Hopeful about relations between India and Bangladesh improving despite differences over water-sharing and border security issues, celebrated columnist and Bangladeshi author Farah Ghuznavi feels that love of literature and cultural affinity would serve to bind the two neighbours.
"I think the best thing our two countries have in common - other than a certain cultural affinity - is the love of literature and the esteem in which we hold books and learning, reflected in the importance placed on education in both the nations.
"I hope to see relations improving despite tensions around water-sharing and border security issues. I think there are many issues of common concern, so it would be worth examining how to work out some mutually acceptable solutions to prickly issues and explore further areas of cooperation," Ghuznavi told IANS in an interview.
Trained as an economist from the London School of Economics, Ghuznavi has worked as a development practitioner with prestigious organisations and NGOs in Bangladesh, Britain and Africa, as well as the United Nations, and the Grameen Bank.
Seven years ago, she transitioned from a development worker to a short story writer.
"I have always wanted to write and initially I started off with the column in the Daily Star newspaper and then with my own column "Food for Thought" that appears in the Star Weekend Magazine. Since then I have been writing columns off and on for the last 15 years," said Ghuznavi.
Published in Britain, the US, Canada, India, Nepal, Singapore and Bangladesh, anthologies featuring her work include "The Storm is Coming" (USA), "The Monster Book for Girls", "Lady Fest and Journeys" (Britain); "The Rainbow Feast" (Singapore); "What the Ink?" and "From the Delta" (Bangladesh).
"When I started writing short stories, part of my mind kept telling me - 'what makes you think you can write, you have not even done a creative writing course'!" revealed Ghuznavi.
Among the themes of her stories are child abuse and domestic violence.
"My aim was to make those who do it think; I also wanted to reach those who just look the other way when faced with these situations. I find that a lot of my fiction is flavoured by my work experiences," said Ghuznavi, whose first short story 'A small sacrifice' was based on an incident of child abuse, told from the girl's perspective.
What propels her fiction-writing? An obsession, she says.
"I have to write because I want the stories to leave me alone. Until they are on paper, they are in my head. And they drive me crazy."
A firm advocate of religious tolerance, the 40-something Ghuznavi feels writers, especially in contexts like hers, cannot escape social responsibility. "Writers from our part of the world carry a burden in that they have a certain degree of social responsibility, whether they like it or not," she says.