Hybrid Tapestries: The Development of Pakistani Literature in English

A book review by Sadaf Halai.

Indian authors writing in English were the rising stars of the anglophone literary world in the 1990s, notes Muneeza Shamsie in the preface to her groundbreaking and exhaustive book, Hybrid Tapestries: The Development of Pakistani Literature in English.

At the time, she writes, many in Pakistan would ask her why there weren’t any English language writers in Pakistan. But, contrary to general perception, Muneeza recalls, she was “meeting and writing about Pakistani-English authors all the time”.

This disconnect between perception and reality served as a catalyst of sorts for A Dragonfly in the Sun, the 1997 anthology she went on to compile. The anthology included the works of several writers of Pakistani origin living abroad, raising important questions of “identity and belonging”. In Hybrid Tapestries, Muneeza addresses those questions and defines what it means to be a “Pakistani” writer: “anyone who claims that identity,” she argues.

She asserts early on in her remarkably well-organised, thoughtful and extremely readable book that Pakistani English literature is unlike other Pakistani literatures in that it is a “direct result of the colonial encounter”.

She uses a “historical trajectory” to trace the development of Pakistani English literature: the starting point of the trajectory are the “founders” of Pakistani English writing — writers who became Pakistani at the time of the Partition, whose writing cannot be separated from the “colonial encounter”. She, however, avoids using what she refers to as the “academic labels” of postmodern and postcolonial.

Muneeza is also ever mindful of the “cultural intermingling” and the “hybrid influences” that have resulted in the “tapestry” of a complex, if not complicated, history of English literature in Pakistan.

English may have been introduced to South Asia by British imperialism but those writing in it wanted to challenge the narratives of the Empire. Pre-Partition writers of fiction and poetry in English were, thus, faced with the formidable task of “finding the true expression of the subcontinent in the English language, which did not, or seemingly could not, accommodate the nuances of South Asia and its many cultures”.

Hybrid Tapestries is divided into two sections: Pioneering Writers and Developing Genres. The former includes Atiya Fyzee-Rahamin (1877-1967), Shahid Suhrawardy (1890-1965) and Ahmed Ali (1910-1994) – who all started writing much before 1947 – and Zulfikar Ghose, Taufiq Rafat and Sara Suleri — who embarked on their literary careers immediately after Independence.

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Omar Khayyam

Lecture by Mirza I. Ashraf

Omar Khayyam
(A Muslim Mathematician, Astronomer, Philosopher, and Poet)

Of knowledge, naught remained I did not know,
Of secrets, scarcely any, high or low;
All day and night for three score and twelve years,
I pondered, just to learn that naught I know.

Omar Khayyam Nishapuri (1048-1131), was the most brilliant mathematician, astronomer, and author of important philosophical works of his time. He was a free thinker and a skeptic, but at the same time a poet of Sufi path to wisdom. His unique intellectual genius is the relationship of his poetry with his philosophy, and a relationship of his philosophy with mathematics and astronomy. Generally, his importance in Islamic intellectual tradition is due to his poetry of the Rubaiyyat (quatrains), in which he challenged religious doctrines, alluding to the hypocrisy of the clergies. Casting doubt on almost every aspect of religious belief, he appears to have professed a type of humanism. Because of his rational arguing the secret of creation and human fate, some thinkers in the West refer him as the “Eastern Voltaire.”
With Earth’s first clay They did the Last Man knead,
And there of the Last Harvest sow’d the Seed:
And the First Morning of Creation Wrote
What the last Dawn of Reckoning shall read.

