Minority communities in South Asia are fascinating examples of movement of ideas, people, and religion. After the 1947 Partition, Hindus and Sikhs migrated from the newly formed Pakistan to the world over, and especially to India. The conversations about war and peace between the two countries tend to revolve around Hindus and Muslims. The religion of Sikhism may not configure into these issues, especially for the Western readers, and yet the Radcliffe line that partitioned the subcontinent also separates two of the holiest shrines of the Sikhs.
Part memoir and part fiction, Ship of Sorrows, translation of the modernist Urdu novel Safina e Gham e Dil by Qurratulain Hyder, is a complex take on the representation of the Partition. Hyder uses the historical event to dwell on the intellectual and artistic angles of the act of living in an era that writers normally use as a backdrop for human drama.
Robert Macfarlane and Kathleen Jamie are the two most critically vaunted practitioners of the wildly fertile British publishing phenomenon known as “new nature writing”—though both reportedly resist that genre designation, and both are as much writers of history and human culture as of nature. Both explore these themes in similarly exquisite prose, but their tones and emphases are quite different, and their authorial performances have at times been contrastingly—and in Jamie’s case, one suspects, deliberately—gendered. While Macfarlane was bivouacking in the mountains, Jamie was watching falcons through the kitchen window; it was she who coined the phrase surely destined to dog Macfarlane for the rest of his days: the “lone enraptured male”.
When novelist Sonali Dev recently launched her new novel, Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors, she mentioned at her release party that it is one of a handful of Jane Austen rewrites with South Asian characters. It doesn’t take much to work out that Dev’s book is a take on Pride and Prejudice, and other authors like Soniah Kamal and Uzma Jalaluddin have also written their own takes on Pride and Prejudice while Debeshi Goopta has a new novel inspired by Persuasion.
Fatima Bhutto’s latest, powerful novel, The Runaways, highlights the whys and wherefores that drive young people to join such terrorist organizations as the Islamic State. Anita Rose and Monty live in Pakistan and Sunny resides in England, despondent, living with anxieties about their identity and their place in this world. When a propagandist radicalized narrative presents itself as an answer, they latch onto it in a desperate attempt to fulfill what they feel are their destinies.
The prolific American geopolitical analyst Robert Kaplan in his book Monsoon wrote that the Indian Ocean region is the new “pivot” of global politics in the 21st century. China’s emergence as America’s peer competitor in East Asia and potentially beyond has magnified the importance of South Asia in global geopolitics.
The Sindhi diaspora, whether in India or around the world, have a warm spot for the name Shah Abdul Latif, an 18th-century Sufi poet from Sindh, Pakistan, and a contemporary of the better known Punjabi Sufi poet Bulle Shah.