(An Analytical Essay on Similarities of Modern Literary Evolution in South Asia and Review of “A Brave New World of Modern Pakistani English Novel” by Author Aurangzeb Watto)
The Philippine Experience
As an Asian ( from the South East ), I am one of the modern daughters of Western colonization ( from the Spaniards). Having our own pre-colonial culture and literature ( from Hindu Odisha and Islamic colonization with the Arab traders and Muslim missionaries from Mecca and Indonesia) before the Spaniards came in the 1500s, our forefathers were forced to accept the western kind of education that we have been using now. The early colonizers came from a version of Hindu-Buddhists arriving in the Philippines archipelago in the 1st millennium, through the Indonesian kingdom of Srivijaya followed by Majapahit. The early artifacts revealing several images as the shivaite goddess, golden Agusan statue may be a representation of the goddess Sakti of the Shiva-Buddha ( Bairaya) tradition found in Java, in which the religious aspect of Shivais integrated with those found in Buddhism of Java and Sumatra. Same as the gold artifact such as an image of Garuda, the bird who is the mount of Vishnu . In present-day Agusan del Norte and Butuan City, they used Hinduism as its main religion along with indigenous Lumad nature-worships. A Hindu Tamil King of the Rajanate of Cebu was also recorded.
Hence before the Spaniards came, Hindu and Muslim religions were already prevailing from the early millennium, evidenced by the wealth of the people, ,the sultanates and rajahnates.
The Spanish subservience has lasted 333 years from (1565-1898 ). Spanish became the language in 1865 with the public school system. The colonial Western culture flourished in that period and this influence has been evident, ( Spanish, American, and the short-lived British and Japanese occupation, our roots have been mostly western. However the road to freedom and independence was bloody and costly, it was a succession of imperialists from Spain, America, and Japan ( pre World War 2). Being the largest naval battle in history, the worst-hit city was Manila. The war-ravaged city has risen from the ruins, and finally gained its independence from the colonizers.
Literature ( fiction and poetry ) have transcended from being English only ( writing in the Lingua Franca) during the American occupation through the Commonwealth period, to writing in the Filipino language, and this flourished after gaining independence in 1946. Every nation undergoes this post-colonial stage where the brilliance of its native-born native-speaking authors begins to flourish, with the resurgence of the newfound freedom, seeking their own voice. Post Modernism has also brought the crop of Filipino American writers to shed light on the modern novel amidst our own diverse cultural backdrop, an amalgamation of immigrants, a kaleidoscope world of mixed blood, the “mestizo”, or ”mongrels”, the influx of Filipino workers abroad seeking greener pastures, and the intermarriage of cultures.
Such diversity has shown there is not one Filipino identity. The emigration of Filipinos from their homeland has created a diaspora that is different from the other immigrant groups. Filipinos are perceived to be present in almost all the countries in the world. This representation has brought light to a stereotypical image of the Filipina as a domestic helper, a nurse, a nanny. the global export of labor and brain drain. The best aim for a lucrative career abroad leaving their own in lack. Hence, the Filipino is a true global citizen. He has to adapt to his new country’s language and culture, along with the lingua franca (English). The longer working tenure and eventual legalization of their status has caused many a domestic conflict and the turmoil in families.
Filipino American Carlos Bulosan’s “America Is in the Heart “ , ( 1947) , is a cornerstone of classic Asian-American literature. It draws on his Filipino childhood, his immigration, and the challenges as a first generation Asian American. Perhaps best known among the Filipino-American community is 1990 National Book Award finalist Jessica Hagedorn, a literary pioneer whose novel, “Dogeaters,” is a much-lauded modern classic. Filipino-American literati includes Sabina Murray, who won the prestigious 2003 PEN / Faulkner Award for her story collection, The Caprices; young
adult writer Melissa de la Cruz, and Erin Entrada Kelly, who won the 2018 Newbery Award for her middle-grade novel, Hello Universe.
Pakistan Amidst a Backdrop of Political , Social, and Religious Upheaval
I once had those stereotypical thoughts about the Pakistanis and Pakistani way of life without much knowledge of their turbulent journey from conservative to cosmopolitan and back and forth, this I would say, caused by the political and religious strains that have long besieged their nation. I used to know them as radical , violent and fundamentalist, and because of the Sharia law, I was often wondering of how the women were coping with this kind of patriarchal environment, the sentiment being of subjugation and repression and often met with abuse, sexual violence. A lesser kind of evil than Iran.
Then the story of 14 year old Malala Yousafzai came to hit the headlines, ringing through the walls outside of Birmingham, I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban, an autobiography co written by Christina Lamb in 2013, became a teenager’s voice against terrorism and fundamentalism, the girl who fought for education. Her story was compared to the fearlessness of Anne Frank. It has been met with positive response and sold two million copies in 2017, with critical reviews calling the book astonishing, riveting and brave. However it was not met with a similar response in Pakistan, and was banned in schools and bookshops and she was threatened to be killed. The UN speech she delivered held a strong message with pathos, “When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.
