February 4, 2009 / 7:28 AM / 10 years ago

Sense of urgency drives young Pakistani writers

MUMBAI (Reuters Life!) - Pakistan’s struggle against Islamist militants is making life more hazardous, but it is also urging young Pakistani writers to tell their stories quickly, as well as helping to pitch them into the literary spotlight faster.

As the security situation in Pakistan falters and its battle against al Qaeda and the Taliban continues, writers including Kamila Shamsie, Nadeem Aslam, Mohammed Hanif and Daniyal Mueenuddin have all burst onto the literary scene, lauded by critics and lapped up by readers.

That is, in some part, because Pakistan is in the headlines so much these days, said Mueenuddin, whose debut collection of short stories has been compared to Anton Chekhov’s writings.

“We’ve had very good writers in Pakistan for some years, but there is greater interest now,” said Mueenuddin, who worked as a lawyer in New York for several years before he moved to a farm in southern Punjab province and began writing.

“Pakistan’s in the news a lot, so people are curious. I’m sure there are some great writers in Latvia, but who’s heard of them?” he said at a literary festival in the Indian city of Jaipur recently.

The situation in Pakistan, which is struggling to stem growing insurgency by al Qaeda and Taliban militants, is deteriorating so quickly, it helps focus attention on the country, said Mueenuddin, who left Pakistan aged 13.

“It’s a tremendously tense time, it’s almost like a war zone. That forces you to look more closely at yourself, and at places.”

“It’s a sort of premature nostalgia; I feel I should write about these places before they disappear completely,” he said.

Also, writers in the country had a harder time even 20 years ago when they lived in fear of persecution, said Aslam, who also left Pakistan as a young teenager and has lived in England since.

“Hanif’s book could not have come out at the time in which it is set,” he said, referring to acclaimed novel “A Case of the Exploding Mangoes,” a darkly comic account of former president Zia-ul-Haq’s death in an air crash in 1988.

Hanif, who quit the Pakistan Air Force Academy to become a journalist, recently moved back to Pakistan after living in England for more than a decade. But even those who live abroad feel a “sense of urgency” to record events and places before they change, said Aslam, who visits Pakistan every year.

“That’s why, in “The Wasted Vigil” you get a sense the writer is writing like his quill’s on fire,” he said, referring to his most recent novel, set in modern Afghanistan.

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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