"Pakistan's children are smart readers"
A few months back, when the Man Asian Literary Prize shortlist was announced, Pakistani-Canadian author Musharraf Ali Farooqi's Between Clay and Dust was a part of this prestigious platform. Children's literature, fiction, translations � there isn't much that Farooqi hasn't done. In a freewheeling chat with Fiona Fernandez, he discusses the challenges of straddling different genres and worlds
What does it mean to be known as the writer of Pakistan’s first English language novel for children?
I think it’s a good story in itself. One can have a lot of fun with it and make a complete pest of oneself. I look forward to wagging my finger at the future generations of writers and telling them I was there first!
Will we see more adventures from Tik-Tik and Moochhander?
I prefer not to repeat my characters. That does not mean that I do not love serial novels. I do. But I wrote Tik-Tik without thought for a future expansion of the work and I think it will be forced if I tried to do it. I do plan to write a children’s serial one day, but after carefully planning for it.
How do you juggle between fiction, children’s literature and of course, your translations and essays?
All these activities are connected. I have been writing for twenty years now. When I first started writing I wanted to write for kids. Then other themes occurred to me and I wrote my first novel for adults. While I was writing that I was already rediscovering the Urdu classical literature and wondering why it has not been translated. In the process of translating it I came upon terms in the dictionary that gave me ideas for my fiction. It’s always like that.
What are children and young adults in Pakistan reading these days?
The children are searching for, reading, and discussing stories. They are very smart readers like kids everywhere. The English language book market is comparatively small in Pakistan. But there is a huge Urdu language market for popular fiction and religious texts. This has been the trend in the subcontinent for the last 150 years since commercial printing was introduced.
Your novel Between Clay and Dust was shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize earlier this year -- how did it feel that your work was being showcased and acknowledged among Asia’s finest writing?
It is nice to know that people judge your work to be good. But the challenge is not the nomination or the award. The challenge is always the next book. That is where the real adventure and all the thrills are.
Several Pakistani (and South Asian) writers like you effortlessly straddle two worlds -- between their homeland and the West. To what extent does this effect and translate into the craft, according to you?
I can only speak for myself and I think it happens without effort. If there was effort I would know how it happens. As to how the exposure itself translates into the craft, I think listening to people helps develop more convincing characters. For example, there’s a Russian character in my new novel, and if I had not met a couple of Russian characters in Toronto, I wouldn’t have known how to write dialogue for him.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently collaborating with Michelle (his wife) on a collection of folktales and finishing work on a new novel’s first draft.
Title of honour
Between Clay and Dust: Shortlist - The Man Asian Literary Prize 2012, Longlist - 2013 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature
The Story of a Widow: Shortlist - 2011 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, Longlist - 2010 IMPAC-Dublin Literary Award
The Amazing Moustaches of Moochhander the Iron Man and Other Stories: Shortlist - India ComicCon Award in the Best Publication for Children category