Is Pakistan a difficult muse? Join the dots and see

Written By Unknown on Sabtu, 07 Desember 2013 | 22.23

Sometimes, a vacant seat is an argument. In a way, the visible absence of Pakistani writer Mohammed Hanif—who could not make it to the Literary Carnival due to visa issues validated the subject of the panel discussion: 'Why does Pakistan make writers sweat blood?'

In a session hosted by Srijana Mitra Das, British-born writer-journalist Aatish Taseer, the Pakistan bureau chief of the New York Times, Declan Walsh, and former high commissioner to Pakistan G Parthasarathy drew from experience to explain why India's north-western neighbour often makes for a difficult muse.

"The country is an area of incredible familiarity and deep unfamiliarity at the same time," said Taseer, author of Stranger To History: A Son's Journey Through Islamic Lands. "This (dichotomy) was amplified for me by the fact that my father (the late politician Salman Taseer ) was from Pakistan and mother (journalist Tavleen Singh) belongs to India," said Taseer, who during his journey found a constant rejection of all things Indian.

Irish journalist Declan Walsh, who is known for an essay in which he used Pakistan's railways as a metaphor for the crumbling authority of the state, has spent nine years covering the country. Earlier this year, just before the general election, Pakistani authorities expelled him for "undesirable activities" . "I hope they meant my writing," Walsh joked, confessing that the sudden cancellation of his visa had been the most difficult experience of his stay. "Initially, as a westerner covering Pakistan, my problem was representation," he said. "When I would write about conflict, people would constantly argue that we did not present the other Pakistan, the one with stories such as the transvestite who was a TV host. So the media also carried a lot of such counterintuitive stories." The trick, Walsh realized, was to ignore this "binary perspective" . "( Pakistan) is diverse and the trick is to join the dots," he said.

G Parthasarathy is no stranger to this diversity, having arranged meetings of Urdu scholars and poets from both countries during the three years he was consul general in Karachi. "Pakistan always was and remains a feudal society," felt Parthasarathy. "The overarching narrative of the state is religion and this notion that unity lies in uniformity is their most fundamental mistake."

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