Pakistan and Me

8 November 2010 in Pakistan

In a couple of weeks time I’ll be heading off to Pakistan to do some work with the British Council, running creative writing workshops in Karachi and Lahore.  I am so looking forward to this trip.  I’ve never been to the subcontinent (is that even the right word?), but I’ve wanted to go to Pakistan for ages, particularly since first starting work on Flight Paths; in this story one of the two main characters, Yacub, is Pakistani.  So the trip will be valuable for me for several reasons.

Pakistan is a country that looms large on the geopolitical scene.  I was going to write ‘looms large in our collective imagination’, but in fact, that isn’t really true - Pakistan looms large on our collective news screens, and the images and ideas that we in the west reference about this country are almost entirely negative, with even the country’s beloved national sport, cricket, moving from sports channels into the news recently.  But of course as we all know, these representations of Pakistan only form a tiny tiny part of what every day life is like in cities like Karachi and Lahore.  And, in my experience, a visit to Pakistan, however brief, will help me understand a little bit about what life is like away from the headlines. 

Apart from watching with amazement Pervez Musharraf being interviewed by Jon Stewart to promote his book a few years ago, my frame of reference about the country largely comes from my two Pakistani friends, what I know about the Pakistani community here in Britain, and a Pakistani student of mine.  One friend is Aamer Hussein; Aamer and I have known each other for ages and we get together for a meal every few months to gossip about writers and writing.  If you don’t know Aamer’s writing, you must read his most recent novel - Another Gulmohar Tree.  This is a really gorgeous read, a hard shiny diamond of a book about a marriage.  Highly recommended.  Another friend is Kamila Shamsie; though I know Kamila much less well, I admire her complex novels and stories, her ability to move between cultures and places, both in her writing, and in her life.  I also have a student who lives in Karachi; that is she lived in Karachi until just recently, when she and her family decided to emigrate due to the political situation. 

Due to the wonder that is twitter, I’ve connected with a couple of people in Pakistan in the past few weeks, including Mahvesh Murad, who has a radio show on CityFM89 Radio - 89 Chapters.  Mahvesh claims to be a big fan of my work Inanimate Alice , and she’s going to interview me when I get to Karachi.  If the British Council will let me leave the compound (which actually seems kind of unlikely), she looks like someone who would know her way around the interesting bits of the city.  If you put ‘89 Chapters’ into the archive search on the station, you’ll be able to listen to Mahvesh’s most recent broadcast. 

On the reading front, I’ve been reading contemporary Pakistani writers for a while now, and a recent highlight has been the Granta Pakistan issue, which contains pieces from both Aamer and Kamila. 

I’m really looking forward to this trip!


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