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'The unrest is close to Delhi, closer still to Lahore'

February 17, 2009
How would you compare your experience with those of first generation immigrants like your parents?

They have never got over the fact that they had to leave Pakistan (His father had to leave the country for his political beliefs). My coming to England was a happy experience. One of the reasons was I that I had my family, but their family was in Pakistan. I didn't miss my mother, but my mother missed her mother. It was totally different and that is something I explored in Maps of Lost Lovers.

...which took 11 years to complete! How would you describe that process?

It took me 11 months to write my first novel. By then I had been in England for nine years.

I told myself -- now I know I can write a novel. I am going to sit down and study English literature. Now I am going to read everything D H Lawrence wrote, now I am going to read everything Tolstoy wrote, Nabakov, Dickens, George Elliot...

Many other reasons caused the delay. I had no money, every few months I had to stop and earn more. I worked at construction sites, I waited tables and I tore up tickets as a cinema usher. That's why it took 11 years.

Did you have an end in sight, or was it a case of 'I am going to finish this when I am going to finish it'?

Yes. Also, it was a case of 'Let's do this right'. I put it through 19 drafts. I wanted to get it right. Some three or four years into the novel, I realised it needed more characters than what I had set out with. At that time I stopped working on the forward momentum of the novel and developed the characters. That took me three to four years.

Both Indians and Pakistanis learnt English form the same source. But their writing is so very different from each other. For instance Pakistani writing has more wit, sarcasm and effortlessly leans into the satirical. And all this seems very natural. How do you see this?

Even in Jaipur (which recently hosted a literary festival) people asked something similar. Pakistani writers -- Mohsin (Hamid), Daniyal (Muinnuddin), Haneef (Mohammed), Kamila Shamsie -- seem to be at the forefront now.

Parts of our county are on fire. We are trying to understand the mess for ourselves. Some of the problems are spilling over to the rest of the world and the world is interested in knowing just what is happening here.

This is what a writer is trying to do -- To try and understand or to try and see if there is a solution.

For example, somebody was saying that the unrest in Afghanistan was now spilling into the western parts of Pakistan. 'We in India are rather apprehensive,' I was told. Think about how we feel. If it is getting close to Delhi, it is getting closer still to Lahore, it is going to reach Lahore.

That's our panic. That is the urgency that is there. That might be one of the reasons why Pakistani writers have this verve. It might come out of that urgency.

Image: The Wasted Vigil, Nadeem Aslam's latest book. You can buy it at Rediff Shopping

Also see: 'The Exile is a novel based on history'
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