2012 crucial for Pakistan: Writer Mohammed Hanif (Interview)

November 20th, 2011 - 2:37 pm ICT by IANS  

Bambolim (Goa), Nov 20 (IANS) He feels fighter planes and tanks in India and Pakistan can be used to take kids for joyrides and jokes that being a Pakistani author automatically makes him an expert on radical Islam and water disputes! But Mohammed Hanif is dead serious when he says 2012 will be crucial for his country.

“Since I was a child, I have been hearing that the next year is going to be crucial in the country’s history. But it does seem the next year (2012) will be crucial. For the first time an elected government will complete its term and there will hopefully be a peaceful transfer of power (to the next government). That will be a first in Pakistan’s history. So, interesting times,” journalist-cum-writer Hanif told IANS in an interview.

Trained to become a pilot, Hanif is today one of the most popular literary voices from Pakistan, though he says not many read books in his country.

“There are probably more people who write them! It seems every third person is a poet. But a lot of urban youth take their reading seriously. So hopefully, better times ahead for writers,” says the author who is in his 40s.

“We have a lot of freedom in Pakistan, we can say whatever we want to, but always at our own risk because the government is not likely to protect the weak or the poor or the outspoken,” says the outspoken author, very much at his own risk.

Hanif’s two books, “A Case of Exploding Mangoes” and “Our Lady Alice Bhatti”, are a tangible proof of his eye for the absurd and an awfully fertile imagination, but the writer says he struggles for words every time he sits down to write.

“Someone once said that a writer is a person who finds writing more difficult than other people. I think it’s very true,” Hanif told IANS during a trip to Goa this month.

“I struggle with words; I have a permanent writer’s block,” he says.

Commenting on the India-Pakistan relationship, the author, known for his well-sketched characters and satirical writing, feels, “we just seemed to have kissed and made up”.

“I hope it can last because war mongering is our default position.”

Hanif started his career by writing political features for magazines and stage plays.

“But it was a bit unsatisfactory as you had to depend on other people for content. When it worked, it was brilliant. But when it didn’t, everyone sort of blamed you,” he says.

Hanif, whose earliest writing sensibilities were shaped by Urdu writers, says if there is one type of book he can’t stand, it’s the self-help type. “They bore me, though words never repel me,” he answers amid long profound pauses.

Speaking about his writing process, Hanif says he draws inspiration by observing people around. “I am very impressionable; I like to overhear conversations in buses, trains and marriages.

“But it just gives you a faint picture, a character sketch, from where your f***** up imagination takes over,” he says.

“Good writing is something that makes you forget everything else, you don’t turn up for work, you yearn to go back to the book like you yearn for a person you love,” he says.

And what are the components that make for good writing?

“It needs a voice and politics. By politics I don’t mean the political thing, I mean politics of the characters, where are they coming from, the pulse of the society they are living in,” he says even as the pauses in his answers become more profound.

And what makes him write like that?

“I try to get up early. I also go to the sea front and scribble. I am not someone who needs a lot of solitude. I go to coffee shops and pubs. I need noise, I need some constant distraction to fight,” he says.

“I consume a lot of popular culture. Writing starts with personal experiences, real people. Satire comes from personal observations; every family has a character, a funny guy.”

Though his first book, revolving around the assassination of Pakistani dictator Zia-ul Haq, won him rave reviews with an overdose of adjectives like funny, witty and unputdownable, Hanif says he’s more drawn to the bad reviews.

“If someone says they found it uncomfortable, I would say, yes, it was supposed to do that. That was partly my intention,” he says, epitomising the twisted, mocking voice that seamlessly runs through his work.

(Mohita Nagpal can be contacted at mohita.n@ians.in)

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