While the influence of English literature in Pakistan stems from a century of British imperial rule, Pakistani authors who write in English have developed a unique, distinct voice. The recently published ‘Austenistan’ which recasts Jane Austen’s narrative in a contemporary South Asian context is a recent example. An anthology of short stories by Pakistani women writers, ‘Austenistan’ provides insights on the challenges faced by often modern, upwardly mobile women living in what is still a deeply hierarchical and male dominated society. Highlighting the precarious position of women in Pakistan society where marriage is still seen as a woman’s best path to financial security and social respect, these stories discuss the various issues often associated with marrying a ‘suitable boy’: the uncertain courtship phase, the hemorrhaging costs associated with weddings from the bridal dowry to the wedding party, for starters. Other stories shed light on life as a single woman navigating the treacherous waters of a prying and judgmental society. Austen’s themes of status, wealth and class snobbery loom large. Told through the shimmer and dazzle of high society parties and weddings, Austenistan’s stories show how Jane Austen’s social commentary still resonates in Pakistan today. The Editor and driving force behind Austenistan, renowned journalist Laaleen Sukhera explains, “Amid the balls and salons and romance and wit, Jane Austen would weave in elements of realism such as the financial limitations on women in Regency England and relationships gone awry. Austenistan is an homage to Jane, whom we find so relevant to Pakistani society.” Highlighting the precarious position of women in Pakistan society where marriage is still seen as a woman’s best path to financial security and social respect Moreover, these stories hint at a darker truth about the compromised position of women at all levels of society. Last year, the Women, Peace and Security Index found that Pakistan had the highest discrimination against women in the world and the lowest financial inclusion. The average years of schooling for a woman, is just 5 years and only 24 percent are employed. They also provide a glimpse of how women are held to exacting standards in terms of lifestyle and behaviour. In Pakistan, increasing intolerance means that women often find themselves the target of public derision and condemnation for defying social convention. This mind-set can manifest in the worst ways: the murder of social media icon and reality television star Qandeel Baloch in 2016. She was killed by her brother for behaving ‘dishonourably.’ The assassination of provincial minister Zil-e-Huma by an extremist in 2007. Her assailant admitted that he killed for not dressing appropriately and for participating in politics. What Austenistan’s success resoundingly shows is that the rules and conventions of modern Pakistani society remain weighted against women in both the professional and personal spheres. The fact that Jane Austen still holds a mirror to twenty-first century Pakistan is indicative of a deeper malaise in a society where a woman’s options for economic and social ascendancy remain constricted. But what Austenistan’s writers also demonstrate is like the women contending with Jane Austen’s Regency era mores and expectations, today’s heirs to Austen’s legacy in Pakistan are remarkable, spirited women who find ways to persevere and excel — and enjoy themselves in the process. The writer is the founding editor of Blue Chip magazine. She tweets @MashaalGauhar Published in Daily Times, November 1st 2018.