My Journey – Faiqa Mansab
I say this a lot when people ask me about my writing, but it’s true, so I’ll say it again: I am most myself when I am writing.
I write because I have so many stories to tell, about my city, its people, the culture, the pain and the struggles, and the very essence of being alive in a city like Lahore. Lahore is Lahore. I make fun of this sentence in almost all my books (even the ones unpublished yet). It’s an old saying in Lahore—Lor, Lor ae—but I won’t start on this here. That is why I write novels. To explain that sentence.
That’s a joke of course, in case you haven’t got the hang of my sense of humour yet.
Lahore fascinates me, yes, but location is political. Language is political too. And put the two together with a woman, and a Muslim woman at that…I think that when a Muslim woman writes about sex, somewhere a Taliban drops dead.
I grew up with books, Sufi music, strong women, Urdu, Punjabi and English, and a sprinkling of Persian. Poetry was in the air, and on the tongue of everyone I knew, as were Quranic ayaat—about gratitude, the greatness of Allah, how everything belonged to Him, and you know, just the awareness of His Presence. In any random conversation, my mother would quote Iqbal, the Quran, Bhulley Shah and Kahlil Gibran and the conversation may very well be about something trivial and ordinary. She used to wake us up with Iqbal:
Utho meri duniya ke ghareebon ko jaga do
Kakhe umarah ke dar-o-deevaar hila do
Jis khet ke dehqaan mo muaasser nahi rozi
Uss khet ke har khosha-e-gandum ko jala do
Yeah, it was annoying. Very.
My father, who was a political figure, and not corrupt so we weren’t at all rich, was a writer and patron of the Punjabi language. He wrote poetry, essays and prose in Urdu and Punjabi. Both my parents were very patriotic. My mother used to decorate the house with jhandis and put on national songs on the Day of Independence. Then I grew up and realized it was the Zia era. Then it ended, and my mother didn’t stop. She wasn’t infected. That was just how they were.
I just realized I’ve been talking about my parents and haven’t said anything about my book.
So many factors shape us and our identity, but none more than our parents. If they’d been different, I don’t think I would have been me, either. My parents inculcated the love of language in me, of reading, and writing.
I usually write in the mornings and late nights when I am not disturbed. I need silence to write. I can read anywhere and when a book has pulled me in, I wouldn’t hear a dhol beating near me. I love reading fantasy, especially when I feel a bit lost, or sad. I hit the bookshops. Patricia A McKillip is my favourite but I also read children’s classics like E. Nesbit, Micheal Ende, Peter S. Beadle and Rowling. I read history books, biographies, essays, everything. Some of my favourite writers are Helen DeWitt, Horumil Hrabal, Milan Kundera, James Baldwin, Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton and Fay Weldon.
This House of Clay and Water has gone through at least three re-writes, which means major changes in story and structure, and at least five drafts. I worked very hard at this novel. This is my first finished full length novel. I have many half-written and abandoned drafts of other stories. But this is the story I am most proud of. I wrote it at a time when I was suffering. I had lost my sister, then my mother. Losing my mother was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through. The death of a loved one changes you. You don’t look at yourself or the world the same way. You feel removed from normal people, who haven’t felt the cold hand of death wrench away at their heart, they don’t live with that aching coldness inside them.
I am most myself when I write because when I am telling the stories of my characters I don’t have to pretend with them. I don’t have to be someone ‘normal’, regular, ‘someone easily put in a box and therefore not dangerous’ with them. I understand brokenness, and perhaps that’s why people who read my stories always ask me, is this your own story? One of my tutors at Kingston University London, Kevin McNeil, a screenwriter, poet and playwright, said that it was the biggest compliment anyone could give me. I’d been sulking with him. I said, do people think I have no imagination? That I can only write about myself? I wrote about a woman at the time of Partition in 1947 and they said, is it your story? I was offended. But Kevin changed the way I hear those words now because people still say that to me. Now I know it’s the highest accolade for a writer.
Anyone who isn’t a storyteller will never understand why anyone would spend hours, months, writing about people that don’t even exist. For writers, their characters are real. For me, Bhanggi is as real as the faqirs and qalanders I see at dargahs, and streets.
Another thing I hear often, is, aren’t we supposed to like your characters?
We don’t like so-and-so. Well, no, you’re not supposed to like all the characters. What would be the point? You’re not even supposed to always like the protagonist. Do you like everyone you meet in life? I certainly don’t. So no, I don’t want you to like all my characters. Hate them, be furious with them, have frequent urges to throw the book at them; but if you’re indifferent to my character, then I’ve failed. Only then.
Author(s): Faiqa Mansab
Publisher: Penguin RHI
Release: May 2017
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