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Pakistani fiction a hit in India

Two new books by London-based Aamer Hussein - Insomnia and Another Gulmohar Tree, have added to the list of contemporary Pakistani fictions that flooded the Indian market over the past two years.

books Updated: Jan 04, 2010 14:39 IST

Another Gulmohar TreeA new genre of fiction from Pakistan with an India connection and global outlook is finding an increasing market among young readers in the country.

They are racy, contemporary and reflect an era when the well-heeled in the towns of Pakistan were opening their door to the west.

Two new books by London-based Aamer Hussein - Insomnia and Another Gulmohar Tree, published by Penguin Books India have added to the list of contemporary Pakistani fictions that flooded the Indian market over the past two years.

While one is an anthology of Hussein's short stories collated from various magazines in which they were published across Pakistan, the other is a novella about a crossover romance between a Pakistani journalist and British expatriate artist and life in nouveau Karachi.

Insomnia, which shuttles between Pakistan, New Delhi and Europe through its stories, says Hussein, "brought him closer to intellectual life of the Muslims during Partition and thereafter when sub-continental literature travelled to Europe" and experimented with styles.

Hussein, who was born in Karachi in 1955, moved to London in 1970.

"The theme of contemporary literature from Pakistan and Afghanistan being published in India is globalisation. The stories span continents. Primarily, the limited size of the fiction market in Pakistan has forced young authors to look to India and the West," novelist Hartosh Singh Bal said.

Concurred Delhi-based writer Omair Ahmed. "India still has a huge market for sub-continental fiction which is encouraging publishing houses to bring out works of fictions by authors from the sub-continent," said the author of the widely acclaimed Storyteller's Tale.

The trend, said Pakistani writer Ali Sethi, "started at the onset of the decade when Pakistani writers settled abroad started writing about home". Sethi's The Wish-Maker, a story of an Oxford-educated young man's homecoming to Pakistan was one of the biggest titles in India in 2009.

The new books, felt Pakistani writer and critic Kamila Shamshie, were "taut, yet lush," drawing from a whole gamut of Urdu literary genres like poetry, oral story-telling traditions, fables, romances and writings triggered by the turbulent politics of the country.

About Hussein's Another Gulmohar Tree, Shamsie said: "The strength of the work lay in Hussein's remarkable skills of story-telling."

According to critics, this emerging trend of tight narratives from authors in Pakistan has helped their books find a market among the young Muslims in India.

"Writers in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan now feel confident of expressing themselves in English because of the changing pattern of their education. Most of them are educated in the West," said Urvashi Butalia, founder of the publishing house Zubaan.

For the young Muslim readers in India, this new body of books is a window into the unknown and the thousand-year-old Islamic cultural heritage.

"The Anglican-Pakistani fictions give us valuable insights into life in Pakistan in the aftermath of Partition, ancient literary traditions, the globalisation era and the impact of terrorism on Muslim youth across the world," said Saabir Ahmed, a student at Jamia Millia Islamia university.

One of the important fictional titles this year, HarperCollins-India's Home Boy by H.M. Naqvi, is a global novel that explores the anguish of Pakistani youth post-9/11 in New York.

Set in Manhattan just after September 11, 2001, the book follows three bright, college-going Pakistani men - AC, Jimbo and Chuck. Before 9/11, the trio see themselves as "boulevardiers, raconteurs and renaissance men". But after 9/11 everything changes. They watch CNN all day, feeling "anxious and low, and getting cabin fever".

The book, say critics in the US, rakes up fears of the social quarantine and the walls that terrorism has imposed on Muslim youth across the world.

"I think the rifts that existed in the societies have sharpened. But it is a lot more visible in the Muslim world that witnesses more violence and bloodshed," said award winning Pakistani writer Mohammed Hanif, explaining the situation.