x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Rising tide for Indian writers also lifts Pakistani authors

The spectacular rise of Indian literature is making it easier for writers in rival Pakistan to get published, says an award-winning author from the Islamic nation.

ABU DHABI // The spectacular rise of Indian literature is making it easier for writers in rival Pakistan to get published, an award-winning author from the Islamic nation has said. After reading excerpts from her novels Crow Eaters and Cracking India at the Pakistani's ambassador's residence on Thursday evening, Bapsi Sidhwa said: "Certainly, interest in Pakistan has picked up - Indian writing has become so popular and that has made the way for Pakistani writers coming up.

"We also had no publishing houses in Pakistan, which we now have." The 72-year-old author, who now resides in Houston, Texas, has published five novels and a 2006 anthology, City of Sin and Splendour: Writings on Lahore. Cracking India, a New York Times notable book of the year in 1991, was originally published as Ice Candy Man in 1988. Sidhwa said publishers once bluntly asked her why anyone would care about Pakistani literature.

"Being a Pakistani author, I used to get rejection slips from both the West and the East," she said. "Publishers used to ask me, 'Who is interested in Pakistan?'" Sidhwa noted, however, that Pakistan's adult literacy rate remains poor; 2007 statistics from Unicef put the rate at 55 per cent. Literacy, often defined as no more than the ability to write one's name, is as low as three per cent among women in some rural areas. "We are not far behind India in literature but we are far behind in education," said the Parsee writer. "In Urdu, we have a very rich literature but in English we are at a disadvantage because education is lacking."

Among Pakistan's rising talents who write in English are Mohsin Hamed, the author of the New York Times best-seller The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and Daniyal Mueenuddin, the Pakistani-American writer of In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, a critically acclaimed collection of short stories, Sidhwa said. The writer, whose reading was held in conjunction with the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, said she was impressed that the UAE is encouraging reading. "It's marvellous to see that people here are being encouraged to read books," she said.

The gathering was set up by Alizeh Haider, 32, a Pakistani lawyer from Karachi, who has lived in Abu Dhabi for three years. She contacted the embassy and was keen to project a positive image of Pakistan. "I wanted to promote and show to the rest of the world positive things of Pakistan apart from terrorism and violence we so often see portrayed in the media. "There is so much more to Pakistan which does not come through. I wanted to honour the Pakistani talents who have achieved so much in their life."

The ambassador, Khursheed Ahmed Junejo, said he had a mission here in the UAE. "Ever since my arrival in Abu Dhabi I have made efforts to introduce Pakistani arts to the UAE," he said. "This is another step in that direction." @Email:asafdar@thenational.ae