Khayyam believed that man’s presence in this world, entry and exist is predetermined, a condition he bemoans throughout his poetry.
Born into a family of tent-makers in Nishapur, then a Seljuq capital in Khorasan, what is today’s Iran, Khayyam after studying Qur’an and Islamic jurisprudence, achieved proficiency in the sciences of algebra, geometry and astronomy. Throughout his life, he taught algebra and geometry during the day, and in the evening attended the court of the Seljuq Sultan Malik Shah as an adviser. He intelligently makes a whimsical reference to his knowledge of science and his family profession of a tent maker in his quatrain.
Khayyam, who stitched the tents of science,
Has fallen in grief’s furnace and been suddenly burned,
The shears of Fate have cut the tent ropes of his life,
And the broker of Hope has sold him for nothing!
After the death of the Sultan, having lost the favor of an adviser, he set out on Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. When he returned to Nishapur, he was appointed as a court astrologer, a rank much lower to his level of knowledge. He was a quiet, humble, reserved person who wished to remain intellectually inconspicuous, as is evident from one of his quatrain:
The secrets which my book of love has bred,
Cannot be told for fear of loss of head;
Since none is fit to learn, or cares to know,
‘Tis better all my thoughts remain unsaid.
He wrote remarkable fourteen treatises identified to date, on the subjects of poetry, philosophy, and mathematics. Since his poetry presents philosophical wisdom, he being initially a man of science and general philosophy has not received the attention he deserved in the scientific field. However, recently his seven-philosophical works have been published.
Omar Khayyam was an important member of the panel that reformed the Persian Jalali calendar which remained in use in Iran and Afghanistan from 11th to 20th centuries. The Jalali calendar, similar to Hindu calendar is based on actual solar transit and is considered more accurate than the Gregorian calendar. Khayyam by adding one day after every four years in the month of February, as a leap year, fixed the Gregorian calendar as we have today.

Omar Khayyam, in his life was very famous as a great mathematician and astronomer. Before Khayyam, Muhammad al-Khwarizmi (780-850) had invented Algebra and most importantly a set of numerical calculations and instructions known by his own name as Alkhwarizm—Latinized Algorithm—which if carried out systematically produces a desired result. Algorithms are critical to software design, modern science, and engineering, enabling computers and smart electronics to sort through masses of digital data and text. Khayyam was familiar with al-Khwarizmi’s great achievement, and in the year 1070 he wrote, Treatise on Demonstration of Problems of Algebra, which was later adopted in Europe. In particular, he derived general methods for solving cubic equations of higher order.

(a) Theory of Parallels: Khayyam wrote Explanations of the Difficulties in the Postulates in Euclid’s Elements, which contains several sections on the parallel postulate on Euclidean definition of ratios, Anthyphairetic ratio (modern continued fraction) and on the multiplication ratios. He made the first attempt at formulating a non-Euclidean postulate as an alternative to the parallel postulate.
(b) Geometric Algebra: In solving cubic equation, Khayyam’s celebrated approach and method in geometric-algebra presents the philosophical view of mathematics. His approach can be considered the first systematic study and the first exact method of solving cubic equation.
(c) Binomial Theorem and Extraction of Roots: This particular remark of Khayyam and certain proposition found in his Algebra book have made some historians of mathematics believe that Khayyam had indeed a binomial theorem up to any power, which is based on his ability to extract roots.
(d) Khayyam-Saccheri Quadrilateral: Khayyam, considering the three cases—right, obtuse and acute—that the summit angles of a Saccheri quadrilateral can take and after proving a number of theorems about them, he correctly refuted the obtuse and acute cases based on his postulate and hence derived the classic postulate of Euclid.

The statue of Khayyam in Persian Scholars Pavilion,
United Nations Office in Vienna, Austria

4. ASTRONOMER: Like most of Muslim mathematicians of the medieval Islamic period, Khayyam was also an astronomer. Invited by sultan Malik Shah he helped build an Observatory. Before Khayyam, ibn al-Haytham (900-1040), author of the Book of Optics, wrote about empirical science, optics, light, and the skies to create perhaps the most scientific and accurate view of the physical universe until Copernicus and Galileo. But it was Al-Biruni (973-1048) who had proved four centuries before Galileo that the earth is round, rotates on its axis and moves around the sun. Al-Biruni showed through a diagram how lunar eclipses occur.

5. HELIOCENTRIC THEORY: Khayyam demonstrated that the earth rotates on its axis by presenting to his contemporaries a model of the stars in his planetarium. Edward Fitzgerald’s anachronistic rendering of Khayyam’s poetry, in which the first lines are mistranslated with a heliocentric image of the Sun fling “the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight,” depicts that Khayyam believed in heliocentrism.
Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! The Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan’s Turret in a Noose of Light.

