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No Truck With Pakistan’

In response to:

Pakistan's Writers: Living in a Minefield from the October 13, 2011 issue

To the Editors:

A footnote to a footnote in Pankaj Mishra’s very interesting article on Pakistani writers [NYR, October 13]. He refers to Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column as “Pakistani writing in English.” I believe she would have been horrified at such a description. To the best of my knowledge, she had no problem with her Muslim identity, but she deplored Partition and had no truck with Pakistan, refusing to accompany her husband Sonny Habibullah there. Instead she settled in London with her two children, Waris Hussein and Shama Habibullah. Incidentally, Sonny’s brother, whom I interviewed in Lucknow in 1967 for a BBC program on Indian Muslims, also remained loyal to India, retiring as a general in the army.

Roderick MacFarquhar
Leroy B. Williams Professor of Government
Harvard University
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Pankaj Mishra replies:

Rod MacFarquhar is of course right. However, Attia Hosain was hardly alone among Muslim writers in recoiling from the Partition and Pakistan. In any case, I did not invoke her in the piece in order to enlist her in any of the national canons—Indian, Pakistani, and British—she could plausibly belong to. On the contrary: I brought her in to make the important point that Pakistani writing in English, like its Indian counterpart, has a tradition—broadly speaking, of writing about the unique problems and dilemmas of the Muslim community in South Asia—that predates the nation-states of India and Pakistan.

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