Last year, the Oxford University Press (OUP) solicited original short stories written in English from all over Pakistan to be included in a book to accompany the 2014 Karachi Literary Festival. Four themes were provided for these short stories -- ‘the meaning of me’, ‘the bravest place on earth’, ‘because this is what matters’ and ‘paved and unpaved ways’. In all, 433 stories were received out of which 74 were selected-- and now appear in a book under review.
It appears the OUP has been doing similar exercises in the past as well, and in at least three previous festivals, the stories were edited by the same Maniza Naqvi. OUP has been providing a forum for the encouragement of creative writings in English language by younger people; this must have resulted in a positive response for them to have continued with the practice now three years running.
This seems to be a positive initiative to have been taken by the OUP. Not so long ago, our schools and universities hardly encouraged their students to write original stuff. It was basically rote or hand-me-down notes that were memorised in the name of answering the examinations and also in writing for the college or school magazines. But, now, the approach has changed -- even young children in junior classes are encouraged to write on their own.
Creative writing as a subject has become fashionable and regular courses are conducted for the students to get over the phobia of writing out their thoughts without fear or apprehension of being questioned or castigated.
In this regard, it is a good attempt because our youngsters are generally shy and inhibited when their original thoughts, ideas or initiatives are concerned. They like to hide behind the skirts of a teachers or the halo of their elders or a book they have read that meets with the general approval of peers and elders.
Similarly, there are limited forums where youngsters can go and read out what they have ventured out to write. Now the schools and colleges are beginning to be more accommodating of original writings, new ideas and creative initiatives. So, if a book is published with new names, it can be a source of huge encouragement and inspiration to those whose names appear and should propel them to continue writing original stuff without the inhibition of yore.
The judgment of stories or their evaluation can be left for later. The initiative should be welcomed and applauded for it is not only the gesture of offering a platform to those who have shown enough promise to be on the cusp of being writers but purely as a nursery from where future writers can sprout. The fact that a platform has been provided should be a step that ought to be appreciated and that is what one of the roles of the publishing houses should be.
By providing enough space to youngsters, and identifying and developing their talent, they can at least be in a position to go beyond mere fancying themselves as writers. Ordinarily, circumstances would never allow them such an indulgence.
The writings of all youngsters have much in common. There is a certain candidness about their expression and a disarming naivety, clarity of what is right and wrong. Probably the stark division of black and white distinguishes the writings of the experienced from the young, and this brings with it a whiff of fresh air. With the passage of time, the expression and mature sensibility will delve into areas that are grey or defy the clear-cut demarcation of values.
If the intention is to encourage then there is no harm in mentioning the names of the writers whose works have been included -- Amna Memon, Asad Alvi, Asfa Shakeel, Azhar Razaaq Khugyani, Bilal Shafi Sheikh, Feryal Ali Gauhar, Fatima Taj, Afaq Rizvi, Hasan Naveed Mirza, Hina Mohsin, Husain Qazi, Kunwal Rubab Ejaz, Laiqa Mannan, Mehwash Durrani, Mari Fatima, Manahil Bandukwala, Mashal Nadeem, Mavra Tanveer, Rehana Hyder, Sauleha Kemal, Samsora Safi, Sheetal Abbas, Sunnu Golwalla, Sydra Karwa, Sayeda Wajiha Maryam, Yasmeen Saifullah Piracha, Aarti Lila Ram, Aisha Nazir, Anisa Jadoon, Anum Shahryar, Ayesha Afridi, Javeria Saadi, Mahnoor Islam, Nazli Rafaat Jamal, Nuzhat Tariq, Saad Saeed, Samreen Razi, Sophia Bokhari, Taha Kehar, Zainab Hussain, Zahra Ali Asghar Babrawala, Zoona Sikander, Aamna Naim, AaliaBii, Amna Ahmad, Anis Punjwani, Farahnaz Haider Sheikh, Farhat Jamal, Asim Shahzad, Fatema Irfan Ali, Fizza Hassan, Hilda Saeed, Izzah Shahid,Khadijah Ahmed Malik, Komal Nasir, Izzah Shahid, Mariha Ghazal, Michelle Arif, Maniha Mehboob, Noor ul Ain, Aaisha Salamn, Alainah Aamir, Amna Lodhi, Faisal Nazeer Hussain, Iman Khan, Maryam Mustafa, Mehr Husain, Nadir Abbas, Naima Memon, Nargis Hussain, Nauman Munir Azfal, Neha Waseem and Salwa Aftabuddin.
Maniza Naqvi is a writer and her four novels Mass Transit,On Air, Stay With Me and Matter of Detail have been published already. She spends her time in New York and Karachi.