Fakhar Zaman is one of the luckiest writers of Pakistan because he is one of the few intellectual; writers of the country whose writings and contribution to literature both prose and poetry have been recognized not only in Pakistan but all over the world. He is icon of Punjabi literature. Fakhar has written in Punjabi, Urdu and English. He has 40 books of prose and poetry to his credit. He is also founder and Chairman of the World Punjabi Congress which has held conferences all over world. Not only is he a writer, but also a committed and conscious person – one who has played a very important role for peace between India and Pakistan. In particular, he used the medium of Punjabi language to bring both Punjab closer. He was able to take Punjab’s chief minister Ch. Perviaz Elahi to Indian Punjab. His books are part of the syllabus in Indian Punjab at university level. PHDs have been done while focusing on his fiction.
As a politically conscious person, he went to jail for his commitment. His books were also banned in Pakistan during General Zia’s era. But it is a fact that Pakistan People’s Party also recognized his sacrifices and duly rewarded him. He was first made Senator and then twice Chairperson of the Pakistan Academy of Letters. He was also once made President of Peoples Party, Punjab.
Pakistan Academy of Letters organized a number of international literary conferences in Pakistan when he was at its head. The Academy also produced many research works. And he took a personal, keen interest in the welfare of writers.
He has many national and international awards to his credit. Fakhar’s works have been translated into many languages of the world including English. One might ask as to why at this ripe age he choses to write a novel in English, The Life of Ahmed—Thresholds?.
Fakhar has not given any reason but one imagines that the basic purpose to write a debut novel in English might be to reach wider readers at international level and be recognized as an English writer in that particular circuit.
After all, Pakistani fiction writers have made their mark in English literature. There are two types of English writers from here – one like Qurraulain Hyder, Abdullah Hussein and Shamsur Rehman Farooqi who translated their own internationally acclaimed fiction into English. And the other category of English writers would be the likes of Hanif Qureshi, Kamila Shamsie, Mohsin Hamid, Tariq Ali, Moni Mohsin, Mohammed Hanif and many others – who choose to write originally in English itself.
Veteran writer Intizar Hussain’s novel Basti was first translated into English and then it was short listed for the Booker Prize. It is a reality if a writer wants to be recognized at international level one must write in English.
Fakhar has acknowledged that “excerpts from his own Punjabi novel Bandiwaan and mystic poets of Pakistan have been incorporated.”
Coming back to Fakhar’s novel The Life of Ahmed, it is autobiographical fiction based on the writer’s personal experiences in life. Fakhar through his hero Ahmed has highlighted various socioeconomic and political issues of Pakistan. It is history of Pakistan in a way – after all, as Robert Fisk once wrote, if you want to read history you ought to read fiction.
The most important aspect of the novel is the depiction of prison life. Fakhar, having himself been subjected to all these ordeals has been able to depict minute details of various aspect of prison life in Pakistan, which will attract the attention of human rights defenders of all over the world.
In this context, Fakhar has presented details of torture faced by political workers during General Zia’s era. Even as they were tortured with a view to breaking them, Fakhar has depicted the dedication and commitment of political workers who despite all kinds of “third degree” and humiliation remained steadfast and exhibited extreme courage and commitment.
Going to prison is an old tradition of the Indian Subcontinent’s political and anti-imperialist activists. Hasrat Mohani who himself went to jail wrote Hai Mashaq Sukhan Jari aur Chaki Kee Mushaqat Bhi. Bhagat Singh and his comrades set a very high standard of commitment and courage in prison. In independent Pakistan, communist leader Hassan Nasir was the first political prisoner who was tortured to death in Lahore Fort.
During General Zia’s dictatorship Pakistani political workers and writers set a new standard of commitment. For their part, journalists also went to jail and some were also flogged.
Fakhar Zaman’s novel reminds one of Fyodor Dostoevsky, Antonio Gramsci, Nikolai Ostrovsky and many others who wrote from prison.
In general, Fakhar’s debut novel is a welcome addition to English fiction. Only time will tell how it is received in the world of English fiction. Although The life of Ahmed is his debut novel in English, as an experienced storyteller his command on plot and language is excellent and keeps the interest of reader glued till the last sentence.
Fakhar has relied on extensive use of his own poetry and other poets – particularly the mystic and people’s poets of all the federating units of Pakistan. You can also note the influence of international resistance poetry in the novel.
There are 34 Thresholds or Chapters. Ahmed , the protagonist, has seen the ups and down of life. He is thrice married, last to an Indian Urdu-speaking writer and historian Dr. Fatima Hussain.
The last paragraph of the novel is worth quoting:
Now, probably , in the last threshold where Ahmed has perched himself firmly and keeping his balance correctly, he can feel darkness beyond, the infinite. But at the same time he is holding the hand of his wife who reminds him that she is the silver lining, the light at the end of tunnel, a light house in the turbulent waters. Her words, “This pitch darkness ahead won’t pull him because her pull is stronger, firmer and robust,” resonates and lights up hope.