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New Years’ Eve Special: Interview with Shazaf Fatima Haider

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    Photo courtesy: Penguin India

To kick start my new year, I interviewed someone who came out with her first novel earlier this year. To say that it has been a huge success would be an understatement. Her book How it Happened perfectly captures the beauty of Pakistani marriages, the social (and apparently religious!) stigma regarding inter-sect marriages and most of all, has portrayed immaculately the innocence of adolescence.

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Book cover of ‘How it Happened’

First of all, I would like to thank her for agreeing to do this interview, and for responding promptly to the interview questions I emailed to her. 

Me: So, tell me a little about yourself. Do you come from a background of writers?

SFH: You know, if you look hard enough, everyone comes from a background of writers. Everyone wries secretly and has masterpieces that go hidden or are lost because no one believed in them. I was rummaging through the bookshelves and saw that one of my mother’s cousins was a poet – and he wrote the wittiest Urdu poetry I’ve read. But he died a long time ago and possibly self published this anthology. I felt so sad because had he been born in the right place, connected to the right people, he could have been famous. Now all that’s left of him is a tattered book of faded yellow pages. But otherwise, no, I don’t think I’m related to any famous or great writers. 

Me: What inspired you to write ‘How it Happened’?

SFH: Frustration. Too many ‘suitors’ marching in, exhibiting bad manners in my drawing room and then marching off; the demeaning of women by other women. I suppose at one point when the anger fades away, you’re left with frustration and all you can do is laugh or cry. I chose to laugh.

Me: Did you worry about the kind of response you were going to get, especially by the elders of a ‘Shia-Syed’ family?

SFH:  I didn’t, because a lot of the Shia-Syed community agrees that this sort of sectarian division is ignorant. The kind of people who disagree don’t read.

Me: What was the biggest obstacle you faced while writing?

SFH:  I was working as a full time teacher up until this year. I just didn’t get the kind of time to really delve into my writing as I wished. That was highly problematic.

Me: Is there any particular song you like to listen to while writing?

SFH:  I listen to music mostly when I’m exercising – music distracts me. But I’m a huge fan of Alanis Morisette. 

Me: Any particular time of the day that suits you better while writing?

SFH: Morning is the best time. Now that I teach part time, I’m done with classes by eleven, so I go to a cafe and write for two hours until lunch. Sometimes, when the mood strikes, I work all day – but that doesn’t happen very often

Me: Are you working on any other project right now?

SFH: I’m actually done with my second novel – the story is on paper, now the long process of editing, proof reading is left.

Me: What is it about?

SFH: It’s about Jinns. Very unlike the first novel, I should warn you.

Me: Considering the low literacy rate of Pakistan, what can you say about the scope of writers in our country?

SFH:  People love stories. And there are more readers than you know. The  problem isn’t literacy ( a lot of people who can read just don’t) it’s the availability of cheap books and the lack of a local publishing industry. If books were cheaper then students would buy them, people who wanted to read them wouldn’t have to think twice about their price. That’s the real issue with reading in Pakistan.

Me: Were you turned down by other publishers before Penguin India decided to publish your novel?

SFH: No, actually. Penguin was one of the first publishers to get back to me. 

Me: Quick question time. Give me one word responses to these.

Caffeine – Headache
On your bookshelf –  Dust
In your DVD player – Thor 2
Revolutionary – Jaun Elia
Paradise – Family
Corruption – Big fat politician in waistcoat
Inspirational – Marquez
Politicians – Scum
Deadlines – Never a problem

Me: Lastly, what advice would you give to young and aspiring authors?

SFH: Keep writing and be patient. Believe in yourself. And listen to criticism as constructive feedback.