The Literature of Disaster

Posted on October 10, 2006
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Books, Disasters
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Adil Najam

This rather interesting news item in Dawn (8 October, 2006) caught my attention and I thought it was worth sharing.

Ours is not a country of book lovers, yet several books have already been published in Pakistan dealing with last year’s deadly earthquake. This phenomenon is no doubt linked to the severity of the calamity. In times of crisis, art and literature acquire new momentum. As a result, new writers emerge and the established ones scale greater heights. Two small books, which hit bookstalls within two months of the October 8 catastrophe, largely comprise photographs. Later, two others were launched that featured literary pieces. Another book, unveiled last month, included first-hand accounts of survivors and volunteers.

Published by Image Impact, Rawalpindi, The Worst Disaster of Pakistan: The Calamity, Agony and Revival by Aamir Rashid has many heartbreaking and stunning images. The 120-page book also provides information on the science behind seismic events. The other photography-based book is aptly titled Paradise Lost: Earthquake in Pakistan and was published by a Lahore-based telecom magazine. Next came a book in Urdu which was published in January of 2006. Called Pakistan mein qiamat ki pehli dastak, the book is authored by M. Aslam Lodhi, who has written a number of books including two on Kargil. The book, published by Wafa Publications, Lahore, contains pieces and interviews by Mr Lodhi, besides articles by renowned columnists such as Mujeeb-ur-Rehman Shami, Altaf Hassan Qureshi, Irshad Ahmed Haqqani, Abdul Qadir Hasan and Javed Chaudhry. As such, the book may be described as an odd collection of assorted pieces.

About six months on from the quake came Dr Shershah Syed’s Dil mera Balakot, a collection of 10 short stories. All relate in one way or the other to the people caught up in Pakistan’s worst calamity. The first two stories � Turki ka kambal and Dil mera Balakot � are vintage Shershah. Straightforward and hard-hitting, the stories verbalise the thoughts of every man or woman who spent time in the quake-hit areas as a volunteer. The book deals with the exploitation of the affected people just as brilliantly as it discusses hoarding of relief supplies and other wrongdoing many survivors indulged in.

The most voluminous and perhaps the most valuable of the publications on the subject is the 17th issue of the literary series Dunyazad, which was compiled by Dr Asif Farrukhi. Featuring poems and ghazals as well as essays and short stories, the publication does not discuss just the October 8 tragedy, but also some earlier quakes that struck parts of India, Japan and the US. Many of the pieces in the book have been translated from English into Urdu for inclusion in the publication. Prominent among the writers and poets whose works have been used are Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Ahmed Faraz, Muneer Niazi, Zehra Nigah, Kishwar Naheed, Ahfazur Rehman, Mohammad Mansha Yaad and Jawaharlal Nehru (whose essay has been translated from English).

The sole English book on the subject so far � 8.50 am, 8 October 2005: Stories of Hope and Courage from the Earthquake in Pakistan � is by Fatima Bhutto. The 70-page book, which has been published by Oxford University Press, contains accounts penned by survivors and some volunteers. The rather brief accounts have been translated into English and some pictures added. The book, launched in the middle of last month, is easy to follow and reasonably priced. It has also been translated into Urdu. The writer (Nizamuddin Siddique) has written a book on the earthquake � Portraits of grief, and of hope � which will be launched shortly.

I have not yet seen any of these books. My guess is that at least some might be quickly slapped-together collections meant only to capitalize on the ‘moment.’ However, it does seem that at least some exemplify the type of literary expression that times trial and tribulation so often throws up. I am looking forward to getting hold of and reading, at least, Shershah Syed’s Dil mera Balakot and the issue of Dunyazad edited by Asif Farrukhi. If any of our readers have already read these, I will be greatful for your views.

By the way, I happen to know for a fact that the author of this report is wrong in stating that Fatima Bhutto’s booklet is the only one in English. Even if he is not counting the two he mentioned earlier because they are photographic collection, I am holding in my hand right now A Divine Destruction, which is written by Aamir Ghairi with photographs from Sohail Anjum. This is more than just a collection of photogrpahs and Aamir’s text, although short, is a heartfelt description as well as a prescient analysis.

5 responses to “The Literature of Disaster”

  1. Ambreen Ali says:

    I have a copy of Dil Mera Balakot that was given to me during my reent press trip to the earthquake affected regions. Unfortunately my Urdu is really rudimentary so it’s difficult for me to read.

    I brought it in the hope that somebody might want to translate it into English; I think documenting the narratives of this event is very important and we would be doing an injustice to history if we didn’t try.

    Let me know if you want a copy; maybe I can try to photocopy it for you. You can reach me at

  2. Adnan Ahmad says:

    Any statement would sound like a cliche here. How do you cure the sorrow seen in the first picture? I mean, literally, is there anything that could wipe off those tears?

  3. Samdani says:

    Both pictures are powerful here. the one at the top is just makes you stop and think. but I also really liek the ront page of Dawn and the headline there.

  4. unaiza nasim says:

    The picture brought tears in my eyes.
    There was a series of articles published in “The daily Ummat”
    Read all of them and they are an excellent source of first hand information based on real figures.
    I have heard there’s a book published consisting on these articles, I’m though, not sure about the name.
    Will publish the name soon.

  5. Daktar says:

    I also fear that some of these would just be trying to make a quick buck out of people’s misery. But you are right, great literature can come from great suffering. I will look forward to hear from those who may have read any of these.

    Also, another great picture. The intensity in the picture makes me feel uncomfortabe, but I think that is your purpose. That discomfort will keep the memory alive and hopefully lead to action.

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