousin Samar's wedding, walks down memory lane to narrate the tale of his growing up years in the changing socio-cultural and political scenario in Pakistan, weaving in the turbulence of the nation.
In August, Shazia Omar, a young novelist from Bangladesh, will launch her novel, “Like a Diamond In the Sky” - published jointly by Delhi-based publishing house Zubaan and Penguin Books-India.
“Writers in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan are now feeling confident of expressing themselves in English- not in queen's English but in the language that captures the atmosphere of their countries,” Urvashi Butalia, founder of Zubaan, told thsi writer.
“In fact, we have several talented young women writers in English from Bangladesh like Niaz Zaman, Naila Kabeer, Shireen Huq and Firdous Azim, who sell in India,” Butalia said.
Omar's “Like a Diamond In the Sky” is about 21-year-old Deen, who is dismayed by poverty and trapped in negativity. Deen and his companions represent the despair, hopes and aspiration of a generation struggling to survive in the harsh realities of modern Dhaka.
“The world has become a smaller place and better connected. There are many more platforms, leading to more visibility- and the kind of literature coming out of Pakistan, Bangladesh and even Sri Lanka now is outstanding. After all, English binds the language because of our colonial past,” editorial director of Penguin Books India Dia Kar Hazra said, explaining the trend.