Subscribe to Granta today

  • 28 September 2010

How to write about Pakistan


Binyavanga Wainaina’s satirical piece from Granta 92, ‘How to Write About Africa’, is the most popular article on our website. When we were digitizing our archive, Binyavanga gave us permission to put his article up, but only on the condition that it remain free to read and not behind a paywall. ‘Always use the word “Africa” or “Darkness” or “Safari” in your title’, it begins – and goes on to send up every imaginable cliché of writing about Africa.

An equivalent for Pakistan seemed only appropriate for our current issue. Below, four contributors to the issue – Mohsin Hamid, Mohammed Hanif, Daniyal Mueenuddin and Kamila Shamsie – tell you, in case you’re thinking of starting out, How to Write About Pakistan.


1. Must have mangoes.
2. Must have maids who serve mangoes.
3. Maids must have affairs with man servants who should occasionally steal mangoes.
4. Masters must lecture on history of mangoes and forgive the thieving servant.
5. Calls to prayer must be rendered to capture the mood of a nation disappointed by the failing crop of mangoes.
6. The mango flavour must linger for a few paragraphs.
7. And turn into a flashback to Partition.
8. Characters originating in rural areas must fight to prove that their mango is bigger than yours.
9. Fundamentalist mangoes must have more texture; secular mangoes should have artificial flavouring.
10. Mangoes that ripen in creative writing workshops must be rushed to the market before they go bad.

If you are sick of mangoes then try reading:

Najam Hussain Syed
Afzal Ahmed Sayed
Hasan Dars

All poets? Poets who don’t write poetry in English? Not even in Urdu? You could get your maid or that genius mad uncle to translate little bits for you.

Or, if you like prose:

Ali Akbar Natiq
Asad Mohammed Khan
Shamsu Rehman Farouqi

All fiction writers, some available in English. Ask your Pakistani friends to translate bits for you. Your Pakistani friend can’t read Urdu? Surely she has a maid who can. Or is she too busy serving mangoes?


Pakistan is just like India, except when it’s just like Afghanistan. (Has anyone else noticed how we seem to have geographically shifted from being a side-thought of the subcontinent to a major player in the Greater Middle East? Is this progress?) It will become clear whether the Pakistan of our work is Indo-Pak or Af-Pak depending on whether the cover has paisley designs or bombs/minarets/menacing men in shalwar kameezes (there are no other kinds of men in shalwar kameezes.) If woman are on the cover, then the two possible Pakistans are expressed through choice of clothing: is it bridal wear or burkhas?

On the subject of women, they never have agency. Unless they break all the rules, in which case they’re going to end up dead. I don’t think there’s anything else to be said about them, is there?


Lying in my bed at 7.48 a.m., laptop on lap. Too much writing in this position over the years has given me neck-aches. I’d do yoga if it weren’t such a non-Pakistani sounding activity. For a Pakistani writer to do yoga feels like questioning the two-nation theory. So I complain, which brings enormous relief and a sense of oneness with my subject matter.

When it comes to Pakistani writing, I would encourage us all to remember the brand. We are custodians of brand Pakistan. And beneficiaries. The brand slaps an extra zero onto our advances, if not more. Branding can be the difference between a novel about brown people and a best-selling novel about brown people. It is our duty to maintain and build that brand.

I know I don’t need to reiterate here what brand Pakistan stands for, but since my future income-stream is tied up with what you all do with it, I’m going to do so anyway. Brand Pakistan is a horror brand. It’s like the Friday the 13th series. Or if you’re into humor, like Scary Movie. Or Jaws, if nature-writing is your thing.

Anyway, the point is that people from all over the world have come to know and love brand Pakistan for its ability to scare the shit out of them. Whatever you write, please respect this legacy. We’re providing a service here. We’re a twenty-storey straight-down vertical-dropping roller coaster for the mind. Yes, love etcetera is permissible. But bear in mind that Pakistan is a market-leader. The Most Dangerous Place in the WorldTM.

