Friday, February 16, 2007

In Conversation with Aamer Hussein

Ahmede: I fully agree with Tabish Khair, when he says, 'Only he is not talking of rooted trees but of transplanted ones: "A tree removed from its native soil and planted elsewhere puts down new roots, twisted ones, perhaps, but its trunk grows heavy".' How deep the
Post-colonial Man's (or Woman's) problem do you think is?

Aamer Hussein: I think it isn't a question of the postcolonial any more, but of migration towards the centres of global capital: Turks in Germany, Colombians in Britain, Sri Lankans working as domestic staff in other Asian countries....culture and race matter, though, because the `person of colour' or of a different faith is likely to encounter more problems as an incomer than, let's say, the large group of Poles who, a taxi driver told me, are now a significant part of the population of Southampton where I teach, by far outnumbering South Asians, and probably assimilate much faster.
For the bourgeois migrant, who often shifts easily between locations, there are nevertheless problems: socially, the glass ceiling; and psychologically a kind of doubleness, of always defending one side to the other while one doesn't actually subscribe to the ideas that are being debated.

Ahmede: You write in English, a language that has once been forced on the people of this land, a country you left more than three decades ago. Where do you think English as a language stands in South Asia?

Aamer Hussein: English was `forced' on my parents in colonial times; they managed, however, to remain bilingual, and were thus able to think of their linguistic spaces as cosmopolitan rather than colonial. My Urdu is fluent and I'm multilingual as a reader and speaker, too, but as a writer...I probably think in some strange unwritten picture-language which I translate into English? No, to be serious, I imagine I'd have very little success if I tried to write in Urdu. I started to write here in England, to make a home in language, and at least I'm assured an audience all over South Asia (and further afield) if I continue to use the first language of my education. I still see myself as a Third World writer (though there officially isn't a Third World any more); which means I'm comfortable with a wide range of signs and references. I do feel, however, that too many of us South Asian anglophone writers are pitifully inadequate in our knowledge of our languages, and don't have an understanding of our `native' literatures except in often mediocre > translation; that's an impoversishment.
Ahmede: Do you feel comfortable being associated with the term Post-colonialism?

Aamer Hussein: No. But I feel that there's a historical burden on South Asians that still has to be dealt with, and questions of national histories to be resolved..

Ahmede: In Sweet Rice we see you use Intertextuality with the brilliance of a master. We see this come back to your work time and again. Why, if I may ask, this is so important to you?

Aamer Hussein: Since my mid-thirties, I've been closer and closer to lost forgotten and marginalised works of Urdu literature; by enriching my view of the past and the world and illuminating the present in unexpected ways, they've had an immeasurable impact on my writing.
By the use of such intertextual tropes, I'm scattering traces of the past in the present, paying tribute to a collective heritage, and creating an alternative canon to which I wish I had been given earlier access. It's also exciting to present fragments of Urdu texts to people who are unlikely ever to read them in the original.

Ahmede: How do you perceive rising religious extremism in across the globe?

Aamer Hussein: Why should anyone have the right to dictate a religious agenda? I consider myself a Muslim; it's a part of my cultural heritage, and I don't need anyone to tell me how to pray or what to believe.

In Conversation with Razia Khan Amin

Ahmede: You have started writing at an early age; what prompted you to write?

Razia Khan Amin: Inner Image.

Ahmede: You have not published a novel or a collection of poems for a long while, why is it so?

Razia Khan Amin: The 1st volume of my complete works came out in 1905 with six novels. I am not in touch with publishers.

Ahmede: As one of the forerunners of English writing in Bangladesh will you share your observations of the country's current English writing scene with us?

Razia Khan Amin: Lita Samad, Rumana Siddique write well. I like the expository prose of Dr Serajul Islam Chowdhury. Dr Fakhrul Alam's English translations of Jibonando are adroit. Freedom Fighter Habibul Alam's English book on the Liberation War have a racy, lucid style.

Ahmede: We know that once people of this land fought valiantly to uphold their right to language, but at the same time because most of the citizens do not know how to read and write Bengali as a language like such other languages is fighting, what many believe, a losing battle. You write in both English and Bengali, how do you see the role of English in Bangladesh?

