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farzana versey
August 2008
 

Farzana Versey talks about her book A Journey Interrupted: Being Indian In Pakistan

farzana_versey

Q: I think your book in ways tries to say that, "Yes we have our differences but let's leave out the politicians and begin the peace process." Could you comment on that.

A: The 'leave the politicians out' bit is right, but I don't see why we need to start the peace process. Such processes are in fact a political agenda. Socially, we do not 'need' peace. We just have to get rid of this anguish about a lost land. No one asks us to start the peace process with Nepal or Sri Lanka or even Bangladesh. And we do have political turbulence with these nations? So, why Pakistan?

Q: How was the response to this book in Pakistan?

A: They are still waiting for it! But after reading my interviews and a couple of extracts, some Pakistanis have written to me to say that I have rubbished their country. It is not true and a rather simplistic reading; it is like saying that when I critique a poem, I dislike poetry. Yes, a few expat Pakistanis have read the book. Some have picked holes and asked why I did not have paan at a landmark place and someone else wants to know why I am obsessed with Gandhi when I don't even like Gandhi....There was an unusual opposite reaction another Pakistani who said, "Why do you not like that poor man?" I could only say, "It is because I do not like poor people!"

farzana_versey

You haven't asked me about the response in India. I find that curious. It is written from an Indian perspective, in fact, far too much at times. I shall answer the unasked question anyway. I have got letters from small towns even before the book was formally launched. These are not just letters congratulating me. They have take the pains to point out page numbers and what those words there meant to them or in some cases did to mean. This is immensely gratifying for what people would call non-fiction. It reads like fiction, I am told, and it only buffers the cliche that truth is stranger than fiction.

Q: In A Journey Interrupted, is there a hint of a nation interrupted? Does your being an Indian take the taste out of the peanut butter?

A: If we use the Charles M. Schulz quote, "Nothing takes the taste out of peanut butter quite like unrequited love", then let us just say that which was 'unrequited' was mutually so! To talk about the 'nation interrupted' would mean having epic ideas. I prefer the minutiae. It is true that Pakistan is in denial just as much as India is. But Pakistani denial is more obvious.

Q: Do you think the Indo-Pak conflict has begun to lose relevance when so many singers, actors and models are making a mark in the Indian Film Industry?

A: How many? Where is Meera? And I do have strong reservations about why they can make it here - at least the singers - and we cannot. How many of our singers have performed there? It seems like we let them participate in our music shows, it is entirely possible that it is a strategy for TRPs. Do we realise that it makes Pakistan, our neighbour and supposedly close to us in cultural terms, seem like Mogadishu. This is weird.

Q: You write blogs too, does it give a sense of freedom, to be easily politically incorrect.

A: I have always exercised my ability to be politically incorrect, whichever forum I choose to express myself in. I don't think we should have different standards for writing. A doctor uses the same instruments whether s/he is performing a surgery at a private or public hospital, right? A writer should follow the same principle. The technique for an article may differ, but in my case that too applies rarely.  Blogs only give me an opportunity to indulge my vanity a bit more.

Q: Do you have feeling that in India there's a double identity conflict? One is that of the faith and the other is class? Consider this statement by Shah Rukh Khan, "My success is a biggest proof that India is secular."
A: India has multiple identity crises, but if we restrict it to one community then faith and class do come into play. A Shahrukh Khan can talk about his success being the proof of secularism because that is the yardstick - achievement. If Shahrukh Khan did not live in a mansion and was resident of Behrampada doing odd jobs then he would be just a number (and I do not mean Number One). I find it odd that we still have to talk about proof for secularism. This is a sign of insecurity.