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February 8, 2015

A portal into the author’s world,novel can be a voice for the oppressed


February 8, 2015

A novel can be considered a portal into another world created by its author. Through it the author can show the world as he sees it, may it be their figment of imagination, real life or fiction inspired by facts. Therefore, what the author sees and pens down turns into the popular narrative, shapes opinions and sets stereotypes.
With such great power at their disposal, the author morally feels compelled to fulfil their duty: becoming the voice of those who do not have one.
This was the theme of a Karachi Literature Festival session, titled ‘The World as the Author Sees It’, on Saturday.
British author and journalist Alex Preston started off the discussion by describing novels as the best way to look into another person’s mind.
It was the financial crisis in 2008 that motivated Preston to think differently. “While writers were more focused on the methods and tools used that caused the crisis, I was thinking about what the people responsible for it were feeling, their sense of morality.”
Now when Preston reads about Boko Haram and the killings in Nigeria, he again feels that the reports on what was happening there were merely statistics, not stories. “A novel allows the reader to immerse in a story and that’s what creates an impact.”
Indian author Benny Daniels, who uses the nom de plume Benyamin, stressed the need for bringing to the readers stories that otherwise would remain untold.
Daniels, who is from the Indian state of Kerala, authored ‘Goat Days’, a bestseller in Malayalam that has been translated into several languages. The central character of the novel is an Indian who travels to Saudi Arabia seeking a job and ends up spending years in the middle of a desert there, isolated from the world and with nobody to accompany him but goats.
The book, for obvious reasons, is banned in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. “Such stories might hurt the sentiments of the government, religious leaders or other

segments of society, but the fact is they have to be told.”
The Indian author was inspired to take up writing by his humble surroundings, and he believes that a novelist is a worker who goes about their task like anyone else.
He maintained that adding flavour to the novel is a must. “The author is like a prism. When a light passes through it, it is dispersed into a spectrum of different colourful lights. That’s what a novel is. It is real life combined with the author’s imagination.”
Pakistani writer and journalist Mohammed Hanif carried on the discussion on Daniels’ book, saying that such narratives, especially the ones focusing on the impact of the Middle Eastern culture in the Subcontinent society, help in understanding the drastic transformation our society had undergone in the last two or three decades.
“When I was a child, the concept of burqa was non-existent there. It started when people started heading to the Arab countries for work and on their return, they brought the culture back with them,” he said.
“In fact, my mother was furious when she saw a woman in a burqa for the first time. ‘She [the woman in the burqa] must be hiding something’ was her response.” Hanif also spoke about the hurdles and perils faced by journalists in Pakistan. “Sometimes, even stories that simply lay out the facts are not published. On other occasions, journalists have to pay with their lives for telling the truth.”
“Even outspoken colleagues are often reluctant to write on certain topics. They leave it for somebody else to work on it and put their life in jeopardy.”
Responding to a question, Hanif said he did not enjoy writing unlike most other authors. “It’s when I have written my work and then moved on to the phase of making it better, or you can say ‘chiselling’ it out, that I start enjoying it.”
Indian columnist Aakar Patel, who believes that non-fictional works create more impact, said that in the Subcontinent, where rampant corruption was responsible for human suffering, there was no need to dwell into the world of fiction. “An author’s responsibility is to show the world as it is... at least that is the case in our part of the world,” he added. “Perhaps it is my frustration that’s compelling me to say this. But there are real stories that need to be told.”

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