"The world inside our heads is formed through stories"
The Guide's Kanika Sharma speaks to Fullbright fellow and Pakistani writer Bilal Tanweer who has just released his rejuvenating debut read on the country across the border, The Scatter Here is Too Great, which releases today
‘Ever seen a bullet-smashed windscreen?’ is a recurrent question the narrator asks, even before one begins to read Bilal Tanweer’s The Scatter Here is Too Great. Much like this imagery, Tanweer who has been published as one of Granta magazine’s New Voices, brings together a web of stories that come around as a novel. Highlighting urban issues of a city, its relation to violence and the role stories play in life — The Scatter Here is Too Great is much like Tanweer: hard-hitting, candid and everyday-like. Though it is not everyday you expect an author to use the ‘f’ word when it comes to discussing how American or British media deplorably paints South Asians as regressive keeping the instance of the film, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, in mind.
The write imagery
“I don’t think myself as a Pakistani novelist,” announces the 30-year-old who studied Masters in Fine Arts at the Columbia University. Yet, Tanweer is acutely like the voice in his stories — a cartoonist, a journalist, a narrator with the edginess of a character on societal periphery. The novel as Tanweer asserts his writing is, embraces a multitude of characters from the pathetic Comrade Sukhansaz, the boy who draws his vivid imagination on a blackboard, Noor Begum a senile old woman who repeatedly asks to be sent to Mecca for Hajj at the airport and a teenaged girl who makes out with a boy who, as later revealed, thuggishly recovers loaned vehicles.
“The world inside our heads is formed through stories. They form our attitudes towards religion, the idea of nationalism, communities — all are made up of and through stories,” shares the writes who believes that stories are “a very serious enterprise. It is the legitimate way of creating knowledge about the world.” Through this, Tanweer, the professor who teaches fiction writing at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) emerges. “For stories, the stakes are so high in South Asia, they mean so much to us. Our realities are so chaotic, we look at stories for it to make sense,” asserts the writer who was encouraged by Kamila Shamsie, his first teacher of writing.
An author's experience
“In the first story, with Comrade Sukhansaaz, ‘tum logon ki haddiyan tod dunga’ was something that did happen to me. Though it wasn’t a comrade but there were boys at the back making fun of his poetry,” shares the Fullbright fellow. In ‘Lying Low’, the old woman was someone who I really wanted to write about as I got to know about how old people kept on standing at the boarding gates asking the security to let them go to Mecca, Medina or US or Canada as their children have moved aboard.” The fact that these astray figures were put on a bus, which drops them on some road is also a form of violence, Tanweer points out.
Is Karachi like Mumbai?
The Lahore-based writer assures that Karachi, repeatedly considered a Pakistani equivalent to Mumbai, is what he calls home. Born and bred in Karachi, Tanweer still engages with the city at least four months annually, as opposed to being restricted to the university campus in Lahore. The sea in the novel, often surfaces as a site to be bullied by the police, bond with one’s father or make out with a girl, on the sly. The border between the nations ceases in moments like these. Speaking of which we ask of his impression of Mumbai, “I transit through Delhi but it’s a shame I haven’t been to Bombay. I love Ranjit Hoskote’s work; I met him recently in Goa. Kiran Nagarkar, Gyan Prakash — all of them as I myself think about cities and the influence they have on individuals.”
>> Is it autobiographical? Although I have not faced any actual violence but the story is of myself and of friends. Stories are coping strategies with violence. I am intrigued by how violence is held. The bigger forms of violence gain attention yet the smaller go unnoticed.
>> Who is my narrator? I am thinking of Junot Diaz and Aleksandar Hemon. The narrator embodies a certain way of looking at the world. The omniscient narrator doesn’t work for me. Maybe, it is the time we live in — the sensibilities we have.