Saturday, July 11, 2015

from a 'Writer's Block' column in Sakal Times

Photo for Sakal Times by Anand Chaini at my home
I am used to writing anywhere. There are times when the words flow well and there are times when they don’t, but for me it is not to do with where I’m sitting. I write in airports, planes and trains, in waiting rooms or reception areas, sometimes sitting up in bed. The place where I get my ideas is inside my head and it has never made a difference where I am.
Though I started writing when I was very young (I had a poem published in the school magazine when I was seven J) my writing career began when I was twenty-nine years old and in circumstances due to which I badly needed to earn a living. There was never any time to fuss about ‘inspiration’ or having a studio or anything like that. I worked very hard to get assignments, took all that came my way and wrote as fast and as well as I could.
Then a time came when I had three small children close in age and I was writing my columns between household chores and homework. For a period of around five years, I wrote columns for four newspapers, three in Pune (basically, for all the Pune papers in those days) and one in Bombay. My environment was always noisy and demanding. Nobody at home realised that I was doing something that needed concentration or thought it was necessary to give me space.
Along the way, I realised that although all writers string words together, each writer has different skills. Over time, my focus on non-fiction increased and most of my books have been biographies. I have worked with elderly people, helping them to write their memoirs. It is a long process of exploration and discovery. For this, and for the oral histories I write, I find it works best to listen quietly and intently, to try and understand what the person is saying, never make assumptions, create a space where the stories will pour out. The person will now understand old incidents with the perspective of the present; old wounds will be healed; and he or she will look back on life with satisfaction and with a new and much more crystallised interpretation. Somewhere during this process, the sequence of events and the way in which they should be presented becomes clear.
Yes, I think discipline is important – not just for writers but for all creative people. Talent is not sufficient to express creativity: discipline is equally important. There’s nothing like harsh necessity to instil discipline in anyone and that’s what sparked the discipline in me. Over time I began to enjoy it, the way one’s body begins to enjoy and crave exercise. Discipline is useful to a columnist who has to produce a high-quality piece of writing every week and with all thoughts fit into a specified word-length.
For the last few years, I have spent my time writing nearly all day, unless I’m reading. When I’m travelling, I write whenever I can sit down and take my laptop out.
My book Sindh: Stories from a Vanished Homeland came about when I asked my mother to tell me about her childhood in Sindh. She was thirteen at Partition, and remembered a lot. I realised that these were fascinating and important historical facts that had been forgotten. I extended the scope of what I had planned and brought out the book on 14 November 2012, exactly sixty-five years after my mother arrived in Bombay, with her parents and siblings, having left their homeland forever. In 2013, Oxford University Press, Pakistan, published the book and later the same year it was selected to participate in the South Asian Festival of Literature in London. It is now on the shelves of university libraries around the world.
I continue to study the Sindhi diaspora and to publish new information and insights about it. I still write columns on invitation and the occasional travel article, but these days I find myself turning more to research and understanding the historical times from which we have emerged.
This interview by Meeta Ramnani appeared in Sakal Times on 11 July 2015

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