The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Ikhtisad Ahmed
by Farah Ghuznavi
I write to be honest, free and meaningful, to paint important pictures. It is a lifelong commitment to converse with the world, to make sense of it, and make a contribution of substance to it. Writing is a disease with no known cure. There is neither peace nor fulfilment without it. The more we do it, the more we are consumed by it.
Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?
I have been polishing a play about garments workers in Bangladesh, scheduled to be staged in the UK next year. At the same time, I wrote a commissioned screenplay for an independent film that tells the origin story of a female detective. It has been a wonderful learning experience, which, in turn, has seen me delve into a previously unexplored literary medium. My most recent book is the short story collection, Yours, Etcetera, which came out at the Dhaka Literary Festival in November 2015, and unlocked the novel that has been festering in my mind for some time, freeing me to begin it. The collection makes a comprehensive statement about what I try to say with my writing: socio-political impressions with the central recurring themes of absurdism, existentialism and humanism.
Describe your writing aesthetic.
I write in layers, for the reader to peel away as he or she commits to our shared journey. Every word can tell its own story, and words combine in specific sequences for each sentence to have a multifaceted tale. The final entity they come together to create, thus, has several interpretations. The product is an homage to the power of words, designed to respect every single reader and give him or her an experience of his or her own.
Who are your favorite authors?
I imagine this is a question that never fails to prompt long lists that could always be longer. I cannot but mention Beckett, Ionesco, Orwell, Kafka, Camus, Saramago, Conrad and Sassoon, but this does a disservice to quite a few others. Kundera and Krasznahorkai are two amongst the living whose works I greatly enjoy and admire.
What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.
Every single piece I write is challenging. If I am not being forced to bleed onto the page, it is not worth writing.
What’s your idea of bliss?
Sleeping. I cannot switch my mind off when I am awake, which is excellent for a reclusive servant of his thoughts and work like myself, except that human beings are forced to be social creatures. Throw in cold temperatures and warm duvets, and those necessary short breaks that punctuate life become black holes that epitomise perfection.
What makes you angry, and I mean all-out-smash-the-china raving mad?
Waking up to the world we live in. I relish it every day.
What books would you take with you on a three-month retreat in the boondocks?
How many mules am I allowed to take with me? I would travel with the tried and trusted – the works of my favourite writers. The trouble with taking books I have not read is that, if they are bad, I would have no choice but to keep reading and wasting my life since they cannot be replaced. Then again, there would be nothing to do other than waste my life for three months, so perhaps taking the worst books imaginable would make for a masochistically fulfilling getaway.
Your house is burning down. What’s the most important thing you’d want to take with you?
Will not happen. There are more fire extinguishers than human beings in my house, and I am married to Captain Fire Safety. Will. Not. Happen. Wait, what is that smell?
Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence.
Avoid being entitled, unintelligent, useless, meaningless, inhuman, unhappy or possessed. (N.B. Businesses looking for timeless mottos, my rates are reasonable.)
Ikhtisad Ahmed is a human rights lawyer turned writer. He writes a column and reviews for Dhaka Tribune, and contributes to Scroll.in and The Luxembourg Review. His writing credits include the plays, The Deliverance of Sanctuary and In Solitary, the poetry collections, Cryptic Verses and Requiem, and the short story collection, Yours, Etcetera.