September 22, 2023


Connecting Asian writers with global readers

The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Syed Sarwar Hussain

4 min read

By Aminah Sheikh

Syed Sarwar Hussain

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

I write to live, to convince myself that I am not mentally and intellectually dead. I love recounting stories, retelling them as I hear or read them, expressing them in my own language, working hard to re-write them as if they had never been written before. I have been writing since long, since my childhood, because I have always loved to articulate my thoughts, my feelings. I cannot leave them growing inside me. They have to come out anyhow. I remember once I wrote, or rather scribbled, some verses on my desk for the girl sitting next to me, in our 7th grade classroom. Fortunately, it escaped the notice of the teacher and the one who was the cause of its creation. I now vaguely remember, it was something like, “Two eyes, two gazelle eyes, were they / I caught them as they galloped away.” A year or two later, perhaps it was the year 1968, when in a boring social science classroom, I composed a complete poem. It was on a hapless child in a boring classroom. I later gave the poem the title, “A lost child in a dull classroom”. The poem starts with “The tedious humdrum of the teacher’s voice, / Is no classroom victim’s personal choice.” What was interesting was that my teacher caught me not listening to him and writing something on my class notebook. What happened later is anybody’s guess, but the poem anyhow survived. The act of writing, simply, gives me the pleasure, the independence, the queer sense of fulfilment, and the confidence, that I regard as fundamental to my existence, a sort of a personal mission that I feel I must carry out to the edge of my being.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

It had been a journey of almost six years and five books that I had undertaken in order to translate about one hundred Urdu short stories into English, collecting them in five anthologies. That was the act of articulating others’ voices, recounting their tales, drawing on the thoughts and experiences of many of those, whom I had never met or known. The title of my recent short story anthology is Nameless Lanes (published by Kitaab). It is my English translation of about twenty Urdu short stories by some of the best writers of Urdu fiction. The idea of coming out with stories retold in a different language, began to evolve in my mind as a result of constant reading, and in response to my own personal experiences with meeting people and observing their life and mind. The real inspiration to translate and publish the stories in this anthology, were the stories themselves, as I read them in their original language. Their apocalyptic vision of the world, their seamless blend of tragedy, comedy and pathos, and their acute insight into the debilitating impact of external circumstances on the deepest levels of their characters’ psyche, pushed me to explore the tales and translate them for readers of English. Although I have couched these stories in my own language, I have tried to turn them into transcreations, trying to give the language a style and a cadence of my own. But now I have decided to concentrate on my own creative writing. I am currently working on my first poetry book. Through my poems, I am on a journey of self-discovery, reliving those profound moments, those intensely felt experiences, those feelings and sensations that are struggling inside my mind to come out. They matter to me because they reflect the beauty as well as the pathos that constitute our life.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

I, for one, do not think you can honestly define adequately your own aesthetic as a writer, at least for as long as you are still writing, as long as you are evolving. You do not know when your writing takes a complete turn. You can, nevertheless, articulate your overriding concerns as a creative writer. I strongly believe that a creative writer must be bold and fearless, truthful and honest. He must have a distinct voice of his own which is laced with an astute, insightful observation of realities unfolding around him. In order to write one must have an original thought, a fascinatingly interesting story to tell, and a fertile imagination, and a powerful emotion to render them into the art of rhythmical composition. Creative writing captivates through the power of its words, its imaginativeness, and an exquisite use of language and creative expression.

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