Statue of Omar Khayyam at his home town Nishapur

Khayyam’s philosophical treatises were written in the Peripatetic tradition when philosophy in general and rationalism in particular was under attack in twelfth century in the world of Islam. He, therefore, had to defend himself against the charge of being a philosopher.
“A philosopher I am,” my enemies falsely say,
But God knows I am not what they say;
While in this sorrow-laden nook, I reside
Need to know who I am, and why Here stay.
In his work On Being and Necessity, Khayyam defining philosophy along the Peripatetic line argues that there are three real issues to be discussed in philosophy—which are standard Aristotelian questions— ‘is it?’ ‘what is it?’ and ‘why is it?’
For “Is” and “Is-not” though with Rule and Line
And “Up-and-down” by Logic I define,
Of all that one should care to fathom, I
Was never deep in anything but—Wine.
For Khayyam, these questions have a wider range of philosophical implication as the subject of philosophy is essentially the response to three questions: “whether something is,” “what it is,” and “why it is what it is.”
Omar Khayyam frequently mentions Avicenna as his master. He taught for decades the philosophy of Avicenna, especially The Book of Healing, in his hometown of Nishapur, till his death. He is the most important thinker to have continued Avicennian philosophy, and at the same time the last solitary philosopher to have raised his voice during the period of philosophical suppression in the Islamic world. When one examines all of Khayyam’s philosophical treatises together, one finds him as essentially Avicennian or Aristotelian philosopher with particular acumen in the mathematical and natural order, on the one hand, and mysticism, on the other. His whole work is based on the Necessary Being, the One, who is Reality who in religious language is called “God.” He believed that all that exists, exists by virtue of the One Necessary Being.
Khayyam’s philosophy of mathematics draws attention to three basic mathematical ideas. The first is “mathematical order,” that the Divine origin of all existence not only emanates the being, by virtue of which all things gain reality, but it is also the source of order that is inseparable from the very act of existence. To speak of a being is also to speak of order, which the science of mathematics studies in turn as do certain other disciplines. The second is a “mathematic-philosophical” question with which Khayyam was concerned is the significance of postulates in geometry and the necessity for the mathematician to rely upon philosophy in order to prove the postulates and principles of his own science. He associated motion with the world of matter and wanted to keep it away from the purely intelligible and immaterial world of geometry. Third important issue for Khayyam is the “difference between natural body and mathematical body.” The natural body is in the category of substance with which the natural science deals and it stands for itself, while the mathematical body is of the category of accident which is the concern of mathematics that does not subsist by itself in the external world.
Though Khayyam, the philosopher could also be understood through his Rubaiyyat, but in Fitzgerald’s translation the quatrains convey, at least superficially, hedonistic, fatalistic, and this worldly philosophy combined with much skepticism about religious teaching. He is to be best understood through his philosophical works in the light of intellectual and social conditions of his time. The philosopher-scientist Khayyam was not the same Khayyam who is the author of the quatrains. Khayyam in his time as well as today, is famously known as Hakim meaning a philosopher-sage, and a spiritual-pragmatist. In fact, his Rubaiyyat are to be viewed as a philosophical commentary on the human condition.
For Khayyam, there are two discourses, each of which pertains to one dimension of human existence: philosophical and poetic. Philosophically, Khayyam was the last Aristotelian in the world of Muslim thinkers. He defended rationalism against the rise of orthodoxy and made an attempt to revive the spirit of rationalism which had remained prevalent in the first four centuries in the Islamic world. Poetically, he represents a voice of protest against what he regards to be fundamentally unjust world. People, even today, find in him a voice they love to hear, and many centuries after he had died his Rubaiyyat in original Persian language and translations in many other languages, are being seen a venue for those who are experiencing the same trials and tribulations as Omar Khayyam had.

Preference for sensual pleasures and glorification of love
Omar Khayyam’s one thousand Rubaiyyat, which are based on a poetry of a series of quatrains, sparkling with witty epigrammatic observances of life, is filled with exquisite oriental imagery. Although scores of other European scholars had prepared their version of Khayyam’s quatrains, it was Edward Fitzgerald (1809-1883), an Irish poet, who adapted and lovingly translated in 1895 the best of his Rubaiyyat weaving them in a single, magical poem. His quatrains became so popular that from 1895 to 1900 were published 25 times. Khayyam, who was basically a man of science, rebelled against the bigotry and fanaticism around him and sought escape in the pleasures of poetry and philosophy. His Epicurean audacity of thought and speech caused him to be regarded askance in his own time and country.

