Why writers from Pakistan are looking to publish in India

Published on 9 October on Scroll.in

Indian publishers are readying to bring out a host of books by writers from across the border.


That India and Pakistan share cultural similarities is not new. What is new, perhaps, is the fact that an increasing number of writers and translators from Pakistan are finding respite and respect with publishers here in India.

It began as a stream with well-known journalists and authors like Raza Rumi, Bilal Tanweer, Saba Imtiaz, Bina Shah, and Musharraf Ali Farooqi, among others, all of them publishing with Indian publishers. Now, the stream has almost become a flood.

A multitude of factors contributes to this increasing number. While some feel Indian publishers understand the nuances of their themes better, others blame the political history (or the lack of it) of Pakistan that has consistently and systematically destroyed the literary culture of the country by not investing in public libraries and shutting down independent presses.

Add to that the emergence of literary agencies in India who are matching Pakistani writers with Indian publishers, and the momentum is evident. Kanishka Gupta of Writers Side alone represents more than 22 Pakistani authors, almost a third of whom were added in the past 12 months.

New books in the offing

Lahore-based social scientist, book critic, and translator Raza Naeem has clinched a three-book deal with Speaking Tiger (to be published in 2017, 2018, 2019).They are all translations: a novella and a collection of long short stories by Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi, and a novella by Abdullah Hussein. Both Qasmi and Hussein are regarded as giants of 20th century Urdu literature, who are woefully – and shockingly – under-translated.

Haroon Khalid’s third book, Walking with Nanak, is slated for a November 2016 release with Westland. The book describes Khalid’s travels across the length and breadth of Pakistan as he visits the many gurdwaras and other locales associated with Guru Nanak, delving into their history and musing about their place and significance in a Muslim country.

Pakistani columnist Mehr Tarar too has found herself an Indian publisher. Her book, Many Malalas: Ordinary People Fighting for Change in Pakistanwill be published by Aleph sometime in 2017.

Two of Sabyn Javeri’s novels – Nobody Killed Her and Hijabistan ­– are slated for a 2017 release from HarperCollins India’s literary imprint Fourth Estate. While the first is a literary political thriller centred on the assassination of a female politician, the latter is a collection of interlinked short stories exploring the world behind the veil. Then there’s Faiqa Mansad whose debut novel This House of Clay and Water is going to be published by Penguin.

“Publishing in Pakistan is a pretty slipshod business”

Ali Madeeh Hashmi, the grandson of Faiz Ahmad Faiz and the author ofLove and Revolution: Faiz Ahmed Faiz – The Authorized Biography (Rupa, March 2016) recounts his experience dealing with a Pakistani publisher: “Except for one or two (Oxford University Press for one, although they have their own issues), publishing in Pakistan is a pretty slipshod business. The way it works is that you write something (book, poetry, whatever), then go around looking for publishers, begging them to publish it. If one of them does decide to take a chance on you, forget about anything like a contract or money. You’d be lucky if you don’t have to pay them to publish your work. They make the author do all the work – including proof-reading, editing, even composing the manuscript and the cover – and then sell it to make money off it. The author will never see a penny unless you are a big name like Mustansar Hussain Tarar or Amjad Islam Amjad in Lahore. And if you are a first time author with no connections, it’s quite possible that your manuscript will be stolen and published under someone else’s name. You will have no legal recourse since there is no written contract. So, it’s a pretty depressing landscape for authors with little or no incentive to publish locally. We (Faiz Foundation) dug up Faiz’s translations of Iqbal’s Persian poetry from 1977, a rare treasure. I had the whole manuscript re-composed, proof-read and prepared and then we had to pay a local publisher Rs 1 lakh to publish it! It has sold really well of course but we haven’t seen a penny of the royalties.”

No country for picture books and baseless rejections

Karachi-based Ayesha Tariq, author of Sarah: The Suppressed Anger of the Pakistani Obedient Daughter (Penguin India, 2015) met with many difficulties when she approached publishers back home. “Most books published here are textual and coffee table books require the author to be well-connected (to be able to generate sales). My book required full page printing, which makes it expensive. Secondly, people usually avoid touching upon risky topics to avoid negative results. Since our publishing industry is young, the book to print may not have been financially viable for a lot of publishers.”

