“There is always hope that holds us together and the human spirit that keeps us alive” - Haya Fatima Sehgal

By Erum Noor Muzaffar
Tue, 06, 24

This week You! is in conversation with Haya Fatima Sehgal, author of ‘Resilient Pakistan’ and ‘Earth & Glimmer’. Read on…

“There is always hope that holds us together and the human spirit that keeps us alive” - Haya Fatima Sehgal

Haya Fatima Sehgal is a freelance journalist, contributing editor, writer and a poet. A graduate from the Maryland Institute, College of Art, Baltimore USA, she started her career as a freelance journalist and has written op-eds for leading newspapers of Pakistan.

With a background in security management, Haya’s book ‘Resilient Pakistan’ offers a comprehensive and insightful analysis of the sociocultural landscape of Pakistan. The book is a compilation of articles written over a period of time which cover different scenes in the prism of Pakistan - politics, gender-based concerns, women’s empowerment, extremism, Jinnah’s legacy and the current political landscape. In 2021 she was invited by Liaquat Merchant, the grandnephew of Muhammad Ali Jinnah to join The Jinnah Society due to her writing on Jinnah’s Pakistan and her coverage of his family. Sehgal’s foreword on ‘Resilient Pakistan’ was written by Liaquat Merchant.

Her second book of poetry and prose, ‘Earth & Glimmer’, has been described as being polemical in nature and the answer to cultural shackles. “When one reads Earth & Glimmer, one visualises a jaded author who has gone through many experiences in her long and tumultuous life – heartbreak, loss, separation, severing of identity and roots, resilience, and hope,” observes Shanaz Ramzi, a veteran journalist.

In an exclusive interview with You! Haya talks about her passion for writing and shares her thoughts with our readers. Read on…

You! Tell us about your early days?

Haya Fatima Sehgal: My early school years were in Karachi Grammar School and I was there throughout till I left for college. I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Visual Communications from the US, from the Maryland Institute College of Art (Baltimore). College itself was a wonderful experience and I am eternally grateful to my parents for providing me with such an education. Apart from the learning imparted, there was a great experience of meeting and interacting with different people and an exchange of ideas which I loved.

When I returned, I started work in private security management and have been for over 20 years now. At present, I am working as an analyst in security services.

“There is always hope that holds us together and the human spirit that keeps us alive” - Haya Fatima Sehgal

You! How long have you been into writing?

HFS: It was mostly creative writing in my teens and the passion evolved with time. Professionally I edited magazines for several years from 2003. A few years ago, I got the opportunity to write columns and articles as a freelance journalist in mainstream papers.

You! How old were you when you wrote your first poem?

HFS: I recall writing my first poem in high school at the age of 12 but was very shy about showing my work to others back then.

You! What defines you better – a poet or a writer?

HFS: I believe that both are ways in which I choose to express myself through different mediums. Poetry is such a beautiful way of expression. It allows us the words to explore a range of emotions. But my work as a researcher or analyst brings forth the issues that are close to my heart.

You! Why is your book Earth & Glimmer so close to your heart?

HFS: It is close to my heart as the book speaks of the soil, and land, and takes on mystical interpretations as well, and then it also speaks of the hurt and anguish of the people through its different forms, and the issues surrounding us. I was inspired by the stories around me and the way our cultural traditions were originally meant to be meaningful and beautiful but, now, when twisted and used against women and the vulnerable to suppress freedom of rights, they have become oppressive and harmful instead.

You! Would you say the poetry in your book is based on your own experiences of self-exploration?

HFS: Yes, the poetry is certainly semi-autobiographical. There were moments when they were written exactly as I experienced things growing up in the country. Both my grandmothers were of Bengali origin and I enjoyed being raised by both. I am still connected to what they brought to our family. You can trace elements of this in my creative work. I feel blessed to have had the mix of different cultures that came with love. My passion for books and writing certainly came from both of them, in different ways.

“There is always hope that holds us together and the human spirit that keeps us alive” - Haya Fatima Sehgal

You! What kind of poetry do you cherish?

HFS: I enjoy different tones and voices. The classics will always have their place and lately, I have been enjoying exploring Haiku and the narrative style of poetry.

You! Can you tell us a bit about your book Resilient Pakistan?

HFS: Resilient Pakistan is a compilation of a series of articles I wrote as a journalist observing and analysing a few highlighted socio-cultural issues of concern coming out of Pakistan. Some were positive and written in a light tone of voice, whereas some were based on certain extreme issues we must address as a nation. This also included some commentary on countering extremism here, our foreign policy, and the geopolitical/geo-economic situation Pakistan is in currently.