The death of Bin laden and the war with the Taliban was one of those news presented by mainstream media as tumultuous and crossed over the conflict in the instability in kashmir.
Their history has been mired with colonial oppression and their own dissenting forces, and the Kashmir crisis, the conflict with its neighbouring India , as a wound that never heals. It continues to plague efforts for prosperity, peace and security. The new Kashmiri literature has risen from this conflict, showcasing writers crying out to the world the perilous journey to self determination, the pain of suffering and modern day oppression.
But then Imran Khan came and it made me realize, the Pakistani people have come to accept the kind of leadership that they need. A mix of the conservative and cosmopolitan, and that is now what Pakistan is to me now. Beautiful women in Pakistani wedding entourage, and the surprise when a Pakistani journalist went extreme by hilariously covering his own wedding ceremony.
The Modern Pakistani Fiction Writers
In this article by Watto, he has brought us to a window of Pakistan’s diverse and rich culture evolving from the historic partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, from four centuries of British colonisation, to the turbulent years, to the modern crop of fiction writers.
He has written a narrative on modern Pakistani fiction ( novel ) as a journey from colonial writing, from sounding as an “ “Anglophile “ in the 50s to the 60s which was not well received at that time, with the the name of Ghose , who has carved a place in Pakistani literature for historical preservation on the oppressive colonial culture. Developing to an age of nationalism in the birthing of Urdu writers and finding their own voices, to the dawning of modern Pakistani English writing.
This is the new crop of fiction spanning from the latter years of the late 70s , 80s, with writer Bapsi Sidwa, “Ice Candy Man” , the mother of Pakistani novel, to the “Reluctant Fundamentalist “ by Mohsin Hamid , novelist and essayist , a British Pakistani who splits his time between Lahore, London and New York, to the celebrated Shamsie, of
“Kartography” fame, one of the best modern novel. Among the more important and prominent figures to Pakistan’s growth and identity, raising Pakistani consciousness, among them is Fatima Bhutto’s criticism and Dr Ossama Siddique’s debut, “Snuffing Out The Moon”. Siddique’s first novel was set in six distinct historical eras in South Asia, and deftly weaves together half a dozen different narratives informed by the rich sociopolitical, cultural and literary traditions of South Asia’s six millennia- long history.
The “Reluctant Fundamentalist “shows betrayal of America in the perspective of the protagonist, from a failed sense of identity and failure of assimilation, xenophobia. The film adaptation, directed by Indian American Mira Nair with a cast of Hollywood actors, was released in major film festivals in 2013, and in limited releases in US, India, Europe, North America. It was a box office bomb, but won the Centenary Award at the 43rd International Film festival in India. It has received several awards, from festivals and critical reviews, honoring the film’s efforts to address tolerance and xenophobia. Changez’s words in his interview by Lincoln: “Looks can be deceiving,I am a lover of America… although I was raised to feel very Pakistani.”
Literature as Transformative Experience
The younger generation of Pakistan may not be familiar with their literary history, as most cultures are today, who have been engulfed by the more accessible pop culture and digital society, but we as mature readers can pave the way and bring them closer to their identity.
The real Pakistan is not the stereo typed Holywood terrorist, extremist, or hacker. Just as India is just Bollywood or Slum Dog Millionaire. Sexual abuse, religious bigotrry, corruption is still a strong human rights and gender issue and continues to hurt both nations India and Pakistan. The socio political and religious factors have affected much of its path for a more progressive and tolerant society. For the world outside of Pakistan, reading their fiction, is a step towards a change of perspectives, and knowing more, as for myself , my South Asian neighbor , forging ties for peace, cultural diversity and religious tolerance.
I have reasons for fostering friendship with their people. I have good friends and colleagues from the literary and humanitarian community from Pakistan. My ties with them can also be seen as an affinity to Asian tradition, this nation was once India. I was curious as to their fascination with cricket , Imran Khan, the beauty of Pakistani women and their bravery, their desire to a peaceful solution to the Kashmir conflict, their reverence for islamic religion and tradition. Then there is the violence and discrimination faced by Muslims in India, most notably in the recent new citizenship law, brings me to a realization on the threat to life and liberty of marginalized peoples and minorities. When I read of the excessive human rights abuses brought to the muslim population anywhere they are in the world, the Uigurs by the Chinese, the Rohingyas by Myanmar, the Yazidis by ISIS, to name a few, I am bothered by the lack of commitment by world leaders in this global issue of genocide and religious persecution . It is a call to action for the UN to step up its efforts and to have teeth to prosecute leaders and fundamentalist groups on crimes against humanity. Religious intolerance is an enemy and threat to peace and security.
Literature fills a void in the vacuum. Reading the works of people who have shaped our history and destiny as a nation adds to our sense of identity and idealism, nationalism , a sense of purpose with our shared past brought to light by the forerunners. it inspires a change of heart, social and moral change, to rise up from the shackles of imperialism, colonialism and to post modern neocolonialism.
