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August 23, 2019

‘Life’s a battleground; if you don’t fight, you won’t get there’


August 23, 2019

“Our share of happiness is yet to come; our share of better tomorrow is yet to arrive,” reads the cover of 19-year-old Syeda Soha Irfan’s book ‘The Mindless Genius’.

Soha is a student at the University of Karachi’s Department of English. Her first novel was launched at the Arts Council on Wednesday evening, eight months after her mother died of cancer.

Soha introduced herself at the launch with her poem. She said she had started writing her novel when she was in the eighth grade. The basic message of the book, according to her, is to make everyone believe they are different.

She said that one needs to understand that they are different in every manner, and that they need to love themselves before anything else. “We ask why people don’t like me or love me,” said the author, asking if we love our own self.

She said that happiness starts within, and that one has to be proud of who they are. “Life’s a battleground; if you won’t fight, you won’t get there.”

The three P’s

Writer and former federal information minister Javed Jabbar said on the occasion that the book’s publication in the English language shows that Pakistanis can write in English without losing their sense of being as Pakistanis. “Discovering this book is a pleasure.”

He then spoke on the three P’s of the book. The first P, he said, is the pain the author has felt at a very tender age: the pain of loss. “What greater pain is there than losing one’s mother?” He said that because she was at a tender young age, the author coped, but the pain is reflected in the theme and the writing of the book.

The second P, said Jabbar, is passion. “She has a passion for writing. That is so refreshing to see,” he said. Not writing in a formal way of fulfilling certain quota, but with genuine feelings and sentiments, he added. “You can feel the passion coming through, especially the dialogue.”

The former minister said that the third P that comes to his mind is perseverance. Once setting out on a mission, he said, the author could have shortened the story or written only 150 pages.

“A book should never be judged by the number of its pages, but by the quality of its writing,” he said, adding that Soha’s book is also an example of engagement and relationships she has shown through metaphors.

The characters, he said, are not Pakistanis. “She has used Western character names. So there’s a lot of the engagement dimension that comes through,” he said, adding that there is exploration in testing and building relationships between individuals. This woman, he said, has an abundant imagination at a time when one is assaulted “by television, social media, by sound, by noise”. To retain your own privacy of the mind takes a great effort, he added.

Lost children

Barrister Shahida Jamil said that the book’s title is contradictory, adding that there is an unusual approach, unusual titles and unusual format. She said the author asks questions from her readers.

She also said that the book is very moving, that the sentences have the power to touch one’s heart. “The author has an interesting perspective of feeling,” said Shahida, adding that Soha used an orphanage as the basis of her message to society.

“She’s talking about children who feel lost. The way she expressed it, shook me,” said Shahida. What shook her actually is the fact that people have children at home, but they are so busy that they neglect them.

“The questions she asked — why was I left behind? Why couldn’t I communicate?” said the barrister, and shared her conversation with the author about how she used to speak to animals when she was a kid.

“That’s how lonely a child can feel in the circumstances,” said Shahida, adding that the smartphone is a killer because interaction with the children is dying. Regarding the book being in European perspective, she said that people could have criticism against that, but she explained that the author did not want to target the Pakistani society. “She used another format to convey the message to us.”

After reading excerpts from the book, the barrister said they are heavy words for a woman of 19 to write. “There’s a lot of thought among our new generations,” she said, adding that we are not listening and talking.

Lieutenant General (retd) Moinuddin Haider, University of Karachi Vice Chancellor Dr Khalid Iraqi and Sindh Minister for Information Saeed Ghani also address the book launch.

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