November Issue 2009

By | Arts & Culture | People | Q & A | Published 14 years ago

We all know Mohammed Hanif as the author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes. This week at Shanaakht, Karachiites will get to see a different side of the award-winning writer: the fan of Urdu and Punjabi literature. Hanif talks to Newsline about what he plans to read at the event “Chand Sitaray Tallay.”

Which writers are you going to read from at Shaanakht?

I’m going to read from a couple of writers. I’m not sure if I’ll have the time to talk about them at length. Tentatively, what I’ve chosen so far is, I’m going read a poem from a Punjabi poet, Najam Hussain Syed. He’s very famous, probably the leading contemporary Punjabi poet. I’m going to read one of his poems that is about money and empires.

Will you just be reading the poem or will you also discuss it?

I don’t think there will be enough time to discuss it. We’re only going to have about seven or eight minutes. So I’ll just read a couple of bits from the poem. I also plan on reading from a book of non-fiction by Mubarak Haider. Its called Tehzeeb-e-Nargiseyyat and it came out last year. It’s brilliantly written with a very clear-headed analysis of the political situation, and it looks at the Muslim world’s relationship with the rest of the world from a historical perspective. And then if I have time, I might read something from another poet; maybe from Munib Niazi who’s another brilliant poet and just passed away recently.

Shanaakht is about exploring Pakistani identity. Is it possible to have one Pakistani identity?

I don’t think we have just one culture or identity. We have dozens of cultures. The only thing we have in common is that we were born here and have a Pakistani passport and so end up being called Pakistanis. There are various Pakistani identities and they keep shifting and changing. When I’m abroad and people ask me where I’m from, I say Karachi. And if I’m in Karachi and people ask me where I’m from, then I say Okara. And if I’m in Okara and people ask me where I’m from then I give them the name of my village. So identity overlaps and shifts and I don’t really think about these things.

Even in literature, English-language writers tend to become media celebrities while Urdu writers are somewhat ignored. Do you think having English-language writers read Urdu and Punjabi literature might help bridge this gap?

I think the idea behind this event is that I’ve read a lot of writers who I really love and this is an opportunity to share some of that with people who may or may not have read them. As a writer you usually just end up reading your own work. That’s what I’ve done for the last year and a half and I’m sick and tired of hearing my own words. It’s become really banal and dull since you keep reading the same passages over and over again.

Do you know what the other writers at the event will be reading? And are you going to be involved in any other events at Shanaakht?

I haven’t spoken to them. But I know Fehmida Riaz and have admired her for a very long time. Musharraf Farooqi is also a friend. I won’t be involved in other events, but I’m going to go see a play there.

Shanaakht Festival events mentioned in this interview:

CHAND SITARAY TALLAY | 8:30 November 10
Hosted by Feryal Gauhar
Curated by Still Waters Publishing
(Please note: This performance has limited seating. Please pick up free passes from the venue on Tuesday, 10 November, 2009)

For more information visit CAP’s official website where you can find a full programme for this year’s festival. Go to and click on Shanaakht.
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Nadir Hassan is a Pakistan-based journalist and assistant editor at Newsline.