Dr. Jose Rizal, the Greatest Malay that Lived, our own National hero , has through his magnum opus, the canonical !9th century twin novels “ Noli Me Tangere” (Touch Me Not, The Social Cancer), and “El Filibusterismo “ ( The Subversion, Reign of Greed) , and infamous poem, “Mi Ultimo Adios” ( My Last Farewell), has sparked an “awakening “, that woke up the Filipinos and ushered a revolution that led to the end of the 333 year reign of Spanish colonialism. Though the novels were banned and written in the Spanish language, it was translated and secretly gotten into the hands of the few leaders and members of the underground guerilla and propaganda movement. Such impact has changed the course of history and independence.
Shedding Light on Modern Pakistani Literature
Literature chronicles the emotional history of a nation. It is a social document of contemporary society. By reading modern fiction which deals with interplay of historical and cultural elements, it can refine our moral and social sensibilities. It is a transforming experience that can rejuvenate a person, and may eventually bring a state of higher consciousness to bring collective impact, and drive social change.
The writer, Aurangzeb Watto’s effort on bringing the subject of evolution of Pakistani English fiction to light, shows a genuine concern for promotion of literature and a better understanding of Pakistani culture and history. Laced with a turbulent past and present, and brought by years of enmity with India, and its own political insurgencies, Pakistan is both traditional and cosmopolitan, diverse, and dynamic, being the second largest muslim population in the world. This list encapsulates a backdrop amidst the religious differences, religious intolerance, genocidal strife, with an intricate drama in its history serving as a microcosm for a profound political upheaval beginning with the 1947 partition of India. The indifference and lack of support for Kashmir’s self determination from both sides India and Pakistan in the early years has caused this long standing political strain causing wars between both, the change of leadership and political system, the radicalism, fundamentalism and extremism, ( with the history of Taliban, the murder of innocent children, including the case of 14 year old Malala. In the current state of Pakistani affairs it has been viewed as a positive sign of its support to Kashmir, and the need to sit down and talk with India, but this was not the agenda that India want to resolve.
There is a clamor to have a greater appreciation for reading, in this case, of contemporary fiction. It is a bridge for intellectual engagement. This applies also to those living from outside the walls of Pakistan, immigrants in the Middle East, Europe, the Americas, who are caught in a dilemma of conflict, the Pakistani diaspora in the West, with their problems on identity, their coexistence with the native born of society, xenophobia (racism), and the reluctance to progressiveness or fundamentalism.
My Personal Journey to Asian Post Colonial Literature
Honestly, I have not read any of these Pakistani fiction on the list, but outside of this have experience with similar work from Indian writers Jhumpa Lahiri (Interpreter of Maladies), and the more eminent Arundhati Roy and Salman Rushdie, all commonly entwined with writing on the immigrant life and the clash of old ways to the new world. Salman Rushdie (The Satanic Verses and Midnight Children), and Arundhati Roy ( The God of Small Things) have been found by me earlier in the 2000s, while Lahiri , just recently. Of the three, the more prominent Rushdie’s Satanic Verses has started as a curiosity to the controversial banning of the novel and the consequent “fatwa” decreed by the Imam Ayatollah Khomeini and everyone involved with him (publishers, translators, agents, bookshops). I got the book by luck on a friend’s thrift shop, of all places, buried in the previously owned book piles. After knowing about the author, and his incredible journey from the late 80’s bloody fundamentalist riots and protests, to his long term exile and eventual literary recognition to this time, I had come to read Midnight’s Children, one of the Great Books of the 20th century, and the “Booker of Bookers “Prize. This is where I was enthralled in the history of the Indian subcontinent partition and the postcolonial literature that has flourished since then, the Kashmir crisis, the British Indian diaspora, the genre of magical realism from Rushdie’s works.
From the Philippines, with the famous Fil-American Jessica Hagedorn’s “Dog Eaters”, to India’s “Satanic Verses and Midnight Children by Rushdie, and Roy’s “God of Small Things”, to Pakistan’s, “ The Reluctant Fundamentalist” by Hamid, and Bapsi Sidwas’s “Ice Candy Man”, there is a common thread that joins Post Colonial Literature- that is, the immigrant experience- frustrations on identity and conflicts of assimilation, clash of cultures, multicultural integration. They all speak of the tangled ties between generations in a backdrop of cultural and political upheaval.
It’s time to know these important writers who have used literature, historical fiction, to chronicle post colonial to present day challenges and events, to transform, to inspire social change , to adapt multiculturalism, to humanize humanity by feigning religious intolerance and fundamentalism, racial discrimination and social classes. To adapt, but be grounded on our human and moral attributes , as we live in this postmodern apocalyptic age , a brave new world, where AI and digital society has replaced real relationships and changed our way of life.
“A Brave New World of Modern Pakistani English Novel” by Author Aurangzeb Watto.*
Link to article: https://dialoguetimes.com/a-brave-new-world-of-modern-pakistani-english-novel/?fbclid=IwAR0oSEjvaq4DBDuq8kw_ pHVrjdV5ZPT-dne9R9___NLPlLReHSEE04wpaHc
( C) Stella Theresa Luna 10.08.2020 Quezon City, Philippines