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Book review: “Lahore -Topohilia of Space and Place”

There is no city like Lahore/ Everything that is wrong is set right here

It is a mystery as to how a layered city such as Lahore has attracted little scholarship in the past few decades. This is why Anna Suvorova’s book “Lahore -Topohilia of Space and Place” is a major book of our times. Suvorova is a distinguished scholar and currently heads the Department of Asian Literatures at the Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences. Her earlier works on Urdu, Sufism and numerous translations of Urdu prose works are well known. This book, while a work of formidable scholarship is distinctive for its personal dimension. Like countless others, Suvorova is an ardent admirer of Lahore and tells us why Lahore has survived historical vicissitudes and also why its memory is so lovingly remembered, invoked and reproduced.

Lahore – Topohilia of Space and Place
Anna Suvorova
Hardback, Nov 2011
Price: Rs.925.00
Oxford University Press, Pakistan

LahorebookSuvorova begins the book following the style of an oracle and explains why she chose to explore the topophilia, literally ‘love for a place’. This apparently simple term, as we finish the first very chapter, becomes a kaleidoscope to view the boundless affection that many across the globe experience vis a vis Lahore. Suvorova is one of such Lahore-philes, if one can be excused for inventing such a term. Her fascination for Lahore, as it emerges in her book, is evident throughout the narrative as she takes the reader into the labyrinth of history, cultural memory, urban geography, and sociology of the city.

This affinity for an intriguing city therefore places Suvorova in a unique position as she documents Lahore’s myriad facets, not as an orientalist outsider, but asan enchanted scholar and a traveller who has developed an uncanny empathy with the topophilia that defines Lahore as a construct of memory and consciousness. Thus follows an eclectic narrative employing an interdisciplinary approach, which successfully attempts to undo the academic tone while avoiding populist, market driven cliches that comprise many contemporary travel accounts. She describes this rather well: “When we visit Oslo, Dublin, Paris, or Lahore it is difficult, at first, to separate the living images of the new places from the “mental maps” that we have drawn up in the footsteps, and along the routes, of literary characters…It is topophilia that overcomes our eternal fear of space, and emotion dumbness and gives us a living feeling of longing to a place- the sense of city.”

The book is divided into eight chapters, which tread on the various cultural nodes of Lahore’s past and present. The epilogue entitled Lahore vs. Lucknow, is an outstanding inquiry on these two cities famed for their topophilia. Suvorova tells us how Lahore’s topophilia is different from Lucknow. She is also quick to note the similarities between these two great cities, but she admits that she fell inlove with Lahore in 1997 during her first visit despite her intense familiarity with Lucknow. […]

February 25th, 2012|Arts & Culture, books, Lahore, Published in The Friday Times|13 Comments

Karachi Literary Festival: Spring in the land of suicide bombers and charlatans

Who says Pakistani literature was a relic of the past? If anything, Pakistani authors have a global audience today, and our writers are now the greatest harbingers of Pakistan’s complexity and nuance in a way that the embedded media can scarcely fathom.

The first literary festival took off in our cosmopolitan melting pot, Karachi, in March. The Oxford University Press’ dynamic head Ameena Saiyid, and the British Council, together organised this event. Asif Farrukhi, the premier litterateur of the metropolis was central to the festival. Farrukhi’s comprehensive command of Urdu and English literary currents, and the stature which he has earned with his hard work, ensured that we were all set for a fabulous gala.

Earlier, the festival faced the usual hurdles: the Indians were issued visas rather late in the day and my friend Sadia Dehlvi was denied a visa at the last minute, despite earnest efforts by the organisers. The iron curtain was rigidly in place. But the other regional and international delegates arrived as planned. The last minute finalisation of the schedule meant that due notice could not be given to many participants. However, the OUP team, especially Raheela Baqai, were adept at getting things done. Saiyid herself used Facebook to advertise the event. She’s obviously keeping up with technology and its changing frontiers.

We arrived just in time for the launch ceremony that was held at the British Consulate. It was quite a journey from the Carlton Hotel to old-world Clifton – a mini-bus that dazzled with literary icons of our time: Iftikhar Arif, Intezar Hussain, Masood Ash’ar and Shamsur Rehman Farooqi from the world of Urdu. The front seats were occupied by the petite and resplendent Bapsi Sidhwa, the contemplative Zulfiqar Ghose and the younger British Pakistani writer Sarfaraz Manzoor, whose book ‘Greetings From Bury Park’ has created waves across the English reading […]

Karachi Literary Festival

Oxford University Press and the British Council are holding a literary festival – first of its kind.

The programme can be viewed here. KLF programme

I am off to Karachi next weekend to attend this moot.

Fahmida Riaz – “Her dreams of the future”

Barricaded Islamabad enveloped by the ghosts of national gloom has one little corner of hope. The Pakistan Academy of Letters, under its dynamic and committed Chairman, Fakhar Zaman, continues to weave narratives that still inspire. Even when the bitterness of our grim present affects us all, Fakhar Zaman was forthright in his views on Pakistan, its future and most importantly, its literary tradition. The venue was the book launch of Fahmida Riaz’s novel Godavari that has been translated into English. Fahmida Riaz is better known as a poet but her unique prose is lesser known. Her short stories and novels are extraordinary pieces of literary works rendered into sheer poetry. Often it is difficult to determine the genre of her ‘prose’ works as the lines between watertight compartments blur and fade away, only to reappear as a gentle reminder to the readers that our author is experimenting in her inimitable style. 

Godavari was published last year by the Oxford University Press and Fakhar Zaman organised its launch under the aegis of PAL only to ensure that there are many indigenous, native voices in English that have yet not caved in to the pressures and inducements of Western publishing houses. Godavari is a deceptively simple story of a few characters visiting a holiday hill resort in Maharashtra a little before the communal riots that shook Bombay and India in the 1980s. But deep within its lines, sub-textual connotations and shifting moods lie tales of discrimination, communal hatred and the unfettered spirits of its universal female characters. The heartening aspect of this book launch was that there were a few dozen enthusiasts present on the occasion, and a few powerful […]