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Take crises as opportunities

HM Naqvi, a Pakistani writer, talks about his life, its hardships and success

education Updated: Feb 02, 2011 10:18 IST
Vimal Chander Joshi

Ioften used to write poetry and short stories for school magazines . At the time, it didn’t occur to me that I would pursue a career in literature. That realisation dawned on me when I was studying for a bachelor’s degree in English literature and economics through a scholarship at Georgetown University. It prompted me to take a course in creative writing at Boston University (BU).

After I completed my studies, I landed a job at the World Bank, New York, in 1997. As I was hooked to the world of words, the money bug couldn’t bite me and I left the job in 2003. I wonder how people spend their entire (working) lives in a bank. I couldn’t even complete 10 years there.

Sharing hardships
I taught some creative writing courses at BU when I embarked on my literary voyage. I used to write till six in the morning, and taught in the afternoons and evenings. Every coin has two sides, as they say — and my new life had its share of hardships as well. Lack of a regular income didn’t let me stay in the US for long and I had to come back to my hometown, Karachi.

The financial setback... was a blessing in disguise. In New York, I couldn’t attend qawwali sessions, nor did I get to eat nihari (a type of stew popular in the Indian subcontinent). I love my city and enjoyed my homecoming a great deal. I love Karachi’s air — it has the smell of salt in it.

It was only after this accidental return home that I completed my first book, ‘Home Boy’ (which I had begun writing in the US). The book revolves around three Pakistani men in New York City who find it hard to adjust to post-9/11 America. It has earned laurels from critics across the world and has won the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature.

Follow your heart
I am glad to have left a well-paying job in banking to explore my childhood love for writing. I knew what I was good at, and I think that everyone should do what one is good at — we all know how we fare in different arenas, and we should choose our professions accordingly.

Battle all odds
Success doesn’t come easy. You need to slog for it.

To be honest, writing is not easy at all. Even after receiving formal training in creative writing at BU, it took me around two years to write my first book.

During this period, I worked in solitude. Every day, I would work from eight at night to six in morning. This affected my social life and I didn’t have the leisure to meet friends often.

My writing style is also very peculiar. I can’t work on drafts. I write prose only when what precedes it is foolproof.

This process is inherently slow and doesn’t allow me to write more than a 300-word passage a day.

I would get impatient every single day, but I continued writing and the toil paid off handsomely. Winning a literary award for your first book is not a poor feat at all.