You know, responsibility is at the core of one’s being. We express responsibility in very different ways. I don’t think the responsibility is to be a journalist, because we have good journalists, we have good women journalists, we have good men journalists. I don’t feel a writer has to be a journalist. I would rather be reading a book by Hafiz or Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai than reading political analysis. I don’t think that it’s my duty as a writer to read every book about Pakistan; to know about current events, yes. It informs your work in a kind of oblique way.
You know I feel that I haven’t read enough Pakistani fiction. I have to be very clear about that, one has limited time and as you grow older you tend to want to look back and read books you’ve missed out on. I haven’t read much of Mohammed Hanif, I haven’t read Shehryar Fazli’s book, I haven’t read Uzma Aslam Khan and I was telling someone earlier, three or four of them, (I probably won’t name them today) are friends of mine, so obviously I read their books, I know what goes into them, I know they’re not trying to manipulate their audience. But they do feel very passionately about their country.
Do you think that due to the increased focus on Pakistan following 9/11, young writers feel the need to write about certain socio-political topics?
I don’t think they deliberately start to write about it but I think the publishers who probably buy books are looking for that angle, how it connects with Pakistan, how it connects with the Taliban, how it connects with the violence in the country and so on. And perhaps Mohsin Hamid’s new book, in which he refused to name the country, was a reaction to that.
As someone who is involved in online literary journals, what do you think about the role they play in furthering literature, specifically online?
I think they play a great role; to have literary journals is constructive, and would especially be so if they could do more to bring together literary cultures that have become divorced from each other. I think of Urdu and the regional languages and of English. One seems to have this regional, parochial, provincial label attached to it and the other one seems to be cosmopolitan or international. Actually a lot of Urdu writing is every bit as international as the writing in English.
That actually leads to another question we discussed, in your opinion does travelling and exposure play a role in good writing or is it essential for good writing?
Would you be shocked if I said, not necessarily? Because I think some people have written wonderfully just living absolutely [to] the core of their own place and they’ve written about huge issues.
So you would say sensitivity and imagination are more important factors?
Yes, sensitivity and perception. I mean human nature changes according to political context only in its behavior and its manifestations, but [otherwise] it’s just pretty much the same.
Any advice or words of wisdom for young writers, aside from reading?
This is what I would say, just read as much as you can. Because I think critics and journalists need to be aware of all the contexts of a book but they also need to be aware of the context from which the writer is emerging. Each individual writer has his/her own trajectory and I think if you read their books carefully you’ll understand that, rather than pinning a label on the book, which the book is not going to be able to live up to.
And what about advice for new writers and new novelists?
You know it always sounds like such a cliché but one of them is just write close to your own experience, start from there. Not about yourself but start from what you know. Start from what you love, start from what you believe in.
Sana Hussain is Features Editor and Maryam Piracha is Editor-in-Chief of the magazine.
Photo Credit: IBN Live.