Photo: Flickr / Brent Weichsel
Photo: Flickr / Brent Weichsel

Surrealist Pakistan

'Hasan Ki Surat-e-Haal' marks an important formal departure from Pakistan’s Urdu literature.

Considering Pakistan's sociopolitical atmosphere – torn between Enlightenment values of liberalism and a vicious interpretation of Islam – and the restrictive demand on Pakistani artists to write narratives that 'correctly' and 'realistically' represent society, reading Mirza Athar Baig's novel, Hasan Ki Surat-e-Haal: Khali Jaghain Pur Karo, is nothing short of a revelation. A novel that blurs the line between global and local literature, here is a work of fiction that wears hybridity, rather than ethnicity, on its sleeve.

Since his 2006 debut novel, Ghulam Bagh, Baig has provided crucial doses of formal provocation and theoretical nuance to the field of contemporary Urdu literature. He has written three novels and a collection of short stories, all of which have managed to stump critics while also becoming best-sellers for his publishers, an impressive feat in a country with a diminishing Urdu literary culture. The increased curiosity in Pakistani literature in Western publishing spheres, especially since 9/11, has done little to foster an interest in vernacular literature, whether in Urdu or in other regional languages of Pakistan. In fact, Western interest in English-language literature from Pakistan has adversely affected the creativity and imagination of the literary scene, conferring critical awards and financial benefits on a narrow field of themes and subjects.

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