When i was a young girl at school, literature and books were probably my two most favourite things. Reading has always been the most calming and yet simultaneously invigorating experience in my life, and yet not everyone can relate to my experience.
A recent survey by the Gallup and Gillani Foundation, a whopping 75% of Pakistanis are not reading books at all with the statistics for students even more alarming. As per the survey, 3 out of 4 students have never read a book apart from school/university curriculum. That’s crazy!
With legendary authors and poets such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ibn e Insha, Khadija Mastoor, Ashfaq Ahmed and many more, the debate that Pakistani authors have nothing to offer is just plain wrong!
Especially since we have a very unique and rich history of countless works of contemporary sources of literature just from our part of the world and not to mention overseas Pakistani writers such as Mohammad Hanif and Bapsi Sidhwa who are still writing from their own unique perspective.
And while it is understood that being exposed to great literary works from around the world is equally as important, this may be one of the reasons why 75 percent of the population is unable to relate fully to these author’s experiences and stories. I mean, i absolutely love Shakespeare and all his works, but isn’t it just as important for young Pakistani minds to become acquainted with stories that mirror their own? Written by voices that echo their own?
We talk about how representation matters, about how children aspire to achieve their dreams because they saw someone who looked like them actually living the same dream so why not promote our own wonderful literature and inculcate the idea that anything really is possible!
That being said, these are the five books i wish were offered in my school’s curriculum when i was a kid struggling to find my own voice and sense of identity in the world.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
You may be more familiar with the film adaptation that catapulted Riz Ahmed to fame, but yes the inspiration comes from Mohsin Hamid’s book of the same name that chronicles the life of a Pakistani man named Changez Khan who aims to makes it big in America till 9/11 strikes and Islamophobia changes his whole life and his relationship with his own religion. The book is a serious and wonderful take on issues related to post 9/11 America.
My Feudal Lord
Tehmina Durrani’s tale of her problematic marriage with political leader, Ghulam Mustafa Khar in her autobiography titled My Feudal Lord forever changed the way we viewed the feudal life when she penned down the conventional and patriarchal rules that seemed to apply only to women. Her life and her struggles as a Pakistani woman in a political family is both riveting and heart breaking.
A Case Of Exploding Mangoes
Mohammad Hanif might just be one of my personal favourite Pakistani authors due to this brilliant and comic take on such serious aspects of our history. A Case Of Exploding Mangoes is not only a comic novel which follows the story of the plane crash that killed Pakistan’s former Prime minister, General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq but is also the book that won Hanif the Best First Book Award in the Commonwealth Book Prize.
The Diary Of A Social Butterfly
This comic book by Moni Nohsin tells the tale of a young upper class socialite who never has to worry about anything beyond what to wear at the next hottest get together in the elite scene of Lahore. The reader is astounded by her naivety as she is remains oblivious to the serious political and socioeconomic conditions of Pakistan and this butterfly’s story serves as a rude awakening to the upper class delusions and privilege.
In Other Rooms, Other wonders
This series of short stories by Daniyal Mueenudin deal with the issues and problems of Pakistan’s class system by giving the reader insight via the stories of different characters where those at the lower rungs are discriminated against and don’t seem to have luck on their side. The 8 stories are linked and yet each is so vastly different from the other and include pieces sch as Nawabdin Electrician, Saleema and A Spoiled Man among others.