By Saket Suman
New Delhi– At a time when diplomatic exchanges between India and Pakistan are at a standstill and cultural initiatives across the border have taken a backseat, the literary space has become the avenue for exchange of ideas, thoughts and perspectives between the two rival nations separated at birth.
Indian publishers have long been eyeing Pakistani literature as they say there is “a great curiosity” among Indian readers to know more about the life in the neighbouring country. But the interest they evoked among publishers this year is unprecedented and, perhaps, unparalleled in recent memory.
The most explosive book to come was a collaboration between two spymasters who shared the most vicious of all relations — a former chief of India’s RAW Amarjit Singh Dulat and the other of Pakistan’s ISI Asad Durrani; but their coming together in “Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace” highlighted that “all hope is not lost” as far as subcontinental relations are concerned.
Just this month, Reham Khan, who was married to Pakistan’s Prime Minister-in-waiting Imran Khan, came out with her memoir, and, what’s more, it is selling faster in India than in Pakistan. Following the success of “Spy Chronicles”, Durrani released another book titled “Pakistan Adrift: Navigating Troubled Waters” this month.
But it is not only political and hard-hitting books by Pakistani authors that are finding a good number of takers in India. In fact, several literary novels and books related to Pakistani culture have done well in the market, and often sell more than those by their Indian counterparts.
The country’s leading cultural critic Nadeem F. Paracha’s “Points of Entry”, for instance, talked about a Pakistan beyond the usual and sought to provide its readers with the cultural trajectories of modern-day Pakistan. The book, published by Westland, was welcomed with rave reviews in India.
And then there was “The Sensational Life and Death of Qandeel Baloch” by Sanam Maher and “Do We Not Bleed? Reflections of a 21st Century Pakistani” by Mehr Tarar, both released this year by New Delhi-based Aleph Book Company.
“Diplomacy and sports aside, culturally we’re very much the same subcontinent. Any apprehension about how a book about a Pakistani social-media celebrity would fare in India was quickly dispelled within the first month of Sanam’s book coming out,” Simar Puneet, Executive Commissioning Editor at Aleph, told IANS.
She pointed out that it has been received warmly in both countries and has become “a trend of its own” on social media.
“Its success may be in part due to our curiosity for stories from across the border (and vice versa), but I think, at the end of the day, owes largely to the quality of writing. A brilliant, compellingly written book will outlast its time and be read everywhere . Both these recent books by Pakistani authors have done very well in the market and been favorably reviewed,” she said.
These are joined by a wide range of scholarly and well-researched offerings such as “Guardians of God: Inside the Religious Mind of the Pakistani Taliban” by Mona Kanwal Sheikh and “Intimate Class Acts: Friendship and Desire in Indian and Pakistani Women’s Fiction” by Maryam Mirza.
Other significant books by Pakistani authors that attracted a good number of Indian readers include “This House of Clay and Water”, a novel set in Lahore exploring the lives of two women, by Faiqa Mansab; and “Austenistan”, inspired by Jane Austen and set in contemporary Pakistan, by Laaleen Sukhera.
Notably, the publication of books by Pakistani writers had seen a sudden drop in the wake of an ink attack on Sudheendra Kulkarni in October 2015 at the launch of former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri’s book “Neither a Hawk nor a Dove: An Insider’s Account of Pakistan’s Foreign Policy” in Mumbai.
What followed was an undeclared ban on Pakistani artistes as publishers, organisers and filmmakers seemed reluctant to collaborate with them.
This saga was put to rest, at least in the literary space, in February last year when the Karachi Literature Festival saw the Indian government’s flagship cultural body, Indian Council for Cultural Relations’ (ICCR), as one of its sponsors. When a controversy erupted, ICCR clarified that it had only sponsored the travel of some Indian authors to the festival.
But the initiative by ICCR, which promotes the country’s relations with the external world “by executing the foreign ministry’s projects abroad”, sent signals of a temporary thaw in the literary space.
“I regard it as a friendly and progressive initiative by ICCR and appreciate their support for literary and cultural events. It is precisely because there are some differences between our two countries that such festivals and support of them are necessary,” Ameena Saiyid, Founder and Director of the Karachi Literature Festival told IANS. (IANS)