By Farzana Hakim
The other day, I was invited for my first television interview. An opportunity, I’d be silly to decline. The prospect of appearing on the big screen had me rather excited, and of course I dolled myself up in a new dress, a new red coat, and a new lip gloss. Mobile phone in one hand and a copy of my book in the other, I set off.
Arriving at the Media House, my nerves began jumping. What was I doing here? The place was abuzz with activity; screens, computers, cables, cameras, people, lots of people. Not my usual scene, at all. And as I stood waiting at the reception, I thought of yelling help! I wanted to go back home.
Just as those silly nerves of mine were working overtime thinking of possible ways of escaping, the lovely anchor interviewing me appeared. By now my linen dress, the type impossible to iron, had creased and sat stuck to my belly. My trophy wife shaded lip gloss had been all eaten, and my dewy foundation had been dabbed away with the sleeve of my red coat.
But the show had to go on and the interview began, on time, with all those cameras, microphones and lights about me. At first, I was crazy with my hands. I mean you are meant to talk out of your mouth, right? So why was I talking with my hands? I might as well have been on Strictly Come Dancing. Seriously, I was that nervous and confused. However when the lovely anchor asked me to describe my novels, my nerves relaxed immediately, as did my hands. My goofy smile came out and I started to talk about my books.
I went on and on. I spoke about my characters, my storylines, my best bits, my crappy grammar, my favourite quotes, my heroes, my heroines, my villains, my settings…
It’s easy for me to loose myself in my stories. And talking to a complete stranger about it, for a television show, in my mother tongue, didn’t deter me one bit. Anybody who knows me will tell you I can talk about my stories for hours to anybody willing enough to listen…
At the end of the interview, the anchor congratulated me for sitting through the entire half hour segment without any retakes. She also expressed her desire for more women to open up and be like me. When asked what she meant, she said, ‘I like how you’re not afraid to write things we don’t necessarily feel comfortable hearing or talking about.’
Now when I think about her parting message, I feel goose bumps appearing on my skin. I forgot to mention the show was called, ‘Hope for a new dawn,’ on Islam Channel, Urdu. I was invited merely because the host came across my book, Sweethearts of Ilford Lane, on somebody’s Facebook post and when she read my author bio up on my Amazon profile, she felt I needed to be on her show, ‘To reach out to other women from our heritage and background…’
Before this interview, breaking boundaries in writing to me meant exploring dangerous storylines by making my characters do things they wouldn’t be expected to do under cultural and societal norms. I believed I wrote with a freedom and had the courage to keep my ears and eyes closed to what is the commonly accepted right but to open my heart instead, allowing words and stories to flow on tangents I wouldn’t and couldn’t in reality go to or do.
In Sweethearts of Ilford Lane, my character Samina defies her family and enters a relationship with a guy from her neighbourhood. She gets herself in all sorts of trouble due to this. In Lady Taliban, I break international lines by taking my story to Afghanistan and making a love story happen between an American soldier and an Afghan terror suspect. In the Silence of a Deep River, I go back in the past and tell the story of Partition in India from the perspective of a Sikh guy who is in love with a Muslim woman. In The Chief of the Atlantic, I go deep into the history of slavery and put myself in an African chief’s head.
These were my freedoms, the liberties I had given to myself in my writing. Writing lets you do this. You can go anywhere you wish. My voice in my stories is sometimes authentic, sometimes it is foreign. Sometimes it is old. Sometimes it is new. Sometimes my writing is a Muslim, other times it is a Sikh and many times, it is no one’s religion because as long as I am telling the story, I am in control. I am whoever I want to be.
But at the interview, I learnt another important lesson. Writing is not only for me, it’s also for my readers, isn’t it?
I can easily loose myself in my fiction, but the reality of how my work will be interpreted and received, that’s pretty special too.
‘Farzana I’m glad you took the time out from your writing today to talk to us. I hope more people will also have a go at it and one day come on the show to tell us about their story…’
Isn’t this breaking boundaries too?
Farzana is a Pen to Print Alumni author. You can connect with her on Twitter.
My voice in my stories is sometimes authentic, sometimes it is foreign. Sometimes it is old. Sometimes it is new ... I am whoever I want to be.