Then to the Lip of this poor earthen Urn
I lean’d, the Secret of my Life to learn:
And Lip to Lip it murm’d – “While you live,
Drink! – for, once dead, you never shall return.”

Ah, fill the Cup:- what boots it to repeat
How Time is slipping underneath our Feet:
Unborn Tomorrow, and dead Yesterday,
Why fret about them it today be sweet!

How long, how long, in infinite Pursuit
Of This and That endeavor and dispute?
Better be merry with the fruitful Grape
Than sadden after none, or bitter Fruit.

But Khayyam was too honest of heart as well as of mind. Having failed (however mistakenly) of finding any Providence but Destiny, and world but this, he set about making the most of it; preferring rather to soothe the soul through the senses into acquiescence with things as he saw them, than to perplex it with vain disquietude after what they might be. It has been seen, however, that his worldly ambition was exorbitant; and he very likely takes a humorous or perverse pleasure in exalting the gratification of sense above that of the intellect, in which he must have taken great delight, although it failed to answer the Questions in which he, in common with all men, was most vitally interested. His quatrains are full of witty thoughts with dual meanings.

And, as the Cock crew, those who stood before
The Tavern shouted—Open then the door!
You know how little while we have to stay,
“And once departed, may return no more.”

Khayyam’s poetry is filled with a live-for-today philosophy, a preference for sensual pleasures and glorification of love that have made his Rubaiyyat delightful reading for many generations of admirers. He uses the concept of “wine and intoxication” throughout his poetry in three distinct ways: the intoxicant wine, the mystical wine, and the wine of love. The esoteric use of wine and drinking in Persian Sufi literature, refers to the state of ecstasy in which one is intoxicated with Divine love. But Khayyam was not a mystic in traditional sense. He uses wine in the profound sense of Sophia or wisdom that provides a sage with philosophical wisdom, allowing one to come to terms with temporality of life and to live in the here and now.

Those imprisoned by the intellect’s need to decipher
Humbled; knowing being from non-being, they proffer
Seek ignorance and drink the juice of the grape
Those fools acting as wise, scoffer.

Khayyam, the mathematician-astronomer, fails to find any purpose for human existence within an orderly and complex universe.

Yesterday this day’s madness did prepare;
Tomorrow’s silence, triumph, or despair:
Drink! For you know not whence you came, nor why:
Drink! For you know not why you go, nor where

Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of wine, a Book of Verse—and You
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
And Wilderness is Paradise anew.

Many readers of Khayyam consider that Khayyam is the timeless Sufi voice. Sufis believe that within mankind there is an element, activated by love, which provides the means of attaining to true reality, called mystical meaning. Khayyam relates this concept beautifully:

When the Original Cause determined my being
I was given the first lesson of love.
It was then that the fragment of my heart was made
The Key to the Treasury of Pearls of mystical meaning.

In his poetry, Khayyam uses the imagery of bowl (kuza) and clay for man. He believed that man is made from the “dust and to dust he shall return.”
For in the Market-place, one Dusk Day,
I watch’d the potter thumping his wet Clay:
And with its all obliterated Tongue
It murmur’d — “Gently, Brother, gently, I pray.”

With them the seed of Wisdom did I sow,
And with my own hand wrought to make it grow;
And this was all the Harvest that I reap’d—
“I came like Water, and like Wind I go.”




November 17, 2016  By Emily Temple


Laila Lalami, The Moor’s Account

This novel, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, is the fictional memoir of Estebanico, a Moroccan slave of conquistador Pánfilo de Narváez, who emerges as one of the few survivors after his crew lands on the Florida coast in 1527. History is written by the victors, this novel reminds us, but only certain victors—here, Lalami fights erasure, providing an alternative narrative of the exploration of the New World.



