February 22, 2020
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A Frontier Malgudi

A Frontier Malgudi
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The day before I was due to depart for Lahore, a publisher friend sent me a story by a writer she referred to as "a sort of Pakistani R.K. Narayan". I read it on the flight, and found that for once a publisher had sold an author short. Through the character of an ordinary electrician, Daniyal Mueenuddin had uncovered the violence and callousness of everyday life in rural west Punjab of Pakistan.

True, the elegance of the prose matched that of the Mysore master. But the world was more brutal, and hence more credible.

However, the world I was about to enter was altogether more civil and genteel. Lahore is Pakistan’s most cultured city. In three intense days, I met a cross-section of Pakistan’s thinking classes—journalists, activists, lawyers and economists. Naturally, our talk was dominated by the tensions then prevailing. I sensed, among these sensitive and hospitable people, a triple fear: the fear of their city being overrun by Taliban-style fundamentalists; the fear of their government being taken over once more by the military; the fear that after the recent terror attacks, their country would be shunned and scorned by India, and the world.

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