| JAIPUR, India
JAIPUR, India Feb 21 Born in Pakistan and
raised in Britain, Nadeem Aslam's writing, drawn from a life
lived with one foot in the war on terror in his birthplace and
neighbouring Afghanistan, has made him one of South Asia's most
In his new novel, "The Blind Man's Garden," Aslam again
returns to those countries in the months after the Sept. 11
attacks, to portray the terror that gripped a region that was
blind to the forces behind the turmoil.
He spoke to Reuters on the sidelines of the recent Jaipur
Literature Festival about the impact of his upbringing, the
backdrop of the war on terror on his work, and his plans to
write about female infanticide in his next novel.
Q: "The Blind Man's Garden" is set in Afghanistan and
Pakistan. How has the war on terror affected your writing?
A: Any number of writers have said that on that day (Sept.
11, 2001), they looked at the book they were working on and said
"This is worthless because the real thing is out there."
Yet, when I looked at the TV screens when 9/11 happened, I
said that's my book, the one I wrote and the one I'm writing
now. The issues that came to surface that day were there in my
life, in the first page of my first novel.
Novels that come out of a land that's in turmoil, where the
various hierarchies are quite rigid, and people are struggling
within that system, are just more interesting. Britain has Mr
Cameron's financial crisis, but it really isn't Afghanistan.
In my writing, that background of explosions and turmoil is
lowered, and we are left with human figures whose hearts are in
conflict. These happen to be the times, the background.
Q: And how does fiction work with that background?
A: What fiction does is create a human being from the ground
up. It tells you what shoes he likes to wear. What he felt on
his first day of school. When you take that person away and you
torture him, the reader feels something.
In non-fiction, when you say, "During the 1980s, in the Zia
regime, X number of people were tortured in Pakistan", it is not
the job of the non-fiction writer to tell you what it feels to
be tortured. This is what fiction does.
Q: Your national identity must influence your writing. How
do you define it?
A: There are some machines, some gadgets, on which it says
Made in China, Assembled in Germany. I was made in the east and
assembled in the west.
Any numbers of my firsts happened here, with childhood. But
any number of my important firsts happened in the UK. My first
sex, my first love. So I can't really decide.
In my study is a map I have made myself. I cut out
Pakistan's shape from the globe and England's shape and put them
together. The Grand Trunk Road passes from Peshawar, goes
through the Khyber pass, becomes the Khyber bridge, and emerges
in Newcastle. That is my country.
Q: Do you write for a Pakistani or a British audience?
A: My main audience are always my characters. They are the
ones who will judge me and view me, as it were. Beyond that
there is no-one else.
Writing that matters is always writing on a mirror. When you
are writing it, your own face is staring out through the
writing. But once you finish and hand it to the reader, it's not
your face, it's the reader's face looking out, as opposed to
writing on a photograph.
Q: The "war on terror" appears to be coming to a close. What
issues will your next book deal with?
A: Great writing comes from human conflict. I always begin
with a subject matter. I want to write about female infanticide.
I went to Pakistan recently... someone asked me if I have
children. I said, "No and I don't think I ever will". I said, "I
think of my books as my children." This educated man said, "Yes.
Your books that sell well will be your sons, and your books that
flop will be your daughters."
If the war on terror is sorted out tomorrow, there are a
huge number of challenges that remain, that we need to talk
about. We need to talk about female infanticide.
(Reporting by Henry Foy, editing by Elaine Lies)