KARACHI, Dec 11: Literature buffs experienced a nice little interactive session with the London-based short story writer and novelist Aamer Hussein at T2F on Tuesday.
Poetess Fahmida Riaz introduced the author to the audience in a rather effusive manner. She said the writer was an important figure in the British literary scene. He’s an elected fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and had contributed to reputed literary journals such as the Times Literary Supplement.
She said when she first read Aamer’s book Another Gulmohar Tree, she thought it was based on Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s life, but later on the author told him that he had tried to paint the picture of Ghulam Abbas. She said Aamer did not write novels to cater to popular demands in Britain (like some other writers from the subcontinent). She, with a touch of glee, informed the audience that now the writer had begun writing in Urdu and some of his stories had been published in a literary magazine. She said reading his stories were like a breath of fresh air.
Poetess Fatima Hasan read out an excerpt from the writer’s story Maya aur hans, after which the floor was opened for questions.
Aamer Hussein said it didn’t take him long to write stories in Urdu, but Maya aur hans took time. He explained why he began writing in Urdu. He said he had for long wanted to write in the language and there were occasions that he couldn’t do so (his maternal side of the family is from north India). He then tried his hand at it and sent a few of the Romanised stories to Asif Farrukhi, who liked them and asked him to write five of them for his magazine, Duniyazad.
Aamer Hussein said he’d think up a story in Urdu while writing in the same language. However, he made the distinction by saying that “main soch ker nahin likhta, dekh ker likhta hoon” (I write what I see). He received a series of questions on the difference between writing in the two languages after which he read out a passage from his story The Book of Mariam, inspired by a dream.
Fahmida Riaz said Aamer had the ability to put together little things and sum up scenarios, in which one thing led to another and taking place at different places at a time.
Another member of the audience, writer Bina Shah, endeavored to explain the difference between Aamer’s English and Urdu narratives by suggesting that while writing in English he appeared more world-wary whereas in Urdu he seemed less cynical.
On the question of how far he’s influenced by myths and parables, Aamer responded that he acknowledged their worth but didn’t resort to them, and would prefer psychological realm to existential reality.
In reply to a question on his thoughts on British writer Hanif Kureshi, he said he found him ‘sapaat’ (bland or one-dimensional). Answering a query about what kind of stories he liked to read, he said he was fond of all kinds. He told the audience that he was influenced by Italian magical realism (giving the example of writers like Italo Calvino). With regard to the correlation of religion and literature, he said he was not unconcerned with spiritual matters and was fond of reading Rumi.
On the issue of politics, Aamer remarked: “I don’t write statements in my fiction. If I did that, I’d be a historian,” and furthered his argument stating that in his stories facts were carried through the lives of the characters. At this point, to elucidate the conversation and why Aamer switched to Urdu, Fatima Hasan read out the writer’s piece “Mian tum Urdu mein kyon nahin likhte” published in Duniyazad in which the famed literary giant Quratulain Hyder once put this question to him that why he didn’t write in Urdu. (The writer also gives away the fact that he has always read works of Urdu literature and it was natural for him to employ the language for creative expression.)
He mentioned the name of Shaista Ikramullah, too, whose thesis at the School of Oriental and African Studies, he said, helped him to follow that path.