Lesbian fiction read aloud in lit fest
Islamabad: One of Pakistan’s best selling and most salacious pulp fiction serial novels, Challawa, was considered ‘too hot to be read aloud’ in India’s annual Jaipur Literary Festival.
On Monday, the festival’s co-director, Namita Gokhale, deemed Challawa too hot to read aloud, insisting that the decision was not censorship but merely accounting for the “sensitivities of the audience” which included teenaged students, The Australian reported.
The English extract from the Challawa serial- that remains a household name in Pakistan, albeit one mentioned in abashed tones- is the first glimpse into the lusty world of Pakistani pulp fiction.
Faiza Khan published the first English translation of the serial novel, which is about the adventures of a lesbian detective Bano, a wealthy Karachiite who solved crimes and trawled school buses for schoolgirls.
Khan, a London-born and educated Pakistani who does not read Urdu and relied on friends to translate, said she was surprised at being “unexpectedly censored” at the Jaipur festival, but also “excited that literature from Pakistan is too racy to discuss”.
In the expurgated passages that Khan was to read this week in the festival, Bano scanned for prey on a school bus before settling on a fresh-faced 15-year-old girl.
While Challawa strays from the Life’s Too Short anthology’s basic new writing criteria, it was included “to make the point that the West did not invent sex”.
“It wasn’t brought to Pakistan by a couple of authors who studied abroad,” she said, adding, “This is what the gentleman who makes my tea will be reading. It sells more than anything else.”
But Khan does not deny that the relatively explicit nature of Pakistan’s vast canon of pulp fiction sits uncomfortably with the country’s lurch towards extreme Islamic conservatism, the report said.
It is one of the many contradictions of Pakistani culture that such material can be openly sold at any market while traditional dancers and singers face Taliban threats for offending Islam, it added.
“It’s so arbitrary what people take immense umbrage to. In Pakistan this is what people are likely to read and people aren’t scandalised by it,” said Khan. “But I suspect if it was written in English it would generate far greater fuss.”