May 09, 2018

Of Soldiers and Stereotypes: Hisham Sajid's Snowflakes had the potential to be great

This was quite the most pretentious piece of writing I’ve read in a while. It was also, unfortunately, self-involved in the most appalling way.

I understand that one of that most oft-repeated (and contentious, I should add) advice in the literary world is to write what you know. I also know that writing can be a way of placing yourself into a narrative which you can’t live through (fan fiction, say, but even that can be brilliant without the author being visible). But to write a story about a boy who waxes philosophical about the type of people in this world is about the worst form of conceit from a male author. At least try to be a little original; I have no patience for a repetition of the canonical white male author and his ramblings.

Zahid, our one-dimensional protagonist, has apparently been sinning like every ‘modern day sinner’ (what does that even mean?), so to calm his mortal soul he ventures to the mosques sometimes, where he meets an old man who for some unknown reason likes to sit and have tea with Zahid. This, from that moment on, is a platform for our protagonist – and through him, our author – to ramble on about their views of humanity. And I’ll admit that that could be interesting if the conversation was sparkling, the ideas new, the writing smart and witty, but nope, nope, and overall nope.

Zahid stared into his teacup – it was almost empty. He could see the granules of tea bathing in the shallow pond of doodh-patti. He swirled his cup and marveled at how similar life was to a cup of tea; once you drink all the sweet liquid, all that remains is the bitter, dark reality!

My god. If you didn’t roll your eyes at that horror, you haven’t read enough good literature yet. And while good literature can be subjective – as is this piece, which someone somewhere must have thought worthy of publication – there are still certain things I prefer a story have to keep me engaged. Unfortunately, this story had none of that. Zahid’s philosophical rant about the four categories of humans is listened to by the old man, Dilbash Uncle, who then interrupts Zahid to talk about his own experience as a soldier, and how being a soldier makes it impossible to put people into categorizes. So interesting. Much wow. Not.

“I am sixty-one, boy, and yet I could never claim such superior knowledge… and you know why? Because the world is infinite, the people in it are infinite.

It could have been great, but it wasn’t. There could have been better plotting and character development, but there wasn’t. We could have been faced with depth and understanding in this conversation, but we weren’t. Turns out that the writer needed an audience for his pseudo-intellectualism, and I guess it was a matter of time before some magazine gave it to him. Shame it had to be the only good literary magazine in Pakistan though.

Skip this, I’d say.

Snowflakes by Hisham Sajid is from Volume 16 of the magazine Papercuts, a biannual literary magazine by Desi Writers Lounge, a South Asian community of writers.