From the reluctant first steps in the search for its own idiom to a politics that picks itself up and moves from abject apology to enlightened introspection to daring questioning, the Pakistani novel has made significant strides in desirable. Having assessed and reconciled to a significant extent their own identity while living on foreign shores, Pakistani writers now engage with much more confidence in how the world – essentially the West which controls trade, l help and editing – often chooses to define and stereotype us. Also, how such categorical and judgmental behavior often hides behind veneers of noble intentions, political correctness, or old-fashioned duplicity. Finally, how all this reveals ignorance, insecurities, paradoxes and sometimes the agendas of those who categorize and judge. the inn by Maniza Naqvi appears to us as an excellent representative of this advanced phase of political awareness and protest in Pakistani fiction. It’s a novel that meets the necessary criteria for a good read, but more importantly, it raises questions and provides insights that can only be offered by someone with a nuanced multicultural sensibility, which Naqvi fully possesses.
The protagonist is a Pakistani-born doctor based in Washington D.C. who regularly escapes to the pleasant countryside of Virginia to take a break from his routine. However, these are not just mindless escapades, and thankfully the man thinks deeply and questions the world around him rather than ranting about all things based on a rudimentary understanding of how societies, politics and cultures work. . So it’s understandable that his response to stereotyping, mischaracterization, and occasional racism isn’t sheepish and submissive. Instead, his encounters with a multitude of characters during his retreats result in engagements where he draws on his rich multicultural experiences and assessments to energize vital conversations for our times. Race, class, nationality and origin remain, as we know, extraordinarily important distinguishing and discriminating factors even as we move into the second quarter of the 21st century. Naqvi’s novel provides multiple examples of how good fiction can continue to tell an engaging story while exploring multiple dark themes and issues that influence and impact millions of lives, mostly for the worse.
A vast and growing chasm in our society is based on language. Whereas our literary giants of the second half of the previous century – Qurat-ul-Ain Haider, Faiz, Rashid, Faraz, Ashfaq Ahmad, Abdullah Hussain, Shamsur Rahman Faruqi and so many others – were cosmopolitan as well as locally rooted, multi – linguists, versed in world literature and at ease with the civilizational and cultural spectrum, we are today faced with an unenviable situation.
With few exceptions, those who write in English approach local languages, literature and traditions with the reluctance and awkwardness of foreigners during a summer of cultural discovery, while those who write in Urdu and regional languages - again despite the exceptions – hide their insufficiency in English and therefore low exposure. to world literature (our translation culture and production are not what they used to be) with an insularity and resentment against writing in English. The two not only suffer from losing a lot of things that would enhance their own growth and understanding to become better writers, but also from not talking to each other more and more.
Naqvi, on the other hand – both due to her lineage of an august family of great literary and artistic achievements and her own passion and commitment to books and writing – possesses the broad appreciation and coexistence comfortable with Eastern and Western cultures. being able to convincingly create a character like the protagonist. His own progression as a person and a writer – through his early novels to his later writings as well as his enormous contributions to the Pakistani literary scene through successful initiatives such as the revival of the iconic Pioneer Book House in Karachi and The pioneering launch of e-publishing through The Little Book Company – is very visible in what is a very well crafted novel in terms of technique and thought. In books like these, it’s easy to fall prey to becoming preachy and didactic or for the narrative voice to completely overwhelm the plot and characterization. But Naqvi is an adept practitioner and avoids these pitfalls, even when her inherent intention is to write a book of ideas for our times. Like all good literature, this cannot and should not be pigeonholed as a Pakistani novel written by an expat. For indeed, it should resonate with many people of different nationalities and cultures who have been caught up in the tumultuous events and experiences of the past quarter century that have shaped global attitudes and policies. Especially when it comes to defining and “altering” those who belong to different backgrounds. In this sense, some concerns, conversations and observations here reminded me of the excellent work of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Americana which, although from a Nigerian perspective, is again deeply universal in its relevance and perspective.
As well as being a seasoned social welfare and international development professional, writer, editor and bookseller, Naqvi has also over the years played the commendable role of a wise commentator – and champion – of Pakistani fiction. in English. His own very enlightened sense of where he is headed, what he has gained and what he now aspires to, seems to have influenced his decision to write this unusual book, so different from past attempts to appreciate the experience of Pakistani emigration. Also, so much bolder.
The desi protagonist is no longer just interrogated, but is now the questioner, who does not hesitate to ask probing and uncomfortable questions. The fact that it offers a rich mosaic of cultural, historical, and literary references—reflecting Naqvi’s careful observation and thoughtfulness—makes both the narrative and the protagonist very compelling. Prejudice and alienation remain two of the greatest scourges of humanity, even after all these millennia. the inn is a very intelligent and lyrical exploration of these themes and tells a story that all serious readers of literature should read.w