“Between Clay and Dust started off as an attempt to explore the life of a pehlewan (wrestler). The novel is intended to capture the relationship between a pehlewan and a tawaaif (courtesan),” said Musharraf Farooqi introducing the lead characters of his novel.
He was speaking to columnist Raza Rumi at the Lahore launch of the book at National College of Arts on Friday.
“I have tried to examine how a wrestler connects to his surroundings after having spent most of his time nurturing himself,” he said. Farooqi said once he had started examining the main characters in detail, he discovered several narratives around the plot of his story. These, he said, helped him develop other characters. The book took 10 years to complete, he added.
He said the courtesan and the wrestler were chosen as main characters because of the paradox the two symbolised. Farooqi said Ustad Rumzi, the wrestler in his story, was an uncompromising man and Gohar Jan, the courtesan, known for her beauty.
To Rumi’s comment about Urdu literature’s impact on his diction, Farooqi said it was meant to ensure that the (South Asian) readers could relate to the story. “English language writers in South Asia need to be careful that the cultural context is not lost in their works,” he said.
He said he drew his inspiration from both English and Urdu literature. He said Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo and Poet Afzal Ahmed Syed were amongst his greatest inspirations. “I started my writing career by translating Afzal Ahmed’s poems,” he added.
Word of advice
Farooqi advised budding writers to beware of appreciation for their works. “Nothing kills a writer faster than praise for his works,” he said.
He said a writer stops striving to learn and to experiment once he develops complacency about his work. “Comparing themselves with their contemporaries may also adversely affect aspiring writers,” he said, “They should always compare their work with masters in the field,” he added.
Questions and answers
Farooqi expressed his reservations on progressive Urdu writers’ contribution. He said he believed that they had done more harm than good to Urdu literature. “Literature is not about purpose, it is about life,” he said.
He said he felt that 18th century poet Nazeer Akbarabadi was unfairly denied the appreciation he deserved. “He was a better poet than Mirza Ghalib,” he said.
About Sadaat Hasan Manto, Farooqi said there was a special place in his heart for the writer’s contributions to Urdu literature. However, he said, he also regretted that several of Manto’s contemporaries had been forgotten by people who praised his writings. “Manto was capable of finding great stories from his surroundings but he was not a good story-teller,” he said, “He will only be recognised as a short story writer.”
Farooqi said there was still a long way to go for fiction in Pakistan. He declined comment on contemporary English fiction.
Earlier Aysha Raja, owners of The Last Word book shop, introduced Farooqi. Besides the novel, she said, Farooqi had translated Dastaan-i-Amir Hamza and the first book of the epic fantasy Talism-i-Hoshruba into English.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 2nd, 2012.