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'Writers never stop developing'

  • Published at 07:32 pm November 11th, 2017
  • Last updated at 04:27 pm November 12th, 2017
'Writers never stop developing'

It may be considered a sin of omission to call you just a writer. From working in the legal sector, poetry, theatrical work, and working on your short stories, which one helps you the most in exploring and bringing out your creativity?

I have served my time as a distinctly mediocre lawyer, earning me the infamy of presently being just a writer. My training has informed my writing, however. I veer towards socio-political issues due to my past life. Another pleasant side effect - law degrees and legal careers should come with health warnings in triplicate - is that I am thoroughly ignorant of everything under and beyond the sun, which drives me to constantly seek to educate myself. That thirst for knowledge and expression, attempting - and failing - to understand humanity and the human condition, guide my creativity. It takes various forms, as you have pointed out, often determined by how best to communicate a certain story, subject or thought. Each one of them helps me to explore and bring out my creativity.

You've been written about as having “traces of a young Orwell.” Does that overwhelm you?

Writers never stop developing. Every piece of constructive praise and criticism is, thus, an opportunity to learn. In the instance you mention, it is a source of inspiration. I can aspire to that, safe in the knowledge that the reference should have been, and will remain, unattainable. I write about and for freedom, and in my words, I find my own freedom. I would like to think that all writers embrace that rather than being overwhelmed by it.

You're working on a mini-series, as well as a screenplay. Tell us a little more about that.

Sharbari Ahmed - who is amongst the speakers at this year's Dhaka Literary Festival, and is to date the only person of Bangladeshi origin to have written for an international network show - conceived an idea to tell the story of immigration through linked stories on stage. For reasons not entirely clear to me, she asked me to create it with her, and I have chosen not to look this particularly delectable gift horse in the mouth. During the course of our collaboration, the idea evolved into a mini-series that is both urgent and necessary. Bangladeshis emigrating to the US under different administrations and circumstances - it is almost as if we are trying to send a message, ever so subtle.

How has the experience of working on your novel changed you, as opposed to when you were writing Yours Etcetera?

The experience of writing Yours, Etcetera is complete, whereas the one for writing the novel is nascent. The short story collection was an education that helped me to understand writing better. In turn, it put the jigsaw pieces in the right order for the novel to form. I wish I could say something profound about a divine metamorphosis brought on by writing the novel, but the truth is, it is at too early a stage for me to say how it will change me. What I can say is that, whether it is a short story or a novel, an idea takes time to fully form in my mind, remaining malleable, if not always compliant, as it is forged through rigorous research and careful consideration before one word is placed after another, in a sequence that is not resoundingly rubbish. Learning, thinking, berating, considering, congratulating, conspiring, despairing, reading, writing, accomplishing - I would call that transformative and fulfilling in an utterly human way.

Can you tell us a little bit about your experience with DLF so far?

Having taken part in its previous iteration - Hay Festival Dhaka - I was critical of its arrogance, elitism and self-aggrandisement. There has been a marked improvement since the change to Dhaka Literary Festival. It is an inclusive platform for the frank exchange of ideas, and a celebration of words - from local and regional voices as well as foreign ones - in a part of the world where speaking, writing, expressing, sometimes even thinking, have the heaviest of prices. The festival's role in protecting and preserving what is dear to us cannot be underestimated, but it will only succeed if Bangladesh responds to it in a way it fails to every time our freedoms come under threat.

What are you most looking forward to (at the DLF) this year?

One of the strengths of the festival since becoming known by its current name is the programming. The opportunity cost for attending any given session is often too high. If there is a literary god, I will not be on at the same time as any one of the exceptional guests taking part in this year's edition. Failing that, engaging with the people - both those on stage and not - can always be relied on to be a rewarding, enriching experience.