Similarly, Haroon Khalid’s first book, A White Trail: Minorities in Pakistan(Westland, 2013) came to be published in India only after an initial and complicated rejection. “I was in talks with a major Pakistani publisher forA White Trail and, as is the convention, I sent them a sample chapter and synopsis. Usually publishers either sign a deal after looking at the initial proposal or reject it, but since I was a first-time author I was asked to submit the whole manuscript. I was told that the manuscript was being vetted internally and would be sent to external experts for feedback. Later, they asked for my resumé. I think that’s where things didn’t work out. After almost a year of reading and re-reading they finally rejected the book without any explanations.”

Khalid doesn’t want to name the publishers, but mentions that they prioritise academic books and even though his book was academically solid and significant, he has been unable to put a finger on why things didn’t work out.

Role less taken

Published on 6 June, 2015 in BLink – The Hindu Business Line

Actor Shilpa Shukla chose to pave her way into film industry with less-known, but critically acclaimed productions

Domestic distress: Shilpa Shukla plays the troubled homemaker in the black-comedy

Domestic distress: Shilpa Shukla plays the troubled homemaker in the black-comedy

Actor Shilpa Shukla’s choice of films has been unusual. When others preferred to play safe by debuting with a famous director or a superstar co-actor, Shukla chose to pave her way into the industry with the less-known, albeit critically acclaimed Khamosh Pani in 2003. She played the love interest of a teenage boy in Pakistan at a time of Islamisation under Zia-ul-Haq and a swirling political crisis harking back to the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan. The film won several international awards, including three major awards at the 56th Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland.

Back home in India, however, the film floundered at the box-office against the more popular Veer Zaara with its star cast. Luckily though, an able section of B-town was quick to notice Shukla’s flair for acting. She is now best remembered for her role in the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Chak De India as the stubborn Bindiya Naik. She followed that up with BA Pass, a neo noir which, like Khamosh Pani, didn’t make a mark at the box-office but proved a game-changer for her; the film bagged the Audience Choice Award at the South Asian Alternative Film Festival (SAAFF) in France and the Best Film in Indian Competition at the 12th Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival.

Shukla now returns to theatre after a gap of 12 years with A Woman Alone, a black-comedy originally written by Italian political activists and theatre-makers Dario Fo and Franca Rame. Produced by the Renaisstance Theatre Society and directed by Mohit Tripathi, the play is essentially a monologue by a housewife about her many woes — she is held a prisoner at home by her husband, driven to madness by his abuses and so-called possessive love, and tired of the household chores and her brother’s perverted gaze. Just when things are about to get worse, a young boy enters the scene. Sparks fly and a love affair begins. The play is also scheduled to travel to the Jaipur Theatre Festival in October.

Over email, Shukla shares her experiences from the world of theatre and films, and the choices she made purely on instinct. Edited excerpts.

What made you return to stage after so long?

I was performing  Girish Karnad’s Yayati when I fell on the stage thrice during a dance performance. That was 12 years ago. That day I did not go for the curtain call. The play was staged in Chandigarh and I remember Dolly Ahluwalia was in the audience. I guess I was fighting that fear for so long. Today, I can laugh about the incident. That is what life is about. Falling and getting up till the time the ups and downs do not define who you are.

Later in life, I participated in the dance show Jhalak Dikhla Jaa and was the top scorer; I also made it to the top five. I love a live audience; they have no idea what they give me when they look into my eyes.

Did you deliberately choose to work in films that aren’t run-of-the-mill?

I have to love the work I do. All the films I’ve done have been conscious choices, which I’m extremely happy with. This year, for example, I attempted the comic genre with Crazy Ccukkad Family, a film by Prakash Jha Productions, which unfortunately bombed at the box-office. But I love that film and hope the audience soon gets to watch it on television. I feel the movies choose me, so maybe it’s not a deliberate choice after all; it’s destined.

What is your take on A Woman Alone with respect to the present-day situation of women?

That is exactly my point for performing it! A Woman Alone initiates a superb dialogue that we need to hold. It’s a mirror and every one of us can see ourselves in it at some point of our lives. We are interdependent beings. If we do not feel or think for another, our purpose in life is defeated. Tolerance is a strong message sent across this tale of noir times. The transition of India is multilayered, and at its foundation is the theory of karma. At the same time, we need to ask ourselves how open-minded we truly were, as reflected in our heritage.

Films or plays — which do you enjoy more?