Razia Khan Amin: English will one day play a role similar to that of India. Once we overcome our complexes, we will give it its rightful place as an international language. Our battle with illiteracy is not lost, nor our effort to establish the value of the mother tongue.

Ahmede: Are you working on a new project now?

Razia Khan Amin: I am shaping and giving last touches to the 3rd segment of a trilogy. The first two have been published Protichitro (Mirrored Image), Chitrokabbo (Portrait and Poetry). This one is called Uposhanghar (Epilogue). So far my publishers have not behaved well, cheating me right and left. I need an honest, judicious publisher.

Ahmede: Do you believe Bangladeshi English language poetry still has a long way to go, and if so, what are the reasons behind it?

Razia Khan Amin: Those who write well, do it instinctively. Those who write because they are sought after turn wooden. Their work is not poetry. Compared to Indo Anglican poets our output is meagre because editors and publishers do not seek out the right people. The late S.N. Hashim wrote some outstanding English poems which have not come out. English dailies and magazines must focus writers who have a flare for English and who write with imagination. Nadeem Rahman, a good poet should be seen in magazines. I wrote a meticulous critique on his achievements which came out in The Star, years ago. But when he politicizes his work it turns wooden. Many established Bengali poets with the exception of Shamsur Rahman and Al Mahmud have also lost their lustre. Spontaneity, feeling for poetry and its rhythm are important. The music in poetry has to be heard and then transmitted into words.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

In Conversation with Anita Rau Badami

Ahmede: Why is satire, feminine and at times strangely seductive, so important to you or your work?

Anita Rau Badami: I like using humour, irony, and gentle satire in my fiction to highlight the follies and failings of humankind. It is a necessary part of my writing because I believe that creating fiction is more than the act of telling a story. It is also a way of looking at society and the characters who make up that society, understanding them and their motivations, and critiquing their actions.

Ahmede: Death, both physical and metaphorical (Death of freedom, liberty), looms large in your The Hero's Walk (Winner of the Regional Commonwealth Writers Prize). Can you explain your understanding of this theme a bit for us?

Anita Rau Badami: This is a question that requires more than a page to answer. I believe that the various nuanced interpretations of death should be left for the reader to work out. I will go into just a few major ideas connected with death in The Hero’s Walk. There is of course, the physical death of Sripathi Rao’s daughter Maya and her husband Alan, which leads to the end of life in the west for their daughter Nandana. The child arrives in India, to stay with her grandparents Sripathi and Nirmala. For Sripathi, the loss of his daughter is also a loss of hope. But it leads to the regeneration of a different kind of life in the crumbling ancestral home in which he lives. So death is not an end here, but the beginning of something new. Then there is the death of Ammaya – a washing away of ancient conventions and traditions, anger and sorrow, which in turn allows her daughter Putti to begin life on her own terms. Ammaya’s dying gives Putti the freedom that she has never had, the kind of freedom that Maya was granted.

Ahmede: How free do you feel as a woman and a writer?

Anita Rau Badami: I have been fortunate in that I had extremely liberal parents when I was growing up in India. I was allowed to do anything I wanted to in terms of studies, a career etc. So I had a free, untrammeled life, which continues even now as a wife and a mother.

Ahmede: Your portrayal of the vibrancy of life in Madras in Tamarind Mem has been brilliant. Do you find Canada, where you now live, as vibrant as the India?

Anita Rau Badami: Tamarind Mem was set in many different parts of India – not just Madras or Chennai as it is now called. Yes life in India was full and colourful and interesting all the time. Life here in Canada is different – initially, when I arrived here, I thought that it was dull and uninteresting and missed the sights and smells and sounds of the east. However, over the years I have learned how to look at Canada, and the manner of perception gives it a new life – definitely not the same as India but certainly as interesting.

Ahmede: While reading of the Tamarind Mem I have found that relationships as basic as Mother-daughter relationship evolve as the result of modernisation. Do you see every personal and social relationship susceptible to external forces?

Anita Rau Badami: Yes, I do believe that almost every relationship is affected by what happens around us in the world – and this does not just mean the immediate world of family and friends but the larger world too. So the politics of the middle-east, for example, certainly affects the ways in which we interact with our peers, our friends, our aunts, uncles brothers and sisters. I don’t think anyone can seal themselves into a space and remain untouched by external events.