The literary powerhouse- Editor-in-Chief of ‘THE ALEPH REVIEW’- talks to TGIF about the support of family; a new publishing house and how the anthology brings together writers who have “AN INHERENT ABILITY TO ROUND UP ON ETERNAL TRUTHS”.
Tell me about how you got into the project- what was your inspiration for going ahead and compiling ‘THE ALEPH REVIEW’?
I have worked for a long time as an editor-Libas. Hello! Pakistan and T.Edit. but my first love has always been writing- you could say I had been working in the suburbs of my real interest and I decided to move downtown.
WHY ‘ THE ALEPH REVIEW’? TELL ME ABOUT THE NAME.
I will not take ownership of the name- I was in the office of Athar Tahir, director of ICPWE (International Centre for Pakistani Writing in English) and I said, “Why don’t we start a literary magazine?” we came up with The Lahore Review, but the name was already registered, so I think it was Athar who came up with Aleph, which means Alif, the first letter of the Arabic alphabet. Alpha, of course, is the first letter of the Greek alphabet too.
HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT SHORLISTING CONTRIBUTORS AND PIECES? TELL ME A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR CURATING/EDITING PROCESS.
I have an excellent guest editor. IIona Yusuf, and two bright young contributing editors, Afshan Shafi and Mahboob Ahmad. We had untold meetings where we made lists of people we could all contact. I was very keen to pay homage to some figures in my life- Toufiq Rafat, kaleem Omar, Khawaja Shahid Hosain, Salman Taseer, his son Shabaz escaped incarceration before we closed the issue. Jocelyn Ortt-Saeed, a Pakistani-Australian author. IIona also dug into her pool of contacts, as did Afshan, who has a great knowledge of writers in Pakistan and elsewhere. Athar Tahir also got hold of important writers, as did Mahboob. It was a team effort.
IN ADDITION TO THE MANY ESTABLISHED LITERARY FIGURES WHOSE WRITINGS APPEAR IN THE ANTHOLOGY, ARE THERE ANY RISING TALENTS YOU’LL BE SHOWCASING TO THE WORLD?
Oh yes, that was the whole idea- put rising takent on the same platform as eatabloshed writers and have a well-produced anthology so that it’s a keepsake- in libararies and amongst people who love to read.
We had untold meetings where we made lists of people we could all contact. I was very keen to pay homage to some figures in my life- Toufiq Rafat, kaleem Omar, Khawaja Shahid Hosain, Salman Taseer, his son Shabaz escaped incarceration before we closed the issue.
LETS DISCUSS A PIECE THAT STANDS OUT TO YOU IN THIS ANTHOLOGY. WHY DID IT SPEAK PERSONALLY TO YOU?
As I said, all the works of Taufiq Rafat, laeem Omar and Khawaja Shahid Hosain because they were all mentors at some point. Salman Taseer’s letters from exile and jail because he was a good friend, and Shabaz’s account because I use to think constantly of what jhe was going through when he was kidnapped; and Jocelyn because she said: “one can look at ants on the ground, but isn’t it better to llok up at the stars?”
ARE THERE ANY RECURRING THEMES IN THE WRTINGS/CONTRBUTIONS? IF SO, WHAT DO THEY CONVEY TO YOU ABOUT LITERARY/ARTISTIC MOVEMENTS IN THE SUBCONTINENT- AS FAR AS SCOPE, POWER, AND IMPACT ARE CONCERNED?
The cover story is on Taufiq Rafat- a seminal essay of his, On the Pakistani Idiom, which was ‘lost’ after it was printed in a college magazine in the late 60s, was given to me by his son Seerat Hazir. It is brilliant and I decided to procure some other material on this important Pakistani poet. I want to acquaint young writers of today with him. He had a great impacton writers through three decades and I thought it was time he was re-introduced again.
AND WHAT PICTURE DO YOU THINK THE WRTITINGS PAINT ABOUT THE SOCIAL, CULTURAL, AND POLITICAL CONTEXT OF THE MODERN-DAY SUBCONTINENT?
Oh, I am a believer on the way writers glean the gold from the chaff through their inherent ability to round up on eternal truths, even if they chose a topical theme. Taufiq Rafat, for example, wrote a poem about an amputee in the early 70s and a lot of people thought it was a metaphor about the dismemberment of Pakistan in ’71. We have some great Indian writers amongst the Pakistani ones (and one very special Canadian poet), and it is up to the reader to find their own truths, social, cultural or political, in their work.
WHAT WAS THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECT OF THE PROJECT?
In December 2016 I was jogging and somehow I tripped, went flying and broke my leg. I had to have surgery in my ankle and had to have a plate and five screws put in. I was in a cast for endless months. But that was when I decided to go full throttle for the anthology and start my publishing house- the name of my publishing firm, Broken Leg Publications, is a reflection of this trying and yet productive time in my life.
AND THE MOST REWARDING?
When the anthology finally came together and I started work laying it out- or rather my very good art director Sana Hassan and my brother Hamil Masud (who designed the cover and spent countless hours over the fine details) did. My son sketched the portrait of Taufiq Rafat, my daughter gave me excellent feedback as usual and my husband helped with finding some backing for the project- The Dawn Media Group and ICI Pakistan. My sister-in-law’s gallery. The Lahore Art Gallery, also supported the undertaking. So it was a bit of an Italian family thing happening at the end.