G. Willow Wilson, Alif the Unseen

In this delightful, techno-fantastical novel, Alif is a hacker in an unnamed country in the Middle East, fighting authoritarian government censorship and trying to get the girl. Then, enter the jinn. Also worth mentioning: G. Willow Wilson is also the writer behind the new Ms. Marvel comic, which stars 16-year-old Pakistani-American shapeshifter Kamala Khan, the first Muslim character to headline a Marvel comic book.


Rabih Alameddine, An Unnecessary Woman

For a certain bookish type, this novel is some serious wish fulfillment—after all, its narrator, Aaliya, is a somewhat misanthropic old woman who does nothing but read books all day and never goes out. But most important and impressive here is the skill with which Alameddine has created a full, seductive, and—I can’t resist—actually completely necessary mind for us to delve into, live with, and explore.


Saladin Ahmed, Throne of the Crescent Moon

Ahmed’s epic swords & sorcery fantasy novel which follows a ghul hunter and his apprentice on a quest to save their city, was a finalist for pretty much every fantasy prize, but won the Locus Award for Best First Novel. In an interview with Alyssa Rosenberg, Ahmed referred to it as a “sadly radical gesture,” explaining that just as feminism is “the radical notion that women are people, a lot of my work is about the fact that Muslims and Arabs and people who look Arabic are heroes.”


Ausma Zehanat Khan, The Unquiet Dead

The first novel in Khan’s crime series follows Rachel Getty and her partner Esa Khattak, detectives with Toronto’s Community Policing Section, which deals with “minority-sensitive cases.” A death that first seems to be an accident soon seems to be connected to the Srebrenica Massacre, complicating the relationship of the detectives—particularly the Muslim Khattak—to the case.


Ali Eteraz, Native Believer

Ali Eteraz is a pen name that means “Noble Protest.” In his darkly funny debut novel, the protest may not be entirely noble, but it is essential—the story follows M., a Philadelphia man who is Muslim by birth but not by belief. When he gets fired for owning a copy of the Quran, his life spirals out of control as he tries to find some semblance of a place in the world.


Leila Aboulela, The Kindness of Enemies

This lyrical novel moves back and forth between two stories: one set in a contemporary Scotland deeply suspicious of Muslims, where Natasha, a half-Russian, half-Sudanese professor studying Imam ­Shamil finds out that her favorite student is descended from the 19th-century Muslim warrior (and has a very important heirloom)—and the other telling the story of Imam Shamil himself.


Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist

This bestselling novel takes the form of a long monologue, as Changez, a young Pakistani man, tells his story to an American in a cafe. Since Changez had been living, by some standards at least, the American Dream before 9/11, his reaction to the disaster is strange: “I stared as one—and then the other—of the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center collapsed. And then I smiled. Yes, despicable as it may sound, my initial reaction was to be remarkably pleased.” But this reaction confuses him, and soon everything begins to change.


Tahmima Anam, The Good Muslim

In this novel, the sequel to The Golden Age, a sister and brother clash in postwar Bangladesh. Maya, a doctor, remains a revolutionary, while Sohail, once her idol, has become a conservative religious leader. “The book is sort of asking the reader to challenge that notion of what is a good Muslim,” Anam told NPR. “Is it the practicing Muslim? Is it his sister, who’s very progressive and areligious?”


Mohammed Hanif, A Case of Exploding Mangoes

Exploding mangoes are the least of it. Hanif’s satirical debut takes on the suspicious death (plane crash) of General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, former president of Pakistan, inventing a number of increasingly goofy assassination plots and possibilities. Intelligence agents, military aircraft, political alliances, and slapstick jokes make for a kind magical, mango-ish Catch-22.Emily Temple

Emily Temple

Emily Temple is an associate editor at LitHub.

posted by f.sheikh

” A Fantasy” A Poem By Shamma

(Shared by Mirza Ashraf.The poet is the niece of Mirza Ashraf)


A fantasy..

by Shamma


When the eyes kiss rose petals

The dewdrops create a fantasy…

When a ray sprinkles upon the light

The fluorescence induces a fantasy…

When the waves caress its shore

The restlessness awakens a fantasy…

When the scent absorbs into musk

The romance merges into a fantasy…

When a sonnet intoxicates the heart

The poetry embraces a fantasy…

When a dream opens a new passage

The reality converts into a fantasy…