February 4, 2009 12:20:41 am
Farmer-cum-author Daniyal Mueenuddin is the newest storyteller from the Pakistani heartland
Daniyal Mueenuddin lets out a slightly self-conscious chuckle when I mention that the jacket of his debut collection of short stories describes his work as part-RK Narayan and part-Anton Chekov. Thats heavy praise. Ive always wanted to write like Chekov. In a letter that Chekov once wrote to his brother,he said that one should never have more than three details in a sentence. That is the secret of good writing, says Mueenuddin as we sit in a sunny living room of an apartment in Jor Bagh.
In India to participate in the recently concluded Jaipur Literature Festival,the 46-year-old Pakistani-American writer joins the ever-increasing group of Pakistani authors writing in English.
In Other Rooms,Other Wonders (Random House,Rs 395) is a collection of eight stories set in feudal Pakistan,the characters emerge from the family and household staff of the ageing businessman and landlord KK Harouni. While Mueenuddin gently peppers three details in a sentence,he also layers them with great sensitivity in these stories about servants,politicians,electricians,village people while exploring the many circumstances that define and re-define love and relationships.
Meet Nawabdin Electrician who survives a deadly encounter,Saleema who unwittingly falls in love,Chaudrey Jaglani and Zainab and a cast of other remarkably humane characters in a book that is as beautiful as it is unforgettable.As a businessman who lives on his own farm in Pakistans southern Punjab,Mueenuddin is no stranger to the lives of the people who inhabit this strangely isolated and yet crowded zone. There are a whole group of us who live on the land,our lives are interlinked. I wanted to tell these stories,these are settings and characters that nobody has written about in Pakistan, says Mueenuddin,who adds that he doesnt want to be well-known in his country. To be prominent without being powerful does not serve you well in Pakistan, he admits. With a childhood spent partly on his fathers farm in Pakistan and his mothers family in Elroy,Wisconsin,Mueenuddin is a tad weary of being asked about his identity. Im as Pakistani as I am American, he states.
After working as a lawyer in the US,Mueenuddin had to come back and take up the mantle of being a farmer and a businessman. But that helped me write,since there is so much money at stake,you look at people closely and carefully, says Mueenuddin,who began writing these stories in 2003 and gradually published a few in The New Yorker. The stupendous response to those stories resulted in this collection.
Currently writing a novel set in 1980s Pakistan,Mueenuddin is happy with the switch. A short story does not let you inhabit as many characters as you can with a novel. I like the running room a novel provides you with. As a writer,I am still the ventriloquist,but for more people, he says.
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