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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 1992
  • Online publication date: February 2010

6 - Palimpsest history


My title is adapted from a notion, by now familiar but particularly well-expressed in Salman Rushdie's novel Shame. The notion is that of history as itself a fiction, the expression is varied. First a short quote: ‘All stories’, he says as intruding author, ‘are haunted by the ghosts of the stories they might have been’ (116). And now a long quote:

Who commandeered the job of rewriting history? The immigrants, the mohajris. In what languages? Urdu and English, both imported tongues. It is possible to see the subsequent history of Pakistan as a duel between two layers of time, the obscured world forcing its way back through what-had-been-imposed. It is the true desire of every artist to impose his or her vision on the world; and Pakistan, the peeling, fragmenting palimpsest, increasingly at war with itself, may be described as a failure of the dreaming mind. Perhaps the pigments used were the wrong ones, impermanent, like Leonardo's; or perhaps the place was just insufficiently imagined, a picture full of irreconcilable elements, midriffbaring immigrant saris versus demure, indigenous Sindhi shalwar-kurtas, Urdu versus Punjabi, now versus then: a miracle that went wrong.

As for me: I too, like all migrants, am a fantasist. I build imaginary countries and try to impose them on the ones that exist. I too, face the problem of history: what to retain, what to dump, how to hold on to what memory insists on relinquishing, how to deal with change.

My story's palimpsest country has, I repeat, no name of its own.