Novelist, columnist and short story writer Zaheda Hina, considered by many to be one of the most pivotal voices to have emerged from Pakistan, was present at the IBA on Thursday where the recently published English translation of her short stories, The House of Loneliness, was launched.
Organised by the Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu, the book launch included a panel discussion about the literary worth of Hina’s stories and to debate on this topic was columnist and short story writer Aamer Hussein, in conversation with Prof Syed Nomanul Haq and writer Sadaf Halai.
Zaheda Hina recalled how from a very young age she was surrounded by a strong presence of literature within her home. As a result, she became a dedicated reader and her stories were influenced greatly by the literature she read during her younger years.
Hina also spoke about her writing process. “Stories just come to me. I can’t visualise the character; instead I just keep writing. My writing process is based on an event or an instance that just hits me and it is then that I start writing. I can never remember the process as I am completely engulfed in that state of being.”
Mythology also is a constant refrain in her writings; “I started reading Urdu from the age of four or five. I read the Urdu newspaper and any other thing I could get my hands on. Tilism-i-Hoshruba and Dastan-i-Amir Hamza were among the reading material, and these books belonged to my mother.”
“Stories just come to me. I can’t visualise the character; instead I just keep writing. My writing process is based on an event or an instance that just hits me and it is then that I start writing. I can never remember the process as I am completely engulfed in that state of being.” — Zahida Hina
Aamer Hussein had flown in from London to speak about Hina's short stories, which have been translated into English by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Shahbano Alvi, Samina Rahman, Muhammed Umar Memon, among several others.
“Literary imagination knows no boundaries,” Hussain said of Hina’s stories.
“One of the really striking things I noticed was the role women play and the space they occupy; the physical, metaphysical and psychological space.” — writer Sadaf Halai
“These are histories of war and displacement, lost homes and destroyed hopes,” he explained. These stories often have the range without compromising depth and thus are not conventional short stories, he added.
“Literary references in her stories range from classical poetry of the subcontinent to events that can be found in yesterday’s newspapers,” he further elaborated.
Writer Sadaf Halai shared her analysis of the stories in translation, and spoke about how women figured prominently in them. “One of the really striking things I noticed was the role women play and the space they occupy; the physical, metaphysical and psychological space.”
Shahbano Alvi, managing director of Ushba Publishing, responsible for publishing The House of Loneliness, was also present and spoke about the dearth of good translations of Urdu literature, a vacuum she felt the need to fill. Speaking about the current trend among youngsters of not reading, Alvi said that the writer’s craft, as in the case of Zaheda Hina, greatly benefits from reading at a young age.
In the question-answer session, Dr Asif Farrukhi inquired that considering “the modern Urdu short story has reached a level of perfection and artistic finesse, will the present translation of The House of Loneliness help the work of Zaheda Hina reach the world at large?”
Aamer Hussein responded positively. “The scope of Zaheda Hina’s stories covers far more geographically than most stories that originate from this part of the world. We have a story from Egypt, one that captures the Vietnam War, and she even writes about troubles in Afghanistan. Borders in her stories are erased and constantly moving and that captures the climate of the 21st century.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Aamer Hussain was the translator of Zahida Hina's The House of Loneliness. The error is regretted.
Originally published in Dawn, April 28th, 2017