- You began writing at a young age, and much of your observations in your debut novel, “Ashes, Wine and Dust” are from a perspective of a child. Were you an observant child and how much of “Ashes” stems from your personal experience?
I have always been fascinated with child narrators and their unreliability in novels. I wanted to experiment with that and it did come naturally because I was a very observant child and have very vivid childhood memories of my grandfather’s village and growing up in Lahore. The first book is deeply personal, and may have strands of a writer’s personal life but I have used my poetic license to maneuver reality and the characters are purely fictional.
- What comes to you first, the characters or the plot?
The characters speak to me first. Always the characters. My mind gives birth to a character, a very raw image of them, and I remain fixated. Their desires unfold, their pursuits, past and present. The plot comes much later.
- Your writing is highly evocative and lyrical. Was it natural for you to write this way or do you make a deliberate effort?
It is very natural for me to write this way. I did not even know I wrote a certain way until my editor read my manuscript and told me. The sections about Lahore, Mariam’s childhood and the pastoral landscape I sketched is said to be particularly lyrical. That writing was indeed romantic was for me. It was Lahore, my city, and Ashes and Wine became literally my love letter to the old and new Lahore. Lahore is poetic, it is artistic, it is beautiful and the city sings to me. The writing becomes less romantic and the tone changes as the narrative moves to Washington D.C. This is very obvious and I am often told. The truth is I did not feel connected to D.C. the feeling of alienation and isolation reflects in the narrative and the voice of the narrator.
- You live in the US now. Moving to a new place can be difficult. Did it affect your writing process in anyway?
It sure does. I have to be familiar with the place and comfortable in order to write peacefully. Big cities can be distracting, small towns can be isolating and living by myself, although liberating can sometimes be immensely frightening. I took my time to settle down mentally. I have been to the US often but this time I was moving away for a long time and it began to take a toll on me. I thought-still think- I write the best in Lahore at my desk, or the rooftop (where I wrote most of the Ashes, Wine and Dust). I took my time but soon enough, I became comfortable and confident about writing in a new place.
- Is working on the second book different from writing the first?
Absolutely. I sometimes feel I was born with the first novel in my body, the characters slept in the folds of my skin and became more and more empowered as I released them on paper. I had a certain idea of where the manuscript was heading and there was a sense of confidence. By the time the first novel was out, I felt mentally worn out. Writing a book means spending hours in isolation and self-doubt, the process of world building is liberating, transcendental but exhausting. It has taken me time to find a story that gives me a sense of urgency. I told myself that I was in no rush. Arundhati Roy speaks the truth, “Fiction takes its time.”
6. What do you think of The Bombay Review?
The Bombay Review is a great initiative and I am so proud that the young team has made it so far. The art work is exhilarating, the literature relevant and deep. I wish the team more success in the future!