Book Review: Granta Pakistan.

Published Us Magazine, The News International. June 14, 2011.

       G112 cover-1

      Granta, which aptly calls itself ‘the magazine of new writing’ is an Italy based quarterly publication; also published from the United States and United Kingdom. Its 112th edition, that hit the stores in Autumn, last year, came as a special issue focusing entirely on Pakistan. The moment you hold this issue in your hands, you are assured of its magnificence. To start with, the cover is superb to say the least; adorned lusciously with the world-famous truck-art of Pakistan. Designed by Karachi’s bus artist Islam Gull, it in a way gives out on the contents of the books; establishing a picture of Pakistan from diverse angles; beautiful and ugly, traditional and modern, inspirational and disgusting. The book boasts of about fifteen short stories and narrations besides three poems. Moreover, the pages dedicated to Pakistan’s photography and fine arts are an added bonus. The best among the English writers of Pakistan collaborate in this writing magnum opus; including the likes of Fatima Bhutto, Nadeem Aslam, Mohammed Hanif, Kamila Shamsie and Basharat Peer.

Each story, unique in its own way, highlights a particular segment of the country, its culture and society. Though most end up catering to the elites and their concerns, there are exceptions. The writings are, at the same time, informative, enlightening, and to an extent, painful. Each of the poems, written by Yasmeen Hameed, Daniyaal Mueenuddin and Hasina Gul has its own flavour and mood. But essentially, it is the stories that Granta Pakistan is all about.

Nadeem Aslam’s ‘Leila in the Wilderness’ that appears first, is a modern-day adaptation of the legendary lovers: Leila and Majnoo. ‘Portrait of Jinnah’ is an instructive piece by Jane Perlez that discusses some attributes of the founder not commonly considered in the Pakistani society. Then comes Basharat Peer with his touching, agonizing account of the Indian-occupied Kashmir in ‘Kashmir’s Forever War’. ‘Ice, Mating’ by Uzma Aslam Khan is captivating, and so is the report of Intizar Hussain on General Zia’s regime in ‘The House by the Gallows’. ‘Butt and Bhatti’ by Mohammed Hanif is a simple and not a very worthy read. Declan Walsh writes about the troubled western borders of Pakistan in ‘Arithmetic on the Frontier, and he does quite well. ‘A Beheading’ by Mohsin Hamid intends to portray the perilous consequences of discussing religion in Pakistan. Kamila Shamsie sketches a well-balanced, multi-dimensional image of the pop culture of Pakistan in ‘Pop Idols’. Two pieces, ‘Restless’ and ‘White Girls’ by Aamer Hussein and Sarfaraz Manzoor respectively don’t hold much appeal, but are worth a read nonetheless. Fatima Bhutto arrives with a bang in ‘Mangho Pir’. She discussed the Sheedi Community of Karachi, their tribulations and aspirations, and her writing, meticulous as always, is a treat to read. Lorraine Adams, in collaboration with Ayesha Nasir, brings the trial of Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani citizen indicted on planning a car-bomb in the States, under scrutiny. ‘The Sins of the Mother’ by Jamil Ahmad is based on the tribal culture.

Granta Pakistan is not depressing, nor is overtly optimistic. As they say there are three sides to a story; yours, mine and the truth. Granta does its most to cling to the truth. Most of the times, it succeeds; but at times it tends to fall prey to the stereotypes. However, the balance is never forlorn completely. Priced at about Rs, 1400, it makes every penny worth buying it. All the stories tell us more about Pakistan. In some, even such things are mulled over that we, despite living in Pakistan, either don’t know about or don’t care about. But we should. And for this, Granta Pakistan is a must read.

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