Interview with Hamid Ismailov who has been in exile for over two decades now
Hamid Ismailov is an Uzbek journalist and writer who was forced to flee Uzbekistan in 1992 and came to the UK where he took a job with the BBC World Service. He has published dozens of books in Uzbek, Russian, French, German, Turkish and other languages. Deborah Smith’s publishing endeavour Tilted Axis is going to publish one of his novels next year. At the Dhaka Lit Fest 2016 Hamid will be featured as one of the most important contemporary writers of fiction. When approached through email, he kindly agreed to give Arts & Letters an interview. Excerpts:
What are you reading at the moment?
OrhanPamuk’s Red-Hair Woman in Turkish and Viktor Pelevin’s The Watcher in Russian.
What are you writing at the moment?
I’ve just finished a novel called Manaschi in Uzbek. Manaschi are Kyrgyz bards/healers/shamans reciting Manas– the longest human epic, consisting nearly of a million verses. They are revered as people who are connected with the world of spirits and get the initiation (mostly in the form of dreams) from supernatural forces. My novel is a tragicomedy of a former radio-presenter, who wrongly interprets one of his dreams and thinks that it was the initiation. He witnesses a full scale of the epic’s wrath on his life. It’s about the interaction of the Tradition with Modernity in a mountainous village, populated by Tajiks and Kyrgyzs – two types of people of Central Asia – sedentary and nomads.
Also read — Deborah Smith on translation and DLF 2016
Which fiction writer has influenced you the most?
Not one, but many, not just the greats, but also second-rated ones, different at different age, in different languages, in different forms, for different reasons and different level and type of influences. But ultimately you influence yourself the most. As a poem goes:
Let him who gives me a shadow not hold me.
You know the breadth of a star
is not equal to the embrace of the ray.
Let me go, blue holy light,
my shadow is in torment on the black earth.
Am I drunk, or is my road drunk?
The snow flows, the earth is white and black.
The word ‘I’ is a wanderer like I,
you are eternal as an icy, cracked puddle.
Did we trip over our shadow
or did the mirage melt in the icy pupil —
a roof, holding up a lamp, when the house moved.
To keep the lamp, when the house constantly moves – isn’t it the strongest influence of all?
You have been in exile for over two decades now. Do you think it was caused by the critical content of your fiction?
It’s partly maybe because of my journalism, and partly maybe because of my literary work. In both cases the authorities don’t like to see the reality as it is and as it is reflected either journalistically or fictionally in my work. As Sinyavskionce said: “My differences with the authorities are of stylistic nature.”
And all of a sudden he named Rabindranath Tagore and called him “a golden bridge” between the Orient and the Occident, between Tradition and Modernity. So quoting Tagore, it’s music for me, which fills the infinite between two souls
In a Guardian interview you said, “They’re trying to erase my identity.” Would you elaborate on this vis-a-vis your fiction?
Maybe it was an overstatement, especially in our day and age of internet and social networks. I can publish my work online, whoever wants to read my work could access it with a bit of online creativity, even if my name of a writer, as well as my books are officially banned in Uzbekistan. Maybe what I was unhappy about is the fact that I write primarily for my readers in Uzbek, yet, when my books are reviewed and discussed in many other languages but Uzbek, you could understand my situation.
How do you feel about attending the Dhaka Lit fest 2016 which will have freedom of thought and expression as one of its main highlights?
I very much look forward to it. Our people share lots in common. One of the greatest Uzbek modern poets Chulpon (1893-1938) answering similar questions had expressed his disillusion both with the classic and modern literature, naming dozens of famous names in whom he couldn’t find any satisfaction. And all of a sudden he named Rabindranath Tagore and called him “a golden bridge” between the Orient and the Occident, between Tradition and Modernity. So quoting Tagore, it’s music for me, which fills the infinite between two souls.
Also read — DLF to showcase our rich heritage to outer world