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.