The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Ather Farouqui

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

To be honest, I haven’t enjoyed writing for a long time now for reasons beyond my control. I enjoy reading mainly contemporary texts in English. I also read a lot of Urdu poetry, mainly classical poets and poets of modern sensibility, including the modernist poets of the Progressive Writers Movement.

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

 My latest translation is of The Life and Poetry of  Bahdaur Shah Zafar written by Aslam Parvez. My endeavour was to make a wonderful book that has for long been confined to a narrow Urdu readership available to the wider English-speaking world. 

Describe your writing aesthetic?

Does the definition of writing aesthetic include an element of political sensibility and social consciousness? Every great writing has its own aesthetic which is an admixture of many things.

Who are your favourite authors?

I have never believed in drawing up a list of my favourite authors, in the same fashion that I have never liked to be associated with any group?

What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.

Please don’t term me cynical. I always feel excited when I read a text which I feel would be impossible for me to match if I tried my hand at it. Of course you are asking me this question in my capacity as a writer while I am attempting to answer it as a reader.

What’s your idea of bliss?

I always feel envious—I have in mind the Urdu word rashk here and don’t know whether envious is really an appropriate translation—of those who can read and appreciate the great classics beyond the narrow prism of their own languages.  In regard to Urdu Iqbal is perhaps the only example that springs to mind.

What makes you angry, and I mean all-out-smash-the-china raving mad?

As a person carrying a Muslim name and the complex web of elements that make up this identity, of not my choosing, of course, the pathetic sense of politics and the world which Muslims all over the globe have been harbouring for at least the last 300 years, always makes me uncontrollably angry. 

What books would you take with you on a three-month retreat in the boondocks?

A complete set of Ibn-e Safi’s novels and Divan-e Ghalib. I don’t wish to tutor those who don’t know who Ibn-e Safi is!!! 

Your house is burning down. What’s the most important thing you’d want to take with you?

If I am alone in the burning house, I would try to save anything which has any relation to the history of civilization. If I am not alone, I will put in every effort to save the living beings in the house and books and manuscripts will have the last priority.

Describe your life philosophy?

I hardly did anything in life which came to me through preaching. I’ve always wished to live and correct my biases, which I love the most, through my own experience.


Ather Farouqui, a PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, is a pioneer- scholar in the field of Urdu. He has been bestowed the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award for translation in 2012. His edited volumes – Redefining Urdu Politics in India (2006) and Muslims and Media Images (2009) – present a frank and no-holds-barred discussion on important issues affecting India’s largest minority.

Farouqui is the General Secretary of the Anjuman Taraqqi Urdu (Hind).


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