Talk your His­tory

Pak­istani au­thor Anam Zakaria, who re­cently re­ceived the Ger­man Peace Prize, speaks about the im­por­tance of oral his­tory and nar­rat­ing facts

India Today - - BOOKS - By Sukant Deepak

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.