Pakistan’s finest women writers gather under one roof

pakwritersBy Sumaira Jajja

KARACHI: It’s not every day that some of the finest women writers of Pakistan gather under one roof, but at The Second Floor (T2F), a book reading cum question and answer session managed to accomplish just that. In collaboration with the Oxford University Press (OUP), T2F gave the audience a chance to listen to excerpts from ‘And The World Changed,’ an anthology featuring some of the best works written by Pakistani women writers in English.

The evening bought together Muneeza Shamsie, the editor of And The World Changed along with writers Fehmida Riaz, Bina Shah, Sehba Sarwar, Kamila Shamsie, Nayyara Rahman and OUP’s Amina Sayyed. As the evening progressed with each writer reading her excerpts, the attendees were treated to an eclectic mix of fact and fiction, chiseled by the authors’ personal experiences, taking shape in the form of stories. Once the floor was opened for questions, many a budding writers eagerly posed questions about getting published but one question that loomed on the minds of all was why these women wrote in English. The erudite Muneeza Shamsie gave a comprehensive reply taking into account the strong Colonial influences that made English the acceptable lingua franca within the class conscious Indo-Pak. From the writers, it was Sarwar and the younger Shamsie who said that there reasons had to do with a reaching a wider audience through the medium of English. “I feel honoured to have my work translated into Bosnian but someday I hope that I will see my work translated into Urdu,” Shamsie said. However, apt reply to this question came from Riaz. Known for calling a spade a spade, Riaz asserted an apparent fact when she said that the difference between the new breed of Pakistani Urdu and English language writers was startling. “While the English language writers are finding more opportunities, it’s the Urdu writers who are struggling to find an outlet,” Riaz went on as she vented her feeling about the dearth of fresh blood in Pakistani Urdu fiction writing.

As the proceedings were to close, Sabeen Mahmud, the director of T2F, dropped the bombshell that T2F will soon be moving out to a new place as the landlord has asked them to vacate the floor. Opening its doors in May 2007, T2F proved to more then just a coffee shop and turned into an avenue that allowed people to express themselves. At T2F, budding acts have a chance to show their talent while the literary sessions revived the dying coffee house culture that was once the hallmark of Karachi. The place also had its fair share of ups and downs with gigs that ended up in fights to the famous MAC theft. However, it is the resilient attitude of the management and the patrons that made the T2F phenomenon more than a flash in a pan, giving Karachiites a vibrant place to ponder and relax but the news Mahmud gave dampened every body’s spirit.

“Yesterday, on the 17th of January 2009, we called our landlord to ask him when he would have the lift fixed. He was non-committal about repairing the lift, but dropped a bombshell. He has asked us to vacate the premises,” Mahmud said as the stunned visitors listened attentively. “While this news was a huge shock to us, we are committed to finding an alternative venue as soon as possible. We need support from all our stakeholders to come forward and help us through this difficult transition. PeaceNiche has a vision and we will continue to deliver what you have come to expect from us. We now need a home to call our own and this time, with your support, we hope it will be a space that no one can throw us out of,” passionately urged Mahmud while T2F regulars came to her to offer solutions, hoping that the curtain would not fall on T2F.

Courtesy: Daily times

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