Talk your History
Pakistani author Anam Zakaria, who recently received the German Peace Prize, speaks about the importance of oral history and narrating facts
The further we move away from 1947, the more bitter and hardline we are becoming. The younger generation is far more hostile to the ‘other’ than some of their own grandparents who lived through partition. A six-year-old Indian child ran away from me in Mumbai once when he heard I was Pakistani- he said he was afraid of Ajmal Kasab.
Pakistani author Anam Zakaria’s
The Footprints of Partition published by Harper Collins two years ago moved like a thriller, making it almost unputdownable. “That’s because I am hooked to oral history,” she laughs. While fiction from her land is making waves internationally, the writer, who delves into the non-fiction genre, is one of the very few non-fiction authors whose works are being widely noticed across South Asia.
Zakaria, 29, who won the German Peace Prize this year, has just completed her second work that explores the impact of conflict on the Pakistani side of the LoC. To be released by Harper Collins later this year, she says, “It was enlightening to hear about people reading of the conflict and its ramifications on their daily lives.”
Admitting that she is looking forward to writing fiction one day and has experimented with the genre, Zakaria, who also writes frequently for online Indian news and opinion sites says, “With the Kashmir book, I struggled with the medium I should use but stuck to nonfiction and the oral history technique as that would have worked best.” Stressing on the importance of oral histories, Zakaria says that in a country like Pakistan where conventional sources of history are often distorted and censored, oral histories can sometimes offer the only holistic understanding of our past.
Zakaria, who did exhaustive field work while working on The Footprints of History feels that the further we move away from 1947, the more bitter and radicalised we have become. “In my research I found the younger generations to be far more hostile to the 'other' than some of their own grandparents who lived through partition," she says adding, "In comparison, an ordinary Pakistani never comes across a Hindu or Sikh let alone an Indian. They become figments of our imagination, an imagination fuelled with biases and propaganda. A six-year-old Indian child ran away from me in Mumbai once when he heard I was a Pakistani—he said he was afraid of Ajmal Kasab.”
The young author adds, “Punjabis are often very bitter and hostile towards the ‘other’ and this animosity could be sensed in many of the interviews. However, I also feel that the longing is most evident in Punjab too—Punjab perhaps best embodies the complexities of partition; a blend of animosity and hatred, longing and love.”
As the conversation shifts towards the bitterness in school children’s textbooks, Zakaria sighs, “Pakistani textbooks are rife with anti-India, and particularly anti-Hindu sentiments. Hindus are openly referred to as treacherous, deceitful and mischievous. In India, textbooks went through revisions and certain improvements were made. However, I found that many historical events were skipped. For instance, books jump from the Quit India movement to partition, without any exploration of the struggles of the Muslim community.
A development professional, psychotherapist and writer, Zakaria may be donning several hats and she says that she can do it all effortlessly thanks to her self-discipline and organisational skills. “Well, it is perhaps my writing in which I am most disorganised. I let myself write whenever I feel like it; many times this is in the car, early morning or in the middle of the day. Whenever I feel the urge to write,
I write,” she says.
“English non-fiction is often limited to academic writing, history, politics and biographies. There is a recent boom in writing from Pakistan but a large majority tends to be fiction writing. I think there is great room for experimenting with new styles of writing within the non-fiction genre,” concludes Zakaria, reflecting on the status of fiction writing in Pakistan.