Frenchman is Pakistan’s best Urdu writer

Published May 24, 2014, 8:02 am IST
Updated Jan 10, 2016, 8:38 am IST
The Urdu novelist came to Pakistan at the age of 30 as a humanitarian worker
Frenchman Julien Columeau  (Photo: DC archives)
 Frenchman Julien Columeau (Photo: DC archives)

Lahore: Frenchman Julien Columeau came to Pakistan at the age of 30 as a humanitarian worker — but a knack for languages and love for books have made him one of the country’s most innovative Urdu novelists.

Writing mainly historical fiction with a prose described as vivid and forceful, critics say that Columeau, now 41, has injected fresh life into a scene considered to have grown stale.


His works have featured at the country’s most prominent literature festivals with three novels published and more in the pipeline.

Originally from Marseilles, Columeau left France to study Hindi in India in 1993, but quickly grew disillusioned with the “clerical” form of the language he was being made to learn, and switched to Urdu two years later.

“I learnt it on my own - by then I was conversant in Hindi so there was a book which was about how to transliterate Urdu to Hindi,” he told AFP.

“Then I was practising my reading. After about one year I was able to read books,” he said.

He later moved to Pakistan with the International Committee of the Red Cross where he worked primarily as a translator in troubled areas.

He became fascinated with 1950s poet Saghar Siddiqui, who fell into ruin and destitution and acquired a saint-like following among common people before his early death.

“I wanted to explore why he became a malang (a wandering mystic) despite the fact he was a successful poet,” he said.