The Aleph Review – A review | Pakistan Today

The Aleph Review – A review

Next edition awaited

The dedication of the review’s inaugural edition has been made to the late influential writer and poet, Taufiq Rafat. Rafat has for long been known as ‘The father of the Pakistani idiom’

All the English literature coming out of South Asia for some time has been dominated by writers from across the border. The formation of a post-post-colonial narrative has renewed the west’s interest in the orient, resulting in a concentration of world class publishers in India. Indian-English literature has thus held a unique position in the evolution and accessibility of the English language as it moves to accommodate modern times and the rapid globalisation of communication technology.

However, the scarcity of local publishing houses has meant that Pakistani writers have been unable to add their voice to the steadily rising hum emanating from South Asia. Things are changing however; publishers in India are hungry for quality writing from Pakistan after seeing the vast critical and commercial success of Pakistani works that managed to break the many barriers stopping local writers from having an international audience.

And although the quality and depth of the general product may still often frustrate many of us, it is hard to deny that there is a broad-ish public awareness of the rising trend of Pakistani authors writing in English. ‘The Aleph Review’ is the natural response to this rising trend.

The Aleph Review comprises a historical cross section of English literature from Pakistan.While it has elements from the past, the editors have made sure to put blinkers on the anthology to assure the direction it looks towards is the future. In the words of the publisher and editor-in-chief, Mehvish Amin, the publication will “always have a place for unpublished work by established writers, but aims to allow new talent to find a platform.” The review contains essays, poetry, poetic development, fiction, memoirs, screenplays, interviews, humour and even an obituary – all taken from either the unpublished works of recognised writers long out of their prime or upcoming works of aspiring writers hardly into their prime. Thus it glamorises and promotes talent and brilliance that would otherwise go unrecognised.

Recognised poets themselves, the editorial team including Mehvish Amin, Afshan Shafi, Ilona Yusuf and Mahboob Ahmed showed a versatile range of poetic styles, and devices

The dedication of the review’s inaugural edition has been made to the late influential writer and poet, Taufiq Rafat. Rafat has for long been known as ‘The father of the Pakistani idiom.’ And while his work did become obscure for some time, the publication of his poems from between 1978-83 in “Half Moon” was the reintroduction to Taufiq’s vibrant images and descriptions of common sights and things. The dedication of the review to Taufiq however was different in that great personal stakes were involved.

The fact that Mehvish Amin had been personally acquainted with Taufiq Rafat and his literary circles shone through. This, along with her acknowledgement of her friend, the late governor Salman Taseer, show just how personal a journey the Aleph Review has been. In her note aptly titled ‘oblique,’ Mehvish Amin talks about her interactions with Taufiq, Kaleem Omar, Jocelyn Saeed and other intellectual personalities of the time that had an impact on her own literary journey.

The wistful, and oblique, note sets up for the essay that opens the review. ‘Towards a Pakistani Idiom’ by TaufiqRafat himself. Originally published in the special issue on Pakistani writing in English of ‘Venture: A biannual review of English language and literature,’ what better way to kick off the inaugural edition of an annual Pakistani literary review?

Little needs to be said about Taufiq and his mastery of words. What can be said about the opening of the book is that essays like ‘Taufiq Rafat’s us of language’ by Shaista S Sirajudin and ‘My friend Taufiq Rafat’ by Kaleem Omar weld together to form a fitting tribute, only to be capped off by the artwork and Seerat Hazir’s, Taufiq’s son, essay “More than just a poet.” One can’t quite help but notice the order of the first few pieces of the review. Taufiq’s own monumental work captures his brilliance in all its glory, the follow-up is a critique by a renowned literary personality, Shaista Sirajudin, and the third is a more personal account by a friend, with the last being by his eldest son. In only the first few pages, theAlpeh team has managed to capture and immortalize Taufiq Rafat the person, the father, the poet, and the writer using a combination of writing and art to make a presentation both aesthetically and intellectually ideal.

The anthology does not linger however. It does well to capture its mission in its nature: the past has been acknowledged and lauded but now we move towards the future. A strangeness that the review possesses is that there is no real order. While the contents do divide themselves into genres, the compilation itself is random. If the spontaneity does have meaning, it is not quite clear, however it does serve the purpose of making the review more user friendly. One can read it as they wish. And while arguments can be made for there being bits that are unnecessary and completely filler, they can quite easily be skipped with little to no regret.

‘Those Aunties’ by Insha Bukhari, ‘Reliquary’ by Ishtia Basu Malik, ‘Kulsoom’ by Sidhra Alam and ‘Asleep’ by Taha Sheikh provide a break from the often rigorous reading that is fiction and poetry. The humor, graphic poetry and screen plays are fascinating breaths of fresh air, especially ‘Reluiquary.’ A special piece and personal favourite was ‘My Mother Pakistan’ by Maryam Ortt Saeed, the daughter of the enigmatic and quiet Jocelyn Saeed.

The longer and more solid works were the seven pieces of fiction that served to truly ground the review. ‘Imagining Her,’ an excerpt from ‘Those Children’ by Shabano Gilrami was one that spoke volumes about the standards the editors must have painstakingly worked to set. Similarly ‘Dr Su’ by Athar Tahir and ‘A love story, too!’ by Soniah Kamal were works that inspired.

However the true heart of The Aleph Review, as should be the case with any literary review, was the poetry section. Recognised poets themselves, the editorial team including Mehvish Amin, Afshan Shafi, Ilona Yusuf and Mahboob Ahmed showed a versatile range of poetic styles, and devices.

Other poems by Adrian A Hussain, John Siddique, Dipita Mukharjee and Athar Tahir made what were the majority of the review’s works an ideal blend of the many classic, contemporary, and experimental poetic methods and styles. Many times however we are simply slaves of our own preferences and comfort zones. ‘Last Spring’ by veteran poet Waqas Khwaja was a personal favourite that will leave his followers giddy with excitement. Everything from the distorted and glaringly labeled stanzas to the soft yet powerful rhythm of ‘Last Spring’ are to be taken in and absorbed.

The quality and brilliance of Khwaja’s work in contrast with younger poets and fiction writers shows just how packed with raw talent, experience, and literary brilliance the review really is. One would hope that the inaugural issue will not be the last or the quality will not drop as has been the tendency for such publications. And while there is always room for improvement, one thing that is absolutely clear is that everyone will be rooting for the next edition to come out and wow readers with the same impact as this one.

Abdullah Niazi

Abdullah Niazi is a member of staff currently studying Literature at LUMS. He also writes and edits for The Dependent.