Friday, March 18, 2011

misrepresenting pakistan

There are some uniquely annoying people who seem to have emerged of late (but actually they've been around a long time, and seem to spring up at opportune moments) and I feel compelled to write about them because they annoy me by intruding upon the turf I love and hold to be sacred  literary events. Oh, you know the type  you've probably seen these people lurking in the shadows, smiling widely, waiting for the opportune moment to strike. They'll sit in the audience, maybe holding the book of the author who's speaking, and bide their time until the q/a session when. they. will. explode.

Their questions are somewhat like this: why are you misrepresenting pakistan? why are you using pakistan as a brand name? Most of these questions aren't even questions: they're accusations. You are misrepresenting pakistan, Kamila Shamsie. You are elitist. Mohsin Hamid, not everyone in Lahore is a charsi, you have misrepresented pakistan, haw, now everyone will think we are all charsis, potential fundos and the type to go skinny dipping with strange foreign women.You get the gist of the kind of rubbish these people come up with. Then they sit their self-important-but-representative-of-pakistan asses down and smirk, thinking they've won some kind of amazing battle and that all the fans of the books will suddenly become conscious that they've been cheated by the authors.

I genuinely hate such people. Not because they're "attacking" my favourite books and authors, no; I don't even hold their criticisms as valid at all. It's just that, like I said before, they're plain annoying. You don't like the book? Don't read it. If you read it and felt misrepresented, so what? Nobody gives a fuck. Is A Case of Exploding Mangoes titled A Case of Exploding Mangoes: A Clear and Definitive Guide to Pakistan and Everything In It? No. It's a novel. It's not supposed to be representative you idiots. It's the novelist's view. Since when are you supposed to be representative in fiction? It's not journalism, ffs (and anyhow, speaking of journalism, I think everyone knows how biased that little oasis of objectivity is).

Also there's some uncles and aunties who are all like suspicious and confused (sometimes, in undertones, they hint at some Grand Conspiracy Theory) because of Pakistani fiction being all k3wl in the literary world. Why, they wanna know. Then they think authors are exploiting Pakistan. I can think of a single name in the Pakistani literary scene who is doing just that. But still, I won't say OMG YOU R LEIK EXPLOITING PAKISTAN?!! I will say your book is crap and the only reason it's selling is because of a fluke. The fact is that the book in question is of little literary value (more important than being representative!!!) if at all, and that's not very surprising seeing how the author is a guy who thinks books are like coca-cola. Ass. That one I felt cheated at, because his stories are pretty crappy AND his writing isn't that great AND he's cashing in on the exoticness and using that rather than focussing on the story itself. But other writers, who create magic and show you how they see Pakistan? You can't just stand up and say, Your Pakistan is not Pakistan. You can't go up to Gabriel Garcia Marquez and say, Hey, why're you cashing in on all of this Spanish writing craze? Because anyone who knows jack about literature and writing will know from reading a book a) its real value b) there is a thing as the author's artistic judgement c) this whole business of writing about any part of society other than the elite is a fairly recent one. Max. a couple of hundred years ago, most literature was from the elite class. You wanna be representative of Pakistan? Stop asking the writers to do so for you. Write your own friggin book about whatever it is that's making you so antsy and then we'll see. Sure, George Orwell went and lived with the poor to get to know about them. But he did it of his own accord. No bourgeois pompous person came up to him and said WHY DON'T YOU WRITE ABOUT THE POOR. You can't say that was his inspiration. Inspiration comes from within. If something's misrepresentative then that's not because the author's looking at it the wrong way; it's because you probably are reading the book wrong. If Shamsie doesn't write about slum life it's maybe because her artistic judgement tells her not to. Or maybe she doesn't want to. Go read Bina Shah's Slum Child if that's what's up your alley.

Finally: Interesting thing I've noted: Everyone talks about the poor. On tv. In discussions. But how many of these people actually do anything? Political parties fight over how the poor can be helped. But who helps them?

ALSO the people who will tell you that you are being bourgeois/a book is bourgeois/whatever will just smirk and think they're awesome but actually the fact that they can read makes them fairly bourgeois in our society. All these fake marxists annoy me almost as much as capitalism does.


  1. Finally: Interesting thing I've noted: Everyone talks about the poor. On tv. In discussions. But how many of these people actually do anything? Political parties fight over how the poor can be helped. But who helps them?

    Do you?

  2. I'm doing my part as much as I can (volunteering) though I know even that's not enough.