Publishing is always the greatest obstacle that faces any writer. The where, why, when, how, who of what is going to happen with a piece of writing, any form of it, is something that haunts most writers. Any writing is a creative process, but even an art form such as the written word suffers from a type of bureaucracy that is the world of publishing.
That said, the world of publishing is not necessarily walls of text and overworked copy editors that many might imagine. It is in itself an essential cog, important in the direction that works take as well determining their aesthetic and structural success. In Pakistan, there are many Urdu publishers. There have always been an abundance of literary journals in Urdu literature in Pakistan. Short story writers, poets, artists, satirists have always faced a wide array of problems, but never a shortage of places to try and get published.
For English writers writing in Pakistan, however, there has been little to no avenue to have their work published. All the English literature coming out of South Asia for some time has been dominated by writers from across the border. The formation of a post-post-colonial narrative has renewed the west’s interest in the orient, resulting in a concentration of world class publishers in India. Indian-English literature has thus held a unique position in the evolution and accessibility of the English language as it moves to accommodate modern times and the rapid globalisation of communication technology.
However, the scarcity of local publishing houses has meant that Pakistani writers have been unable to add their voice to the steadily rising hum emanating from South Asia. Things are changing however; publishers in India are hungry for quality writing from Pakistan after seeing the vast critical and commercial success of Pakistani works that managed to break the many barriers stopping local writers from having an international audience.
And although the quality and depth of the general product may still often frustrate many of us, it is hard to deny that there is a broad-ish public awareness of the rising trend of Pakistani authors writing in English.
With the realisation of this awareness has come the second edition of the Aleph Review, a literary anthology that brings together a cross section of Pakistani English literature, bringing into a codex works from established and upcoming writers and poets.
With sections on poetry, short fiction, non-fiction and even translation, the review has stepped up its game from last year. The inaugural edition of the review had been dedicated by publisher and editor-in-chief Mehwish Ameen to the late great Pakistani writer and poet Taufeeq Rafat, long known as the ‘father of the Pakistani idiom.’
The dedication to Rafat was appropriate. Pakistan has had great poets and writers, but none so great in the english language as Rafat. But with this second issue, the review has picked up its game. For instance, art has taken up a significant role in the anthology. A significant example is that the anthology’s cover is a painting by Rukhe Neelofur. According to the artist and the editorial board, the cover painting reflects the different themes explored on the inside of the anthology, especially that of otherisation and exploring ‘the other.’
Other than the cover, the Aleph Review is a significant aesthetic success. Things like quality of paper and the printing may seem trivial, but the beauty in books is important. People are often so obsessed with ideas that the beauty of an object goes unnoticed. There is little compromise on any of this with Aleph.
On a literary note, once again the most impressive section of the review was the poetry – the heart and soul of the review, as it should be with any literary anthology, especially one in English. With veteran poets such as Waqas Khawaja and Ahmed Rashid making appearances, there were also new forms of poetry from emerging poets. Yusra Amjad with her couple of poems made powerful points important in the times we live in, and Mina Malik Hassain also delivered verses that were raw but profound.
The short fiction section was dominated by interesting pieces that included Amer Hussain’s ‘Hermitage’ as well as Annie Zaidi’s science fiction work titled ‘Wandering Womb.’ What was truly interesting was the works titled ‘Magical Realism’ in the short fiction section. While there were no gems waiting in here, publisher Mehwish Amin’s dedicated story titled ‘The Cremation’ was one of the shining featutes of the entire review.
The non-fiction and translation sections were short and precise. First time introductions, this was a more conceptual idea framed in the same aesthetic of the rest of the review. What shone through from the non fiction section was the writing done by Salman Rashid, the travel writer extraordinaire whose crisp writing takes its readers deep into whatever place he is writing about. There being a place for translation was even more interesting, but there is demand for the translation of Urdu into English. Prominent was translation work done by writer Bilal Tanweer as well as the lyrical translation of the Urdu ‘Choohay ka achar’ into ‘Mouse pickle’ by Musharraf Ali Farooqi.
When the first edition of the Aleph review had come under review last year, one of the fears had been that this would not be sustainable. That it was a one time thing or that despite what they may want, the team would not manage to pull through with a follow up. That said, the fears proved to be unfounded. Team Aleph is clearly dedicated, and there is more in store for us yet. It has only been two years, but with such dedication and talent working in tandem, the Aleph Review seems to be here not just to stay, but also to set standards and hopefully encourage the creation of a tradition.