It took a lot of writing to get us here, miles of fiction and non-fiction in blood-drenched black and white. Please don’t undo it. Or at least please don’t undo it until I’ve cashed in a couple more times. Apartments abroad are expensive.


Desi Masala

The banyan tree, the gulmahor,
and all mem-sahibs of Lahore –
I sing of you, for love and cash
(for poets need a place to crash,
in Islington, if not Mayfair –
Please God, not Newham is my prayer).
Lahore is fine in winter time,
but when the temp begins to climb
we brave the food on PIA
to pen our eclogues far away.
So, gentle reader, do not stray,
I promise you that same bouquet,
the one I sold you once before,
the spice and smells of old Lahore,
and chauffeured cars and so much more.


Nadeem Aslam has also reflected on these questions in his new article ‘Where to Begin’, in which he also traces some of the seeds of his novella Leila in the Wilderness, which opens our new issue. Read also... Binyavanga Wainaina’s ‘How to Write About Africa’, free in our archive.

Buy our Pakistan issue today by clicking here


– Mohsin Hamid lives in Lahore and is the author of Moth Smoke and The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2007. His story for Granta, ‘A Beheading’, is also free to read.

– Mohammed Hanif was born in Okara. A former head of the BBC Urdu Service, he is the author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes, which won the Commonwealth Prize for Best First Book in 2009. He lives in Karachi.

– Daniyal Mueenuddin grew up in Pakistan and Wisconsin, and now lives on a farm in southern Pakistan. His first short-story collection, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, won the Story Prize and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award.

– Kamila Shamsie was born in Karachi and now lives in London. She is the author of five novels, including Burnt Shadows, which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2009. Her essay ‘Pop Idols’, about the pop music heartthrobs of her childhood during the Zia ul-Haq years, is free to read online.


Watch an animation inspired by the issue and its artwork here (by Caco Neves):



See also... ‘High Noon’ I, II & III, work by contemporary Pakistani artists from our print edition; or our cover for the issue, a special commission made to Karachi-based truck artist Islam Gull. Also recently published are a new translation of a short story by Saadat Hasan Manto, and ‘Power Failure’ – Bina Shah’s essay on the ongoing electricity crisis in Karachi.


Online from the print edition:

Pop Idols by Kamila Shamsie: boyband heartthrobs and the Zia years. Kashmir’s Forever War – the cost of conflict, by Basharat Peer. Life and Time, a poem by Hasina Gul; and A Beheading, a new story by Mohsin Hamid.

Front page image by W. A. Djatmiko

Comments (27)

You need to create an account or log in to comment.

  1. Prasant

    Wed Sep 29 10:18:14 BST 2010

    This is a wonderful example of literary realism. I have been to Pakistan during the Indira Gandhi-Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto 'honeymoon' politics, that was in the eighties, and in reading the present essay and that sad piece of poetry, I am convinced that things have not changed across the border, and let me assure my Pakistani friends that it is ditto in good old India as well, or, is that Hindustan?!

  2. jackthescribbler

    Sun Oct 03 10:02:07 BST 2010

    This comment has been removed by the moderators.

  3. dev01

    Tue Apr 22 06:31:40 BST 2014

    I am always on the lookout for quality posts and articles about Medical Assistant so i suppose I’m lucky to have found this! I hope you will be adding more in the future.

  4. dev01

    Tue Apr 22 10:58:13 BST 2014

    This is really a nice and informative, containing all information and also has a great impact on the new technology. Thanks for sharing about ultrasound technician.

  5. dev01

    Sat Mar 22 06:11:15 GMT 2014

    I found the knowledge fairly useful about How to get boyfriend. Thanks for sharing this wonderful information. I used to be in the hunt for this very important data since lengthy time.

