Sunday, July 26, 2009

Tales From Rural Pakistan

Tales From Rural Pakistan, Lived and Shared
New York Times, July 24, 2009

IN the steamy heat of central Pakistan, a novelist is writing. He describes a hidden world of servants and their feudal masters, the powerlessness of poverty and the corruption that glues it all together.

These lives, tucked away in the mango groves, grand estates and mud-walled villages of rural Pakistan, are rarely seen by outsiders. But the writer, Daniyal Mueenuddin, a Pakistani-American who lives here, has brought them into focus in a collection of short stories, “In Other Rooms, Other Wonders,” published this year.

They are intimate portraits that raise some of the biggest questions in Pakistan today. Why does a small elite still control vast swaths of land more than 60 years after Pakistan became a nation? How long will landlords continue to control the law and the lives of the peasants on their land in the same way British rulers did before them?

Mr. Mueenuddin, 46, offers a richly observed landscape that is written with the tenderness and familiarity of an old friend. The estate Mr. Mueenuddin lives on in southern Punjab, Pakistan’s biggest province, belonged to his father, a prominent Pakistani civil servant, and he used to come here as a boy.

His parents met in the United States in the 1950s. His father was negotiating a treaty, and his mother was a young reporter for The Washington Post. They later moved to Pakistan, but the country proved difficult with its web of expectations and relationships, and she took her sons back to the United States when Mr. Mueenuddin was 13.

Memories of this land stayed with him, however, and he returned after college in 1987 as an aspiring writer. He found upon arrival a decaying, colonial-era system, whose owners — his own family — had long stopped paying attention. The farm’s profits were declining and its borders were shrinking: The managers were pilfering land and planting their own crops.

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