Monday, November 1, 2010

Chapati Mystery Reviews Granta

Manan Ahmed of Chapati Mystery on Pakistan, John Freeman and Peccavistan.

What can I say? I bought the issue, yes Pakistan is framed by terror, a negativity campaign to sell newspapers and books, winked totally at by the Granta writer's hilarious "How to Write About Pakistan" (incidentially I was disappointed to find this wasn't in the issue itself) but I still liked the issue.

I will repeat myself and say Granta's issue was good if for nothing else than "Pop Idols", the story of how Pakistan's pop scene rose up to give the kids of those days a sense of expression.


karachikhatmal said...

i read the whole pop idols piece right now, and its a brilliant example of everything that is wrong with writing about pakistan.

apart from the crude, and purposeful generalizations like "all of rural pakistan remained sufi" (which is an amazingly bullshit creation used to pacify western and native elitist fears) it is so detached.

the whole bit on the first experience with junoon and vital signs was beautiful and riveting because it was personal. kamila was there to watch the signs come to karachi, junoon make it big, nazia and zohaib come out...

but once that is done, something as beautiful and important as pakistani music is reduced to little more than a story of how pakistani rockers have gone nuts.

the author has clearly no interest in pakistani music, and thus no time to observe the second wave in the 2000s of noori, mekaal hasan, atif, jal etc, no time to talk about the rise of music channels and the sub-cultures they spawned (most notably living on the edge on musik), no time to speak of mathira and the rise of vjs, no time to talk of the rise of regional (mainly punjabi but also english and pashto) vocals over urdu, the rise of post-junoon fusion music, the cross over of naseebo lal and nursery rhymes, the cross-over success and resultant pressures of singing in bollywood...

it is instead a story of music and jihad, rock and terrorism, bullshit and bullshit piled over itself.

imagine if you wrote to the rest of the world about pakistani cricket, and only wrote about imran khan in 1992 and now, leaving out everything in between.

in the relentless race to project pakistan as a peaceful sufi country that the west can digest, we rob it off all the essential things that make the country what it is...

karachikhatmal said...

just re-read the peice without being so angry, and must mention that it is very well written. which is why the ignorance of history feels sadder.

TLW said...

KK, it's all good yaar, I was also left with a question that why didn't she mention all those questions relating to the post first wave musicians. For one thing she focused on four powerful musicians from our industry Junaid Jamshed, Salman Ahmed, Ali Azmat and Rohail Hayat, right up till this summer. These guys were the pioneers, and for our music industry relatively prolific. Like you said, a second album makes you a legend. And the reason she focuses on them is sort of like explaining Bollywood to a western audience, I don't know twenty years ago. You focus on the basics which move you the most.

However there is something to be said for Kamila Shamsie's standard of writing. She is competent writer and she should be proud of her own pioneering role in modern Pakistani writing (commercially succesful, post-Cold War era female writer, bought Karachi's problems forward). However in the nineties, she also succumbed to the macro-status quo of not directly addressing those who have committed crimes directly by name. "In The City by the Sea" she never mentions who the dictator is, although in Pop Idols she mentions how Zia effected her life. In "Kartography" she doesn't directly identify the factions or the political governments. In "Burnt Shadows" on the other hand, she directly mentions 9/11, grabbing onto the Zeitgeist. It's actually a very chalaak thing Kamila Shamsie does; she goes to the outer limit of what is acceptable, pushes the boundary a little bit, but doesn't totally break through the boundary.
I think that is to be expected from a kid from Karachi (or KGS, pick any). Pushing the envelope just to be out there, but not completely breaking through to try and create your own alternative space.
Incidentially, her sister was and still is a Physics teacher there and I think I have the yearbook in which she's the Head Girl.

karachikhatmal said...

about a decade ago, i was at a family dance practice when i saw a book my cousin was going to review for a college app. i picked it up, and then i couldn't put it down. it remains the most profound literary experience i had (regardless of the merits of the book, nothing else had hit me the same way) it led to a period of my life where i read everything south asian in could find.

the book was moth smoke. when i came across kartography, i devoured it because this seemed to be karachi's answer to lahore's moth smoke.

i was 17, but the ferocity of my hate for that book still surprises me. i hated the family which i couldn't relate to, their usage of greek and egyptian nicknames (i might have got the details wrong) the cliched baba who served tea at the beach etc etc.

it took almost a decade for someone to post an excerpt of it for me to realise how delicate and at times beautiful the prose in kartography was.

my point is that sometimes we go looking to find something and when we don't get that, we start foaming at the mouth. i fear that despite my rational inclinations, kamila would always suffer from my teenage frustrations and first impressions.(something i realised first hand when i made sasti masti and people who wanted more conventional "karachikhatmal" stuff were left foaming at the mouth)

so thus, i wouldn't want to pontificate on what she did or didn't mention.

but your point here is very important, and it hits the nail on the head - us privilleged karachiites are probably most comfortable being at the outer limit of acceptability to look cool, without jumping off the edge.

i don't think there is a particular need to be edgy or subversive in order to be a serous artist, but at the same time, it is imperative to NEVER write about something you don't know well enough.

the article here (the pop idols one) is gorgeous when she sticks to her personal experience, and exposes itself to ridicule/criticism when it veers off away from the music and into politics etc.

but thanks for exposing me to this - my plans for doing something about pakistani music have taken a greater focus since i read this.

TLW said...

KK, if you did anything for Pakistani music, that would be awesome.