Alhamra Literary Review
Issue 1, Spring 2005
Conceived as a forum for young and emerging writers - primarily but not exclusively from Pakistan or of Pakistani origin - the idea for the Alhamra Literary Review germinated in 2002. We began to look for new and unpublished writers who were writing in English. Our task seemed initially daunting considering that we knew very few writers and were working from a few existing manuscripts.
But very early on, from the short list of contacts that we started with, a chain formed which led us from one person to another, so that eventually people began to contact us themselves, rather than our having to seek them out. This network gradually expanded to include university students and unpublished writers from various professions including development studies, media and journalism. That goes to prove that despite various constraints, writing is still alive in some segments of our society, and that some people still read - for how can you have writing without some exposure to literature?
I cannot describe the sense of achievement that finding these people gave us, our excitement on finding a new contribution in our e-mail inbox and the resultant interaction and stimulation that it provided us. From early on, we had decided in consultation with Shafiq Naz, the Executive Editor and Publisher of the Review, that collection and editing of contributions would be shared between three editors: in addition to myself in Islamabad, there was Bina Shah in Karachi, and Hima Raza in Lahore. But Hima’s tragic death in 2003 left a big gap in our editorial group. This inaugural issue of the Alhamra Literary Review is dedicated to her memory.
Early on in the project when the three of us sent one another occasional and scattered emails, I received a phone call from Hima whom I didn’t know otherwise at all, and with whom I had a long chat. In her words “Since we are working with each other I thought we should get to know one another”. In between exchange of notes about ourselves, we agreed to make an e-mail circle so that our work would progress smoothly and we would know what each of us was doing. This would also enable us to use comparable standards of quality for submissions. Unfortunately, this was the only contact I had with Hima aside from her various e-mails, but her warmth and liveliness were palpable even through the telephone wires. Hima’s dedication to teamwork and her constant enthusiasm has kept the team together even after her life and talent were so tragically cut short.
Selecting the contributions was often a difficult task, involving an insistence on high standards and on fine honing the work as far as possible without marring its spontaneity or individuality. Many of the contributions that we received were reflective in general of Pakistan and in particular expressive of the national angst, including those from the diaspora, but the global and so called “fusion” influences are also present, indicating an increasing multiculturalism. We think you will find in reading contributions in this collection that globalization has brought to the fore a wealth of expression which differs considerably from the indigenous, from the typical concept of local color and traditionally native themes. It opens the way for a literary diffusion that incorporates both western and eastern themes and writing styles. This is not to say that every nation or race has a markedly different way of expressing itself: it is merely to state that writers are experimenting with new styles, resulting from exposure to authors and writers from around the world.
“Let’s talk about flowers!” That is my father’s private way of saying to us: “let’s change the subject.” Let’s talk about something pleasant, let’s not talk about bowel movements, serial murderers or bombs in Bali. Let’s talk about flowers, and not loss or pain or angst. Let’s talk about flowers, and let’s not talk about death.
I was ten years old when our family arrived in Beirut. It was 1980, and little did we know it but we had some exciting times ahead of us. Little did I know, little did I know about anything when it came to the country that was going to be our home for the next four years. I only knew that it wasn’t America, Europe or Pakistan. Beyond that, I had no clue.
I remember that the plane we arrived in was incredible. We sat in first-class on that MEA flight. The chairs felt as big as beds; the food we ate didn’t taste in the least like card-board. I remember that the air-hostesses were very pretty, and quick with their smiles. They gave my little brother a toy plane to play with, and I got a colouring book.
When we started to descend, I pressed my nose up-close to the window. That is how I remember my first view of Lebanon, this sudden rush of deep green water seen through an opaque glass, steamy with my breath.
I heard nothing then about any war, nothing about possible danger. No one on that plane told me to beware, to be prepared, to be afraid.
What can I tell you about those years in Lebanon? Should I tell you about how shocked we were when we first entered what was meant to be our family room, and found that the balcony wrapped around it was enclosed in a thick, ugly brown metal which turned the whole room into something dismal and dark? Seemingly so out of place in that large, airy apartment, whose rooms all had enormous French windows looking straight on to the sparkling Mediterranean Sea.