It’s really a matter of the state of mind. Nothing changes for me except in the ways of expression, at times through body and other times through voice modulation and projection. I enjoy both equally. On stage, you have the power to make the audience feel any emotion in one single shot, so I guess it’s more challenging. You aspire for the same thing in films too, but the process is a little different. But both forms are close to my heart. While the stage gives you liberty, movies give you popularity. Both have helped me become a better performer.

Which are the new plays you’re currently working on?

I wish to do many shows of A Woman Alone, as the play needs to grow and reach out to a wider audience. We’re experimenting with costumes, adding layers to the script to make the performance more evocative. As for other plays, I have a fun role in Main Bhi Bachchan, which is an epic take on a Bollywood masala on stage. It’s a laugh riot.

What’s next in your film career?

I have signed Sujoy Ghosh’s dream film, which he conceived much before Kahaani. I am doing a very interesting role in an Indo-British film called Bombairiya, which we are shooting for at the moment. I have also just finished shooting for a very special role in a film with Rishi Kapoor — it’s a political black-comedy.

Conversation in and about Urdu

Published on 19 September, 2014 in Mint

A series of book reading and discussion sessions, New Urdu Writings begins in the Capital

Among the many casualties of the Partition of 1947, Urdu too has suffered. Many mistakenly believe that Urdu was the language of a particular community only. Urdu has shrunk in importance in India, becoming a language of the ghazal and the musical soirée.

Rakhshanda Jalil

Rakhshanda Jalil

In an attempt to revive what’s lost, writer and literary historian Rakhshanda Jalil is initiating a monthly book-based series called “New Urdu Writings”, which will focus on fresh writings in Urdu literature. Launched in collaboration with Oxford bookstore and Jalil’s organization Hindustani Awaaz, the series will start in the Capital on 23 September.

“There is more to the language than just ghazal and there is more to the ghazal than shama-parwana-bulbul. I want people to uncover the range of subjects and the eclectic nature of Urdu writings and writers. The idea is to introduce new Urdu literature to the audiences,” says Jalil. The first session of the series will see Jalil moderating a conversation between noted poet Farhat Ehsas and modernist writer and novelist Khalid Jawed, who specializes in magic realism writing in Urdu. The discussion will be centred on Jawed’s new novel, Nematkhana, followed by a reading from the book by writer-artiste Mahmood Farooqui.

Today, the number of people who read Urdu is shrinking and mostly people access Urdu through translations in English or transliterations into the Devnagiri script. But Jalil believes translations are necessary evil. “Much of what we consider world classics have come to us through translations: the Greek epics, the works of Russian masters, the complex stories of Márquez and Proust have all come to us because they were written in other languages. The world of literature would be a lesser place if it were not for translations. Of course, there is an inevitable loss in translation but sometimes the quality of the original work is such that, in the hands of a skilled translator, it soars intact and reaches across to the reader in another language,” she says.

Hindustani Awaaz has been working towards the popularization of Urdu-Hindi culture, language and literature since 2002. With this new series on Urdu writings, Jalil hopes to lift the curtain of neglect, of ignorance and misconceptions about the language.

New Urdu Writings is on 23 September, 6.30pm, at the Oxford Bookstore, Connaught Place, New Delhi. For details, call 9818853266.

Remembering Manto at ‘Rang’ festival ’13

“Education is incomplete without literature,” said Gauhar Raza, an Indian scientist by profession and an Urdu poet by choice, to an audience that had gathered to hear yet another series of anecdotal stories of the celebrated Urdu short story writer, Saadat Hasan Manto.

The occasion was Kalamkaari, one of the five categories of ‘Rang’, an annual festival of Indian arts organised by The Film and Theatre Society (FTS), and the opening session was devoted to discussing ‘Manto and other pillars of Urdu literature’.

Originally published in The Times of India.

A new biography of Saadat Hasan Manto

Book review: The Pity of Partition: Manto’s Life, Times, and Work across the India-Pakistan Divide

Author: Ayesha Jalal

Publisher: Harper Collins India

Pages: 265

‘Toba Tek Singh’ was, is and will continue to remain one of the most revered famous short stories written by the celebrated Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto. Remembered for the incomprehensible babble of the Sikh asylum inmate, Bishen Singh, who cursed both India and Pakistan in the same breath, the story questions the twisted dogmas of both nations even today. Ironically, Manto shared a reciprocal turmoil with his protagonist – both coped with an incurable void after being displaced from a nation they called home, and both died searching for an identity “on a bit of earth, which had no name.”*

Originally published in The Times of India.