My experience of Pakistan being firsthand gave me confidence to carry on and take any allegation of inferiority head on.
An award-winning British novelist of Pakistani origin, Nadeem Aslam has written about the lives that are lived with one foot in war-ridden Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan, and the other in the multi-ethnic cities of Britain. Author of Season of the Rainbirds, Maps for Lost Lovers and The Wasted Vigil speaks about his most recent book The Blind Man's Garden.
How has your presence in two different cultures shaped your writing life and style?
My parents came to England when I was in my teens. It was quite a shock at that time because racism was rampant in Britain. My face and color were what determined me for others then, not my mind or character or what I want to be, or whom I have read. In Pakistan, it was different. I was scolded if I had done something wrong, or if my ideas rubbed someone on the wrong side. England was cold at first, because it thought of me and my birthplace as inferior beings and spaces. But things changed over time, and I learned to like it as years passed. But my experience of Pakistan being firsthand gave me confidence to carry on and take any allegation of inferiority head on.
You keep going back to South Asian territories, your home in Pakistan. Your characters are sometimes Pakistanis and sometimes immigrants. Any comments?
I write about what I have known intimately. When I first came to England as an adolescent, I could not return for several years. My longing for Pakistan made me reimagine it, conjure it up for myself. I kept thinking about the birds and trees of my long lost homeland. When I could manage to return, two decades had passed by. Yet, I felt happier to come back, though visa troubles remained. Going to Pakistan from Britain invites a lot of questions, but I managed to attend literature festival in Karachi. Here in Jaipur, coming to India, I am equally intrigued. I feel I am in Pakistan only. These two countries are siblings, we are blood brothers and sisters.
Is that the reason why your locales are imaginary, because you do not want to be identified as merely Pakistani, or British Pakistani?
Landscapes are of the mind, and mind is always churning. My settings tend to be abstract, yes, but thatÕs a freedom I have allowed myself to have. Fiction extends to geography as well. Cartography is an exercise in imagination. Blind ManÕs Garden is set in an imaginary town, Heer. Like Heer, the legendary lover-girl, the town of Heer is also bathed in loss and pain, but houses love that is deeper an emotion than what the headlines tells you about these places. Pakistan, Afghanistan have become alien places, especially after 9/11. But the people are the same.
Why a blind man?
A blind man cannot see what ordinary beings can, but that gives him a perspective that is above and beyond the usual way of seeing things. I taped my eyes shut to enter such a world. I did that exercise for three years when I was writing the book. Writing fiction lets you do that, take those liberties and expand the limits of empathy. Journalism, on the other hand, is limited. Plain reportage doesnÕt let you tell the whole story. Fiction gives you that luxury to enter difference and spot similarity.
Will you write about India ever?
Yes, why not? I am open to ideas and if something comes up, I would be delighted to write about India as well. Sometime in future for sure.