Living in an era of diminished reading culture and forgotten literary values, we often feel a need of reestablishment of our language and cultural revival. Pakistan is struggling each day to relocate its social, cultural and literary values and in the midst of such chaos, when people with great literary interest emerge and work for a certain cause, it is definitely commendable. Laaleen Khan, a fervent fan of Jane Austen, formed a group called the Jane Austen Society in Pakistan (JASP) in Islamabad two years ago, and now, it has come to Karachi and Lahore too.
It was formed with the purpose of admiring the works of 18th Century writer Austen, and while the society has nothing to do with Urdu literature, the initiative encourages and appreciates a reading culture and love for literature.
The society comprises around 800 female fans of the writer who meet to read and play Jane Austen's marriage card games and take part in the Austen quiz. They usually dress up in Regency-inspired attires to create the same feel of those times ruled by elegance and etiquette.
She told Catch News:
"There are so many parallels between Austen's Regency-era society and South Asian society today. The obsession with the marriage market, for one thing, complete with concern for reputation, eligibility, decorum, propriety and ancestry juxtaposed with elements of snobbery, misogyny and hypocrisy. We have our share of disapproving Lady Catherine de Bourgh-esque society aunties, rakish Wickhams and Willoughbys, pretentious Mrs Eltons and holier-than-thou Mr Collins types!"
While relating the issues discussed in some of Jane Austen's novels, with Pakistani society and the world as a whole, she elaborated her thoughts and stated:
"Radicalisation, extremism and bigotry are tragic and terrifying phenomena happening all over the world, in both eastern and western hemispheres and among various socio-political groups and ethnicity. I honestly can't see its direct relevance with literary pursuits in Pakistan."
Laaleen explained how easily readers can connect with what she has portrayed in her works regardless of any personal, professional and ethnic backgrounds. Jane Austen's themes have intrinsic artistic worth for which they can be read in any era and in any country.
She further talked about how Austen's books have been enjoyed by the people in Pakistan whether they’ve been read academically or because of self-interest. Austen's words include wit and several truths which are found in our day to day lives, hence makes her work worth reading. Everything in her novels is knitted in a contemporary style which is why it allures people to a great extent.
"Those of us in the Commonwealth including South Asia often grow up with an affinity for British authors. I'd say Austen isn't mainstream but more of a niche, though in recent years she's also been part of trans-Atlantic popular culture. She remains a perennial favourite for those of us who were introduced to her, often through books passed along by family members or part of an O level curriculum, for instance."
Apart from the club, the online community of JASP has garnered much recognition too. Laaleen proudly told Catch how they have expanded with time and what kind of people are working behind it.
"Our online community is 94% female, eclectic and very international. Many authors, bloggers and professionals from various fields including banking, international development, medicine and law are part of JASP, ranging primarily from 21 to 55 but mostly in 30s," she added.
The people who are a part of this community are mostly journalists and media correspondents but many are from health and business sectors as well. They meet at different cafes and places where they discuss and take part in debates related to Jane Austen's books.
"We meet every month or two at cafés and discuss pertinent topics, indulge in themed quizzes and games and discuss our plans. Our annual Regency-inspired tea party is whimsical and a little eccentric so a residence is best for that."