Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, November 26th, 2017
“Exile is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted.” — Edward Said
Whether pushed by political turmoil, war, conflict or repression, or driven by economic compulsions, an exilic position invariably poses a multitude of challenges. The migrant — or the exile — negotiates a strange territory, substitutes the settled routine with new rhythms and rituals, confronts different realities, values and perspectives. And all the while the ‘homeland’ holds a deep affinity, almost a primordial attraction. Although with the passage of time the exile comes to terms with the new space, the new life, perhaps a pining and a ‘crippling sorrow of estrangement’, as articulated by Said, remains buried deep within the heart.
In her debut novel The Last Days of Café Leila, Persian-American author Donia Bijan tells an engaging story encompassing three generations of a family, woven around their life’s trials and tribulations in shifting spaces, times and cultures. The curtain opens in Tehran 2014, on Behzod — or Zod — an aging father who is waiting for the letter from his daughter Noor, now a woman of 40, residing in the United States since her teens, that will bring him the longed-for news of her homecoming.
Published in Dawn’s Books and Authors in November 2015
“I’m a storyteller. I’ve always been more interested in storytelling than in writing,” the Italian writer with the pen name Elena Ferrante said in one of her rare interviews conducted via written correspondence. No wonder that Ferrante’s writing is a phenomenon that has taken the world of literati and readers alike by storm. Termed as modern classics, her novels have attracted a huge readership. Originally written in Italian, the series has been translated into English by Ann Goldstein. Her much-awaited The Story of the Lost Child, the last book of the Neapolitan series, came out recently.
Published in Dawn, Karachi, Pakistan, in 2000
As you walk through him into the narrow, labyrinthine lanes of the old quarters of Karachi, past ramshackle shops shadowed by faded and worn-out signboards, enter dilapidated buildings with narrow wooden staircases, wrought iron balconies, arched windows, and peep into dinghy offices and residential quarters, a curious world opens up. A world as bright as a mid-summer day and as dark as a moon-less night, a world throbbing with life, a world full of people, ordinary people with extraordinary proclivities, dreaming special dreams, planning little things, reaching out to each other through transient strands of passion, love and hatred. You breathe in the air filled with their smells, tinged with their colours, intermingled with breathing of your companion, the writer, the guide who has taken a back seat and is trailing behind you in the expeditions he marked out for you with such a delightful innocence. Like a child who lets you have a peep in to his kaleidoscope, delighted to let you discover the bright, colourful shifting patterns, each a tiny distinct world of its own, made of splintered glass. The patterns that he has not created, the patterns that have existed since millenium but the pleasure of the discovery is entirely his own.
Published in Dawn, Karachi, Pakistan in March 2000
Though I had read his books hundreds of times and looked at his picture at the jackets as many times, the only time I met him was in the summer of 1980 at his Westridge, Rawalpindi, residence. I had translated two of his humorous pieces and sent him the published clippings. Now I wanted to translate his most celebrated work—the long short story Barsaati. I had already started work on it. But I knew in my heart that I must seek his permission this time.
Published in Pakistan Journal of Women’s Studies: Alam-e-Niswan, Vol.2, No.1, 1995, Center of Excellence of Women’s Studies, Karachi University.
Truth, love, self-respect
Fragile playthings, made of clay
Crumble in a moment
Still, the world is beautiful
(Patthar ki Zuban, Fahmida Riaz)
It was a voice of a young poet communicating to the readers in the 1960s in Pakistan, in a patriarchal, class-ridden society under a military rule. The poems spoke of love of life, of yearnings for a beloved, of a muted sexual awakening. Despite being written in a traditional romantic vein, a certain vibrancy, a hesitant questioning, a subtle mockery of the norms, and a well-rounded lyricism set those poems apart from the run-of-the-mill Urdu poetry. And the fact that it was a voice of a woman, with an awareness of herself as a female growing up in a world where her feelings, her thoughts, her actions are circumscribed by traditional mores: