The new wave

Pakistan’s most promising, up-coming writers in one book

By Huma Imtiaz

 

The Life’s Too Short Literary Review 01

The Magazine of New Writing from

Pakistan

Publisher: Siren Publications

Pages: 114

Price: PKR 395

Sponsored by the Zohra and ZZ Ahmed Foundation, and published in collaboration with the British Council, the Life’s Too Short Literary Review is a far more pleasurable read than the words, “literary review” and ”in collaboration with the British Council” might suggest. A medley of writings with a photo essay, a handwritten note and an excerpt of a graphic novel thrown in, the greater part of this journal is made up of short stories that won the Life’s Too Short short story competition held earlier this year, judged by authors Daniyal Mueenuddin, Kamila Shamsie and Mohammed Hanif.

The winner of the competition was Sadaf Halai’s Lucky People, with Aziz A Sheikh’s The Six-Fingered Man and Rayika Choudri’s Settling Affairs in second and third place. In Lucky People, a housewife is perplexed by the lifestyle of her new tenants, members of Pakistan’s media-boom middle class. Halai’s greatest skill lies in her subtlety. Class conflict and stories of modernity encountering traditionalism always run the risk of sounding hackneyed as so many writers have taken on these themes, and often quite badly. Halai’s voice is refreshing in its simplicity and emotional intelligence and is worthy of the first place award.

That said, Aziz A. Sheikh, with his poignant tale The Six-Fingered Man, is the author to watch out for. His story of two young boys idling away their days in games and adventures while growing up in war-torn Kashmir is an exceptionally accomplished story from a new writer and reminds one of the struggle that children must go through daily in the valley; trying to find new adventures while being ever aware of the bombs, gunfire and violence. One hopes Sheikh is working on a novel as he clearly deserves a large readership.

The themes in the anthology range from birth, death, a doll’s wedding, trouble with the domestics, callous boyfriends, a romance with an exploding bomb as the backdrop, the vanity of old age, and people considered Pakistan experts abroad. Written for a local audience, Orientalist exotica, or as author H.M Naqvi once described it, the waft of tamarind, is conspicuous by its absence in the review and this sets apart the anthology from much of the writing one comes across in the Subcontinent.

But while most of the authors have managed to succeed in bringing a new touch to old themes, it is unfortunate that the anthology chose to end with its weakest story, Bina Shah’s Not Another Voice, which feels dated and attempts to disseminate information where it should instead have aimed to create more convincing characters. Ms. Shah, less religion, more work on developing the plot.

The photo essay, Sign Your Name Across My Heart by Attiq Uddin Ahmed, shows up some of Pakistan’s lesser-known wonders, highlighting the absurd and hilarious sights one comes across in Pakistan. For literary junkies, there is a page from author Mohsin Hamid’s notebook, featuring a page charting out the course of what became The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Author Musharraf Ali Farooqui takes a break from translating of Urdu fantasy novels and is featured here penning the words for Rabbit Rap, an upcoming graphic novel.

And for those that like their fiction with a dose of masala, a must-read is the excerpt from Sabiha Bano’s Challawa, a long-running story from the world of Urdu digests. Translated from Urdu to English by author Mohammed Hanif. Racy and amusing, Challawa makes for a rollicking read and is sure to create a buzz amongst those who are unaware of the original.

Although one does not wish to be overly critical of a brave effort by the publishers, one wonders about the lack of poetry or non-fiction in the anthology, and hopes that the second issue will see more from these two important genres of literature.

Edited by columnist Faiza S. Khan and published by Aysha Raja, the owner of the Last Word chain of bookstores who together run their publishing house Siren Publications, the first issue of The Life’s Too Short Literary Review impresses with its design, and serves as a reminder that there are many talented authors in the country, waiting to be discovered and now there is a place for that to happen.

It is also heartening to learn from the publishers that the next Life’s Too Short short story prize is not a one-time effort and that this year’s prize is open for entries again, with Mohsin Hamid coming on as judge and two more to be confirmed in the weeks to come.

The Life’s Too Short Literary Review 01 is available at The Last Word in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. Entries for the next competition can be sent to lifestooshortprize@gmail.com

Huma Imtiaz works as a journalist in Pakistan and can be reached at huma.imtiaz@gmail.com

http://jang.com.pk/thenews/aug2010-weekly/nos-29-08-2010/lit.htm#2

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