My first encounter with a work of desi science fiction was very much by accident.
During my undergraduate studies at the Department of English at Karachi University, while idly browsing through a professor’s personal collection on her desk, I came across Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain’s “Sultana’s Dream,” an English-language short story set in a feminist utopia and written by a Bengali Muslim woman in twentieth-century colonial India.
Up until then, my study of literature had been mostly white, mostly male authors, an unsurprising fact when we take into account the Western literary canon’s inherent whiteness and maleness, as well as the institutional history of English departments as tools of the colonial project—teaching works of English literature in the British Empire’s overseas colonies was originally part of the overarching goal of “civilising the natives”. In the words of nineteenth-century British politician Thomas Macaulay, “a single shelf of a good European library is worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia”—got to love that British sense of entitlement and arrogance.
In any case, amidst the steady diet of Shakespeare and Dickens in school, encountering Hossain’s delightful story, which I promptly borrowed from my professor, blew my mind wide open.