In conversation with author Osman Haneef, about his debut novel Blasphemy (Published by Readomania, April 2020) and his inspiration behind it all.

Osman Haneef dons many hats with equal élan. He has worked as TV actor, a strategy consultant, and a diplomatic adviser, and was selected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2017. Recently, he made his debut as an author with Blasphemy.

Haneef’s debut story of a Christian boy in Pakistan accused of blasphemy is gut-wrenching and thought-provoking. As noted writer and journalist Aatish Taseer says, ‘In this novel of quiet creeping horror, Haneef forces us to confront the supreme evil that lies at the heart of Pakistan’s Blasphemy law.

Team Kitaab was in conversation with him recently, where we spoke about his debut novel, his inspiration behind it and the journey so far, before giving us a glimpse of what’s in store for his readers in future.

“Is this how you want it?” Sameera says. The pain is clear in her eyes,  words and  face. 

“If he refuses, maybe Baba will listen…,” Ayla words fall crippled and deformed from her lips. The lounge falls silent.   

It is hard to remember this lounge being this silent. I remember so many green and red blobs of mint-chutney and ketchup had dripped on this coffee table, and we used to wipe them away with our fingers quickly before Sameera came back from the kitchen with the next batch of hot pakoras. But there are no pakoras cooking today, no blobs of chutney either. No laughter or requests for one more cup of chai. Only solid, paralyzing silence. 

A lot has been happening around the world. With the global pandemic locking us down in our houses, we are fighting new battles everyday. We struggle with day to day activities and wonder if all this is a nightmare which will end once we wake up only to find ourselves staring at the ceilings at night, sleepless and hopeless.

“This virus will leave us entirely newborn people. We will all be different, none of us will ever be the same again. We will have deeper roots, be made of denser soil, and our eyes will have seen things.”

C. JoyBell C

Reviewed by Sucharita Dutta-Asane

Hermitage

Title: Hermitage
Author: Aamer Hussein
Publisher: Ushba Publishing International
Price: Pakistani Rs 800/-

 

In 1968, Aamer Hussein met Qurratulain Hyder, the literary stalwart from the subcontinent who was also his mother’s friend. He was 13 at the time. This meeting with Hyder – Annie Khala to him – and her presence in his life, despite the miles separating them, would become one of the defining influences on Aamer Hussein’s life as a writer. He wrote about her ‘intellectual influence’ on him in his introduction to Fireflies in the Mist, 2008 (translated by her from her Urdu Aakhir-i-Shab ke Humsafar). A decade later, he writes, once again, about the relationship and her continuing influence on his writing and reading sensibilities: ‘Annie would guide my reading, criticizing one writer and praising another in a dialogue that continued from trip to trip,’ he writes in “Annie” from Hermitage, his most recent collection of short fiction, published in 2018 by Ushba Publishing International, a small independent press in Pakistan.

‘We shared a past in three countries and two languages… I’d like her to know, I did keep the promise that I made to our shared mother tongue and, tacitly, to her, and tell her as I had at that last meeting: Annie Khala, your hand was always on mine.’

There are others who guide him, shared pasts and literary traditions – Attar, Rumi, Shefta, Ada Jafri, Hussein’s grand-uncle Rafi Ajmeri. Hermitage borrows from their writings and their lives, from stories heard and read. It spreads the oeuvre, drawing from the mystics, from traditional storytelling of the subcontinent and its tradition of storytelling through fable, myth, memoir and music. Persian and Urdu narratives and poetry inform its tonality; the structure of the stories is most often parabolic, the references inter-textual, the undertone one of deep, reflective conversations with the self woven through with a filigree of images and the restrained prose of folklore and metaphor.

Hermitage is a tribute to storytellers, to music and art from this shared past, layered with cultural memory and influenced by oral and written narratives. Love that is ephemeral is made eternal through the words on the page that not only reflect but speak of its melancholic beauty, its music clearer in the gaps and the unsaid than in what is crafted for the reader. ‘And it seemed to him that if one listened to the silence, everything sang to everything else: breeze to water and leaves, water to cloud and branch, birds to the sky…’ (“Lake”).
The larger theme of love and longing draws into itself the sub themes of exile and homelessness, migration, creativity and identity, themes that have occurred earlier in Aamer Hussein’s stories. In Hermitage, their iterations are more intense and subtle, requiring of the reader a greater engagement with the very act of storytelling.   As meaning deepens, brevity becomes meditative.

Exile is not only a physical truth but also a state of mind. Aamer Hussein’s characters are exiles, belonging to yet torn apart from the very sense or place of belonging, often leading a sutured existence, giving rise to the solitude that layers many of the stories. Love and longing, unfulfilled and unrequited, whether for geographical spaces or for emotional geographies, meanders like a stream through these stories, both imprisoning the characters and releasing them.