The second issue of the Alhamra Literary Review continues to do what was promised in the first: to showcase new and emerging literary talent in and of Pakistan, as well as to introduce its audience to established figures of Pakistani literature through translations and excerpts from great works.
Everyone knows that the sophomore year of college is more difficult than the freshman: standards have been set, expectations raised; and no less can be said of the challenges faced by us in presenting to you our sophomore effort. We feel, however, that we have more than surpassed expectations with this sophisticated collection of Pakistani poetry, prose, essays, and stories.
In the short stories section, we include fiction from new voices as well as authors who appeared in our first issue. Some of these stories contain themes almost uncanny in their similarities: Zahra Romana’s “Roses Only” and Mina Farid Malik’s “Rain” about the power of motherhood in the absence of a father, for example; Bina Shah and Mehvash Amin write about the nature of schoolgirl friendship in “Bono’s Daughter” and “Decoy” respectively; while Sameena Zia’s “The Prince”, Bilal Tanveer’s “Foothpath and Fairies” and Khadija Hasan’s “The Story of Heer and Ranjha” all examine love in the urban setting of Karachi. Sara Suleiman’s “Making Connections” and Batool Zehra Zahid’s “Crow’s Feet” echo each other in the way daughters see themselves through their mothers’ eyes. Finally, Sidrah Haque’s contribution, “Cartagena”, is a unique vignette rich in sensual observation.
We feature the poetry of Parveen Shakir in this issue with eight pieces translated by Professor Alamgir Hashmi, a distinguished poet in his own right. Shakir balanced her very cerebral career as a civil servant with an almost otherworldly passion for verse, and the duality of her worlds is evident in this collection: a cycle of lyrical poems on the stages of love in “A Message”, “Pink Flowers”, and “Where Am I” gives way to gritty realism and strong cynicism towards industry and economics in “Steel Mills Worker” and “We Are All Dr. Faustus”. Although her poetry is not overtly feminist, her woman’s voice is strong in all her pieces, and she handles both the aching vulnerability and the joyous fulfillment of love with equal confidence.
Two poems by Sehba Sarwar, “For Rene” and “Jamshed Road” evoke the sky with images of flags and kites. No less impressive is Waqas Khwaja’s “My Inside is Empty,” a dirge on the loss and destruction brought about by the complex act of migration, and Samina Shahidi-McDonald’s “It Was Her First Raid of an Iraqi Home”, a haunting reflection on the effect of war on women. Alka Roy joins our collection as the sole Indian voice, with her two poems including “Batwara” (Partition), which evocatively compares the violence of partition to the wounding of the human body. Familiar voices Azka Tanveer and Ansa Zafar, as well as new contributors Mina Farid Malik and S. Shafqat Ali Shah, with a haunting poem “Feudal Childhood” about growing up in an era and place unfamiliar to most readers, round out this issue’s poetry section.
Our nonfiction section offers five pieces of varying natures: Sara Mahmood’s “Winners, Losers, and Language” is an academic examination of the power of language to address and redress societal injustices – using the literary criticism of Seamus Heaney, and the fiction of Virginia Woolfe and Graham Greene. Short pieces include Kahsmali Khan’s “Patterns”, which presents the idea of history as patterns of stories, and Zainab Omar’s untitled piece, a serious but not unhumorous exploration of her own mortality. Mahmud Rahman’s “Will We Ever Know Our Fathers?” is steeped in the typical masculine world of boats and set in what was then East Pakistan, marking it as a unique memoir of a boy’s relationship with his father. Finally, Ilona Yusuf’s “What Happened to Reading” poses important questions about the future of reading and its possible demise in Pakistan.
We faced a dilemma about the placement of the glossary in this issue; a glossary is vital for non-Pakistanis to be able to understand key words and phrases in many of the pieces, and yet we didn’t want to break up the flow of the writing, so we have incorporated all individual glossaries into one continuous one, divided by the title of each piece, at the back of the book. And finally, to address an issue raised by several reviewers of the Alhamra Literary Review’s debut issue: that the book seems unfairly balanced in favor of women writers. Far from considering the gender of our contributors at any time in the process of submission, selection, or editing, we welcome talent from anybody, regardless of age, gender, religion, or leaning of any sort.
We continue to be surprised and impressed by the caliber of writing that is emerging in Pakistan today. We hope to continue to impress you, our reader, to the point where the level of talent is no longer anything to be surprised about.
Karachi, Karachi, Karachi.
I close my eyes and find myself driving down the wide roads and long boulevards of my hometown. One minute my car glides over the smoothly laid avenue of Shahrah-e-Faisal. Next minute I am on the bumpy streets of Saddar stuck in an exasperating traffic jam. Honk shout abuse honk shout abuse, bus drivers spread out their hands decreeing laanat, fingers protrude from fancy cars in defiant reply. Amidst this daily cacophony, I spy bloodshot eyes, steaming ears, red-faced civilians and smiling policemen – and it is music to my ears. I roll down my window and wave fists at the barbarians. I am home…
There is an accident four cars ahead. A crowd has gathered showing an odd solidarity at the scene. Eyewitnesses speak up and with their beyaan two camps evolve. Three actually, for some just like to watch. The policeman grins. He is scratching his right hand for he knows that his week has been made. Maybe now he will buy those sandals that his wife has been nagging him about - and take a night out with the boys, because he suddenly has a hankering for alcohol and maybe even a nice pack of imported cigarettes. People learn to live here even when the system goes moldy.
That is why we are Pakistani.
When I hear of a boat basin I instinctively think of a pristine body of clear blue water where one can find boats – dinghies, yachts, sailboats, even ferries - docked at a shore. But Boat Basin is everything otherwise. It is famous, first of all, for its food and not for boats. There are plenty of roadside eating-places here, ranging from Pizza Hut and several Burger - Joints to a Nihari-wala and an Afghani khoka that sells superbly scrumptious “special shawerma”. It is also famous for the foul smelling sewage that is the Basin of black oily water – the ganda naala where the waste of the entire city gathers and breeds swarms of flies that carelessly buzz around the savory delights of Boat Basin.
Right across this pest-heaven sits a row of tall apartment buildings named “Pak-Wattan Heights”. For years this unsightly complex went mercifully unnoticed. Then the Mai Kolachi Bypass was constructed that connected this part of now prestigious Clifton to the once prestigious locality that I only know as Queen’s Road. As a consequence, the discolored buildings came into larger view. The Bypass was built over the sewage that flows from the ganda naala, under the road and into the larger pit of the basin that eventually joins the Arabian Sea.
Heer stands in front of a mirror. There is nothing spectacular about her eyes but her eyelashes will astonish you! They are long and gently taper upwards so that she looks at once docile and defiant. Their load makes her small eyes appear much larger than they are – like a hirni’s round, deep, ingenuous eyes. Through these she looks at herself. She tiptoes closer up to the mirror and examines the shape of her brows, the line of her jaw, the color of her lips. Preening a little longer she steps back to take a full look at herself. Satisfied she turns away and walks towards her cupboard.