Short stories are a labour of love. While urdu literature and consequently publication may have thrived on sometimes soul shaking, sometimes scandalous, and sometimes saucy afsanas, English has had it different. Nobody goes to the bookstore to buy a short story anthology. People here go rarely enough even to buy novels, and in the limited Pakistani market, few homegrown English language writers have managed to make it.
One thinks of Mohammad Hanif and Mohsin Hamid or even someone like Omar Shahid Hamid when thinking of a Pakistani writing success story, but no short story writer comes to mind. That said, the short story can be a powerful literary device. And without the comfort of time and space that a novel gives a writer, creating meaningful short stories can be a challenge.
Despite the challenges, ‘Encounters’ by up and coming young author Akif Rashid is
a short story anthology that manages to captivate the reader, and leave them having gained something from the experience at the end of it. For a debut work, Rashid has managed to create a smart literary world of his own. His stories are about people and the things they go through. What makes his writing interesting is that it’s honest. He does not try to localise or unnecessarily romanticise a situation, feeling comfortable in the skin of his characters – whether they are relatable to his likely audience or not. Writing about Caleb Wimson or someone else, Rashid has displayed his confidence as a writer by not considering how the work as a whole would be received.
There is great courage in writing this way, which is why it is also such a labour of love. But the audience being limited might just have made the writer wear his heart on his sleeve. There are natural shortcomings, it is after all the debut work of a very young writer. His characters while raw are not always fleshed out and the story has a certain whimsical tone to it which is in some instances good and other instances not so delightful. But what makes this a good work at the end of it is Rashid’s obvious talent as a writer. Whatever one may say about his topic, with the themes of self at self reflection at play, one cannot deny that this budding author can write a sentence.
Written in flowing prose and with the skill of a master, one would no expect such work to come from someone as young as the author. This unique maturity along with a clear sense of issue makes Akif Rashid a writer to look out for.