Afshan Samee is a writer, poet and a life coach. Her debut book ‘Coming Home’ is a collection of 52 poems that explore the human journey. Afshan was born in London and spent most of her life abroad. She studied Comparative Literature at Stony Brook University, New York. Though Afshan is based and settled in Dubai, she frequently visits Pakistan. For Afshan, writing poetry and telling stories is something which is close to her heart. Along with that, being a life coach has given her a purpose in life. In an exclusive interview with You! Afshan shares her journey with our readers. Read on...
You! How old were you when you wrote your first poem?
Afshan Samee: I think I was ten years old when I wrote my first haiku.
You! What defines you better - a poet or a writer?
AS: I enjoy both for different reasons. I love stories. As a child, stories were the magic in my life - a world of endless possibilities.
You! What inspired you to write ‘Coming Home’?
AS: ‘Coming Home’ is my first book, published in 2019 in Dubai. It is the result of my personal journey of awakening. Growing up, as I watched my life spiral out of control, I became more and more separated from happiness. I had been so lost for so long, that I was well into my early thirties before I felt something was off. I remember I couldn’t even formulate the question that may have elicited an answer to the state of confusion I was in. All I could ask, rather feebly, was, “What is it?” This was perhaps, my first step towards consciousness. The answer to this question set me on a journey, that I had no idea I was about to undertake. A journey that I now believe to be, the greatest journey I can ever take; the journey back to myself.
You! Would you say the poetry in your book is based on your own experiences of self-exploration?
AS: Absolutely. It is. I find that even though what we encounter in life may be different, the way we experience it is the same and it’s through our feelings that we connect. So while ‘Coming Home’ is deeply personal, it is not limited to me, it is the journey of each and every one of us. This book heralds the promise made long ago, of hope, healing and peace.
You! How long did it take to compile ‘Coming Home’? Could you tell us a little bit about your path to publication? From the itch of writing, the seed of an idea - through to finding an agent and being published?
AS: By the time I compiled this collection of poems, I realised that I had been writing, on and off, for almost thirteen years, not knowing it would lead to a book. I thought that as a poet, my work would be done once I finished writing it, but there is so much to be learned about the publishing aspect. ‘Coming Home’ came out in Dubai and as such, this market has its own unique challenges.
You! Haven’t you thought of becoming a novelist?
AS: When I was twenty one, I was quoted in a magazine interview in Pakistan, saying that one day I hoped I would write a book. At that time I thought, I would be writing a novel. Today, I am far more interested in real life and stories of our individual and collective journeys.
You! What motivated you to become a life coach?
AS: When I took a coaching course in 2014 in USA, I was looking to liberate myself from unconscious mental patterns. I am an MBI coach (Martha Beck Institute), specialising in trauma.
You! What is your greatest regret?
AS: Had I not understood and undertaken, to the best of my ability, my role in the grander scheme of life, that would have been my greatest regret.
You! What kind of poetry you really enjoy?
AS: I love Sufi poetry but I shouldn’t limit it to that. I love anything authentic.
You! Why do you write poetry?
AS: I feel it’s a natural gift and because I love to create.
You! Who are your favourite poets?
AS: I love so many different poets! At our most profound, we are all saying the same things. Rumi, Hafiz are two that come to mind immediately.
You! What is your favourite subject which is close to your heart?
AS: A human being’s awakening.
You! Have you thought of writing in Urdu?
AS: I would have loved to! I have always marveled at the layers and depth of this beautiful language, where conversation itself sounds like poetry with its nuanced meanings. However, I grew up away from Pakistan and did not have a chance to study it.
You! What are your five favourite books?
AS: It’s very hard to say. All the Winnie the Pooh books, ‘The Alchemist’, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, ‘The Kite Runner’, ‘The Lord of the Rings’. There are so many others and it’s difficult to pick one because each is special in its own way.
You! What books are currently on your bedside table?
AS: ‘The Myth of Normal’ by Dr Gabor Mate, ‘Coming Home’ and ‘Surah Yasin’.
You! What did you like to read when you were a little girl?
AS: ‘Winnie the Pooh’, ‘Wind in the Willows’, ‘Water Babies’. ‘Asterix’ comics. Anything by Tolkien.
You! What advice would you give to aspiring authors/poets?
AS: Forget about other people’s reactions. Write what feels real to you.
You! What does a typical day look like for you?
AS: I am finally at a point in my life where I don’t have a typical day!
You! Your philosophy of life:
AS: Don’t take life too seriously. See things as they are. It’s never too late. The best is yet to come. Life is an amazing gift. Life is like that, deep and intense one moment and light and fun in the same moment. And that’s when it hit me. They are both the same; the darkness and the light. Both are moving us towards our grander purpose, towards our best self.
You! Do you think there is place for new writers in today’s techno world? Are people still interested in reading and buying books?
AS: Of course! Many people are still interested in reading and buying books. Even if books no longer exist, I believe we will find other ways to reach each other through our stories.
You! What’s next in your agenda?
AS: I love learning and I have been studying trauma and the different methods that assist with its healing. I plan to continue with that till the end of next year. As for another book, I’m open to receiving!
You! What are some of your favourite ways to relax and have fun?
AS: I love being in nature, checking out new cafes/restaurants, travelling and spending time with friends and family.
You! What is the most important relationship lesson you have learnt so far?
AS: Get to know who you are before you enter into a relationship with anyone else.
You! Do you agree that writing is a strong tool to change mindset?
AS: Of course. Stories do not just change mindsets; they are woven into the very fabric of who we are. There is a famous Native American proverb that says:
Tell me a fact and I’ll learn
Tell me a truth and I’ll believe
But tell me a story and it
will live in my heart forever.