The state of writing in Pakistan


Authoring a book is an intellectual and scholarly pursuit. Authors not only contribute enormously to the development of society as a whole, but also towards the artistic, cultural, literary and historical constituents of a society. Books play a significant role in the social and economic uplift of people. They define and redefine the national psyche and sentiment while reinforcing a sense of belongingness to one’s land, history and culture, inculcating a universal sense of collectivism and national ethos. They provide insightful knowledge regarding anything and everything under the sun.

Considering the power of the written word, authors belonging to developed countries are remunerated suitably well for their writing, however, with the exception of a few very well-known and widely-read authors, writers in our country are not paid adequately.

Dr Jalaluddin Haider, in his article titled ‘Book trade in Pakistan’, has described the plight of Pakistani authors. He writes, “In our country, there is no concept of a proper patronage for authors. Most of the written work remains unpublished for the publishers do not anticipate immediate returns and are not prepared to risk a long term investment. As a result, authors are discouraged. Even those who somehow manage to get their works published through their efforts have to undergo innumerable hardships such as running after printers, booksellers, and libraries to print, sell and house their works. Aiming to encourage the growth of literary output, literary prizes are sponsored by various commercial organisations in various genres and disciplines. But the efforts are not sufficient enough for stimulating a greater writing activity on a wider range of subjects”.
Reading, Writing and Literacy

Due to the depleted literacy rate of our rural as well as urban population and a range of social, cultural and economic reasons; a general lack of interest towards book reading prevails. Ibrahim Saad writes in his book, Reader on Book Publishing in Pakistan (1994), “the annual number of titles published ranges from 2,000 to 2,500, textbooks aside, the print run in 90 per cent of the cases still ranges between 500 and 2,000, with 1,000 as the standard … about 60 per cent publishing is being done in Urdu … English Language publishing accounts for 25 per cent, and the rest is divided among regional languages. The most authentic list of books published in the country is the Pakistan National Bibliography (PNB). Mr Rais Ahmed Samdani, who had earlier conducted an analysis of the PNB for the years 1986 and 1987, says that the total number of books listed in the PNB for these two years were 860 and 765 respectively.

An average of 1,200 titles were published annually in Pakistan during a period of five years and a total 6,113 books were published: year 2001 (1655 titles), 2002 (1522 titles), 2003 (828 titles), 2004 (1072 titles) and 2005 (1036 titles).

Sixty-seven per cent books were published in our national language, Urdu; 29 per cent in English and four per cent in regional languages. The reason behind the minimal number of regional language books may be that regional publishers do not send complimentary copies to the National Library of Pakistan due to the shortage of printing material and the low quality of books. Thus their books are not listed in the PNB.
Literature in Pakistan has evolved its own identity, but has also become the socio-cultural document of an era of hope and hardships.  Since 2001, Pakistani English literature has come into its own. Uzma Aslam Khan and Mohsin Hamid have made spectacular debuts too. Saad Ashraf, Sorayya Khan and Feryal Ali Gauhar have published accomplished new novels. However, Pakistani women, who chose English as a creative vehicle, occupy a unique space. They must constantly challenge stereotypes imposed on them as women and as writers by the patriarchal narratives and cultures of both English and Pakistani literatures. This is the focus of my new anthology And the World Changed: Contemporary Stories by Pakistani Women, (June 2005) to be published by Women Unlimited. Twenty two writers are represented, including well-known authors and exciting new talent such as Humera Afridi, Hima Raza and Soniah Kamal. Collecting and collating material has been a journey of discovery and surprise and here the oral narratives of my childhood and my bilingual world, all co-exist, held together by themes of a ‘Quest’.

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