Literature and the essence of culture

The essence of culture is reflected in literature. Authors absorb the many cultural manifestations to blend it with their thoughts. Their expression in prose highlights their views about culture and society. Classical literature from Pakistan such as those produced by Saadat Hasan Manto, Mumtaz Mufti, Bano Qudsia, to name a few, displayed the cultural aspects through words. These authors used the foundations of the prevailing dynamics of culture to share their interpretations about social norms and how they affect people. These included the apprehensions as experienced by society as a whole and as an individual.
Authors use prose as a means of catharsis or as a pure expression of ideas. Perhaps this is why literature connects all humans under its umbrella. Literature also creates a portal from the readers’ current state to a point in the past – the moment when authors had written these words. Readers live several lives as envisioned by the author. They also feel the characters’ apprehension, anxiety, happiness and relief. While literature can take the form of prose or poetry, the written word makes a profound impact on the readers’ minds. Moreover, these characters do have the cultural aspects and traditional propensities embedded in them to make them relatable. This wonderful union of the readers’ thoughts with the characters’ intentions as presented by the author’s opinion compels readers to indulge in introspection.
If we look at Saadat Hasan Manto’s short story, “Naya Qanoon” (New Constitution), we are introduced to his character, Mangoo. He is a tonga driver. Being uneducated, he does not know much about the new constitution that is to be implemented. However, being a tonga driver, he overhears what his passengers discuss regarding the new constitution. Mangoo believes that this new rule will bring a positive change to society. He even washes his horse cart and waits for the auspicious day. He feels disheartened to see that nothing has changed. Manto was referring to the implementation of the Government of India Act 1935. This rule gave autonomy to the Indians. Critics are pretty much sure that the average, uneducated Muslim living in 1935 would have reacted to the Government of India Act much in the same way as Mangoo did.
Similarly, Mumtaz Mufti’s novel, Ali Pur Ka Aeeli, is, in fact, his biography. The readers will learn about Mufti’s relationship with his father and his stifling love affair with a woman. Again, the emotions that readers will feel stemming from Mufti’s words will connect to the cultural norms and restrictions prevailing in our society. They were correct when Mufti wrote those words and they still have power today.
Bano Qudsia in Raja Gidh, one of her most acclaimed novel, give us several characters. They include Professor Sohail, Seemi Shah, Qayyum and Aftab Butt. Through these characters, Qudsia shows us the importance of not living on dishonest means. The thoughts that readers conjure while reading the lives of these characters are linked to our cultural history.
Bapsi Sidhwa, in her novel The Crow Eaters, presents some conventional characters of her community – the Parsees. She explores the life of her character, Freddy Junglewalla, who moves with his family from his village to Lahore. The transformation and transition of this Parsee family is a clear representation of how a family belonging to a similar community would have reacted to circumstances. Sidhwa’s depiction of the character’s emotions while dwelling on their thought process branches out from her observation for she was also part of the same community.
When we talk about representing culture in literature, then we cannot forget the popular Inspector Jamshed Series by Ishtiaq Ahmad. It is a pure example of storytelling and how this aspect is deeply rooted in our society. Each book of the series is a blend of human emotions backed by the strong family values that Inspector Jamshed cherishes. While the readers were mesmerized by the adventure and suspense that Ishtiaq Ahmed added to his stories with ease, they were also subconsciously being revealed why living an honest life is necessary. Through the stories, Ishtiaq Ahmed dwelled upon the importance of friendship and why people with bad intentions always face troubles.

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