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Book of the week

As Pakistani writing in English takes roots, a literary magazine attempts to spot and reward new talent.

books Updated: Feb 19, 2011 09:05 IST

The Life’s Too Short Literary Review 01

Hachette

New English fiction from the Indian subcontinent has been a source of mainstream literary curiosity for a while now. While India initially dominated the literary scene, Sri Lanka (Michael Ondaatje and Romesh Gunesekera), Bangladesh (Monica Ali, Adib Khan and Tahmina Anam), Nepal (Manjushree Thapa and Samrat Upadhyay) have equally been in the fray.

Of late, Pakistani fiction, too, has been grabbing headlines. Recently, Granta came up with an excellent special issue on Pakistan. The inaugural DSC South Asian Literature Prize went to HM Naqvi for his novel Home Boy. Authors like Mohammed Hanif, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Mohsin Hamid, Kamila Shamsie, Ali Sethi, Basharat Peer, Mirza Waheed — not to mention stalwarts like Bapsi Sidhwa, Sara Suleri, Hanif Kureishi, Aamer Hussein and others who set a strong foundation.

There has also been a resurgence in literary magazines — both print and online — in South Asia. The roster of established names/journals still appear with non-formal regularity — Indian Literature, Atlas, The Little Magazine, Almost Island, Civil Lines, Third Text, Commonwealth Journal, Pratilipi, Muse India, Kritya, Pyrta, Asia Writes and others. Magazines like Gallerie, Caravan and Himal (Nepal), too, have significant literary content.

The newest, and the one that gets the nod for the most original title, The Life’s Too Short Literary Review 01, was brought out last year by Siren Publications in Pakistan, and Hachette India has brought it out in an attractive B-format paperback edition, including an eight-page folio of word-struck art-photography in colour, titled Sign Your Name Across My Heart by Attiq Uddin Ahmed. The birth of The Life’s Too Short... “came about as an exercise in curiosity” according to its two editors, Fazia S Khan and Aysha Raja. “While Pakistani fiction in English comes into its own ... precious little is being done within the country to encourage or promote, or that matter, discover new talent,” they say. With this in mind, the first Life’s Too Short Short Story Prize (with a 1 lakh Pakistani rupees prize tag) was launched in Karachi last year. The shortlist from the 800 entries forms the core of this magazine.

Lucky People by Sadaf Halai bagged the top honours, the two runners-up being Aziz A Sheikh for Six Fingered Man and Rayika Choudri for Settling Affairs. The best stories are not those that try to portray “the mythical Real Pakistan” but those that are small, close and intimate. ‘Notes from the Reluctant Fundamentalist’, a facsimile reproduced in Mohsin Hamid’s hand adds a sense of immediacy to Jannisary Love, Annotated, a beguiling note on the politico-literary idea of the definition of a noun in its widest sense. There is an exclusive extract from the forthcoming Rabbit Rat, arguably Pakistan’s first graphic novel. The text by Musharraf Ali Farooqi and the drawings by Michelle Farooqi delight with its mixture of science fiction, fable, and political and socio-cultural comment.

Challawa, a genre of popular ‘pulp’ fiction published locally gets a fresh literary treatment with an English translation by Mohammed Hanif, the author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes. The Life’s Too Short Literary Review is bold, sassy, intelligent and cutting-edge — a lot for a debut enterprise. It is worth noticing, and one hopes that the magazine’s life span is not as ironic as its cleverly worded subaltern title.

Sudeep Sen is editor of Atlas and the forthcoming The HarperColllins Book of English Poetry by Indians