You! Who are your favourite poets and authors?

HFS: I love Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath and Khalil Gibran. These days I enjoy the works of Rabindranath Tagore. From contemporary poets, I like poets such as Ocean Vuong and Rupi Kaur. I have also always loved Maya Angelou as a writer and admire Mary Oliver’s work as well.

You! What are your 5 favourite books?

HFS: ‘Nemesis’, ‘Endless Night’, ‘The Fountainhead’, ‘Tears & Laughter’, and ‘100 Years of Solitude’.

You! What books are currently on your bedside table?

HFS: ‘The Jinnah Anthology’ and some other books on various subjects.

You! Do you agree that writing or poetry is a strong tool to change mindsets?

HFS: I think writing in essence is an extremely powerful tool of persuasion. However, it must be aimed in the right direction with adequate research to back it. Poetry itself is such a beautiful way of expression. It allows us the words to explore a range of emotions.

You! What is your most treasured possession?

HFS: My mind.

“There is always hope that holds us together and the human spirit that keeps us alive” - Haya Fatima Sehgal

You! What is your greatest regret?

HFS: I feel regrets fade over time. They were what I now call experiences. When you realise, things happened and there are no vehicles to take you back to change anything, then you have to gauge it and move ahead so you can emerge stronger and wiser. Hopefully not broken, but healed.

You! If you could choose to be a character in a book, who would it be?

HFS: This might make people laugh, I love the character, Hercule Poirot in the Agatha Christie books. If one wonders why then it would always be the logic that followed his deduction of life’s mysteries in the books. He was truly a well-written and well-thought-out character.

You! As a writer what do you enjoy the most?

HFS: Stories that people tell me. I like transcribing and listening to people’s lives as a writer.

Professionally, though it will always be security-related concerns and issues which affect surroundings. Security-related matters will always be my main field and passion.

You! Have you thought of writing in Urdu?

HFS: I do already. I am bilingual and can do both.

You! What did you like to read when you were a little girl?

HFS: Most of the series by Enid Blyton. I used to be fascinated by her character portrayals and the adventures the children in her series would go on. There was this element of togetherness as well as the imagery of lasting friendships that was always given in most of her writing.

You! What advice would you give to aspiring authors and poets?

HFS: Keep on writing out those amazing thoughts in your mind. No matter how difficult they might be to translate to other people at times, please keep on going.

“There is always hope that holds us together and the human spirit that keeps us alive” - Haya Fatima Sehgal

You! Do you think there is a place for new writers in today’s techno world?

HFS: I think that technology has changed everything already. Though people are still interested in reading and buying books, today’s ‘techno world’, as you call it, is good as more reading material is accessible in different ways. There is another element that has also come forward which is different voices that now have a way to express themselves and be heard as well.

You! What are some of your favourite ways to relax and have fun?

HFS: Painting and creating art are very important to me. I also love walks and light hikes and my social media is all about the places I visited - walking trails, drives, and exploring different cultures and places where I found myself writing and simply enjoying being me! I make sure all of it is reflected in my creative writing process. But through all of this sometimes there is nothing like simply having a nice conversation with one’s loved ones. That cannot be missed ever and as clichéd as it sounds; I feel it is so important to surround yourselves with those people for your wellbeing.

You! What is the most important relationship lesson you have learnt so far?

HFS: Keep trying through it as much as you can. Whatever is in the other’s head, try to understand where they are coming from, and don’t give up on your loved ones. I understand completely when we have to cut off from what we term as ‘toxic relationships’ to preserve our wellbeing but we must also do it as gently as possible and as a last resort. I’m also very much against ‘cancel culture.’ Perseverance, patience and forgiveness are a key to it all.

You! Any message you want to give to our readers?

HFS: There is always hope that holds us together and the human spirit that keeps us alive, so keep on going. I write about these things and those ‘glimmers’ of life in my poetry.

I know that this world has its challenges for us to survive and there are dark days as one experiences things, but never give up. There is a beautiful world out there with some amazing people as well.

Are you considering writing any other book?

HFS: As far as writing another book goes, yes, of course! My next one will be a poetry book as well and will be coming out in print soon.

You! What’s next on your agenda?

HFS: A lot of research-based work in the next few years. My passion is to keep on learning as learning is a never-ending process.

Erum Noor Muzaffar is the Editor of You! magazine.

She can be reached at