How to Write About Pakistan …

The last time the venerable literary mag Granta focused on the subcontinent was when India turned 50. I’ve saved that issue as I will be saving the current one which is all about Pakistan and features fiction, reportage, memoir, contemporary art, and poetry by recognized authors such as Mohsin Hamid, Kamila Shamsie, Fatima Bhutto, and Daniyal Muennudin, as well as voices lesser known here in the West.

The issue’s themes and cover art by truck artist Islam Gull is brought to life in this cool short video

I’m still working my way through the issue, but How to write about Pakistan, an online collaboration between Mohsin Hamid, Mohammed Hanif, Daniyal Muennudin, and Kamila Shamsie caught my eye. Inspired by Granta’s most popular feature Binyavanga Wainaina’s satirical piece, How to write about Africa (“Always use the word “Africa” or “Darkness” or “Safari” in your title’,” it begins), here are the the top ten rules for novices keen to write about Pakistan:

  1. Must have mangoes.
  2. Must have maids who serve mangoes.
  3. Maids must have affairs with man servants who should occasionally steal mangoes.
  4. Masters must lecture on history of mangoes and forgive the thieving servant.
  5. Calls to prayer must be rendered to capture the mood of a nation disappointed by the failing crop of mangoes.
  6. The mango flavour must linger for a few paragraphs.
  7. And turn into a flashback to Partition.
  8. Characters originating in rural areas must fight to prove that their mango is bigger than yours.
  9. Fundamentalist mangoes must have more texture; secular mangoes should have artificial flavouring.
  10. Mangoes that ripen in creative writing workshops must be rushed to the market before they go bad.

[Don't stop here. Do read the whole piece.]

Those of you who have been long-time SM followers will surely remember Manish’s Anatomy of a Genre from back in the day.

Here’s my question: If you were amending this list into an “How to write about India” or “How to write about Sri Lanka” or “How to write about Bangladesh” what would you change? What would you keep the same?

19 thoughts on “How to Write About Pakistan …

  1. bangladesh

    1) replace mangos with jackfruit

    2) replace partition with war of independent against pakistan

    3) there has to be a reference to tagore of nazrul islam somewhere

  2. I kinda think the mango thing must work all over South Asia. In fact, I wouldn’t have guessed it applied to Pakistan as much South India, Bangladesh & Sri Lanka—isn’t Pakistan more temperate? Maybe Razib is right about jackfruit, but I’m going to have to go with guava if a mango substitute is necessary for West Bengal.

  3. When people write about San Francisco in the early 2000s, it will be CSA boxes and the Google IPO, baristas and IT workers.

  4. For India: 1. Ghandy or Gandhi, or Gandy, or whatever 2. Monkey God 3. Yoga 4. Maharishi 5. Elephant God 6. Samosa mmm mmm 7. Taj mahal 8. Holy Cow 9. D Pak Chopra 10. Mangoes – any Time

  5. Prior to the Commonwealth Games.

    The top 3 images would have been Shining India, Call Centre India (Bangalore) and Bollywood. A rich and varied imagine of a fledgling nation.

    Whereas 4 so-called illustrious Pakistani writers wrote “How to Write about Pakistan” This was inspired by How to Write About Africa, written by a Kenyan journalist.

    “How to Write about Africa” is insightful and successfully challenges our deeply-held stereotypes about Africa. A must-read to understand Africa. The one written by Pakistan’s self-proclaimed literati is pathetic and unreadable.

    In reflecting on Pakistan, a nation drowning (literally) in its own ineptitude all they could come up with is some weird mango fetish?

    Generals in Pakistan Push for Shake-Up of Government The alarm about the economy was first sounded by Mr. Shaikh, a former officer of theWorld Bank, who told a meeting of political and military leaders last month that the government had enough money to pay only two months’ salaries. The economy was “teetering on the brink” before the floods but was now heading for the “abyss,” Mr. Shaikh was quoted as saying.

  6. Don’t let any pipsqueak critic pull the authenticity card. Pepper your dialog with local parlance. Tell your interviewers that some of the best Indian writing is being done in the regional languages. Don’t settle for being Indianer than the next writer — you want to be The Indianest of Them All.

  7. Yes. Poor Pakistan–it’s so misrepresented in the media. If only the true story were told, everyone would love it.

  8. This is all kuffar*…Ghazwa-e-Hind will put all of you in your place. Muhammad and Isa will arrive on their War Donkey’s and will submit every last one one you and put to end this Hindu-Zionist thought, technology and reality.

    *My bad, I meant all the kuffar “South Asian Americans”. Bismillah!

  9. Use broken english when your characters are speaking (or thinking) even when they are supposed to be speaking in their own language

  10. India: Must wear saris and write about mangoes, or put Kerala in, somewhere. No other state has quite the same flavour ;) Love the post, love the blog, actually reaallly like this Granta issue too! Cheers

  11. How to write about Pakistan?

    As long as no drawing of animate objects is done, what is problem? Use eraser for Hindus. Jai ho!!

  12. Re Angel of Meth

    I so agree , best writing is not in English..read Roop Dhillon, Hasan Manto. Harjeet Atwal, Mallika Sengupta et al

    And Mangoes are a western stereotype…how about jalebis? Actually, Solar Mobile Phones?