  6. Romea

    Thu Dec 26 06:19:37 GMT 2013

    If you wish for to grow your familiarity just keep visiting this web site and be updated with the latest information posted here

  7. dev01

    Mon Apr 21 12:57:34 BST 2014

    I am really enjoying reading your well written articles about Medical Assistant. It looks like you spend a lot of effort and time on your blog. I have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to reading new articles.

  8. dev01

    Wed Mar 26 06:28:35 GMT 2014

    This is really a great read for me. Thank you for publishing articles having a great insight stimulates me to check more often for new write ups.

  9. dev01

    Fri Apr 04 10:18:51 BST 2014

    Thanks for sharing nice information about Bluehost coupon article with us. i like your post and all you share with us is update and quite informative, thanks for sharing.

  10. mariya

    Sat Apr 12 10:59:46 BST 2014
    I don’t suppose I have read anything like this before. So nice to find somebody with some original thoughts on this subject

  11. dev01

    Mon Apr 14 08:21:09 BST 2014

    I am pleased that took the time to search to be at this weblog it is amazing, JustHost coupon code acquired amazingly exclusive information which is really beneficial a good deal of thanks for sharing.

  12. dev01

    Wed Apr 23 12:58:11 BST 2014

    I genuinely thank you for the noteworthy data on this exceptional subject and expect more unbelievable posts. You're really great for liking this heavenliness article about Amazon Discount Code. I like it a ton! I'm foreseeing a substitute fantastic article. Favourable circumstances to the inventor! All the best!

  13. wilson

    Wed Apr 23 10:12:57 BST 2014

    Much thanks to you for an extra incredible post about Minecraft Server Hosting. Precisely where else could anyone get that sort of realities in this sort of a perfect method for composing?

  14. wilson

    Wed Apr 23 08:16:20 BST 2014

    It is really Interesting post about ultrasound technician. I have been wondering about this issue, so thanks for posting. Pretty cool post. It’s really very nice and Useful post. Thanks

  15. dev01

    Fri Apr 11 07:27:56 BST 2014

    You're so cool! I don't think I've perused anything like this sometime recently. Much obliged concerning your individual brilliant posting about Bluehost coupon! I really reveled in understanding it; you will be an extraordinary creator. I will dependably bookmark your online journal and will frequently return later on.


    Sat Apr 19 12:30:38 BST 2014

    It was a terrible loop, an uroboros not of a reptile but of a dog pursuing its end – a very typical vision in the roads of Rio de Janeiro whenever you want.

  17. dev01

    Wed Apr 16 07:34:00 BST 2014

    The exclusive time i found this World Wide Web internet site i was appropriate absent amazed since this is truly wonderful Hostgator review site. I hope you can publish useful posts or weblog posts but again. It is very worthwhile expertise. Many thanks for sharing.

  18. anandaomes

    Fri Feb 21 04:41:58 GMT 2014

    Hi! I simply want to provide a large thumbs upward for that excellent data you've right here about this publish. I'll be returning for your weblog with regard to much more quickly.

  19. dev01

    Fri Apr 18 10:54:38 BST 2014

    I am new to managing a web site, and i appreciated looking by signifies of your weblog so substantially! i am heading to established into motion in my foreseeable potential is Ipage coupon weblogs.

  20. empresario

    Fri Apr 04 18:06:16 BST 2014

    Hi there. very nice article. An excellent read. I'll certainly be back

  21. dev01

    Fri Mar 21 11:00:46 GMT 2014

    I would actually choose to provide out a helpful web site meant for on-line lodging reservations beneficial to my advice by my best colleague together with friends.


    Tue Apr 22 13:13:25 BST 2014

    Gogols end up cat-mesmerized by contrary results, by shimmers, undertones and fluorescences, rather than the genuine he shades.

  23. dev01

    Tue Apr 15 07:35:12 BST 2014

    This specified proven up is in straightforward truth incredibly exciting. It has a truly excellent peace of particulars, i like to noticeably the sort of this post. It is really enjoyment several thanks for the share and variables about Hostgator 1 Cent Coupon.