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Pakistani author Faiqa Mansab: Every bearded fellow has a fatwa up his sleeve

Pakistani author Faiqa Mansab’s new book is a bold attempt to explore the complex world of those, who are forced to live in the margins owing to their sex.

books Updated: Aug 02, 2017 18:30 IST
Medha Shri Dahiya
Medha Shri Dahiya
Hindustan Times
Pakistani,Faiqa Mansab,Author
Pakistani author Faiqa Mansab.

Pakistani author Faiqa Mansab’s latest book This House of Clay and Water is set in Lahore and explores the themes such as gender bias, escapism, and the need for acceptance and love. Nida belongs to the affluent class but feels like an outcast; Sasha uses her sexuality to subvert the power dynamics and Bhanggi, a eunuch, longs for love and acceptance — through these characters Mansab questions the flaws in our patriarchal society. Published by Penguin Random House, the book could be described as a bold attempt by the author at exploring the complex world of those who are forced to live in the margins owing to their sex. Excerpts:

What inspired you to write this book that narrates several love stories — mostly unconventional?

It started with Nida. She formed in my consciousness first and it was her story I was pursuing when I started meeting everyone she came into contact with. I know it’s funny when I say it like this and you’re thinking well you thought up all the characters didn’t you? And the answer is yes, I did but it was Nida’s story that started it. When I’m writing, it always, always, begins with a single character whose story or inner dialogue interests me and I have to follow “the call” as Joseph Campbell says.

I think I was concerned with love because it’s the one thing that can make or break a human life. When you’re looking for love in the wrong places and not appreciating the kind you have; or when the kind of love is less balm and more pain then you are in trouble. I didn’t want to write about romantic love. I wanted to write about the kind of love that shatters you, and changes you and this was the story that came about.

Everyone seems to be longing for love and acceptance, from the 12-year-old Zoya, to Sasha, Nida and Bhanggi. Do you think love and acceptance are difficult to realize?

Oh yes. Acceptance is even more difficult than love. At least, there are some forms of love that can be faked or even experienced superficially but you can’t fake acceptance and nothing hurts more than rejection even if it’s implicit and not outright. The most devastating lack of love is for a child. When a child feels rejected by any parent nothing will ever fill that hole. Children should receive unconditional love from their parents.

The story is mostly about those who are marginalized (Hijra, women, a girl child who is not considered beautiful). Why did you choose to write about these in particular, any incident that affected you?

Frankly, everything affects me. Unfairness, discrimination, unkindness—such things bother me. We are cruel to people who are different than us, who are not in positions of power or are, we feel, weaker than us. These things bother me very much. As a woman, of course I’ve experienced these things. Which woman hasn’t? If you’re not male you’re the wrong kind of human being. That’s it. That’s your story for the rest of your life. How different you are from men is how you’re seen and identified. It’s barbaric and primitive but yet, it’s accepted as a norm. I just don’t understand how misogyny, racism and homophobia can be still so widespread in this day and age.

The cover of Pakistani author Faiqa Mansab’s book, House of Clay and Water

You write: ‘A woman is doomed from birth until she becomes a mother’. Do you think things are changing now in our patriarchal society?

A little; but you see a hijra says that and the words should be taken in context. For a woman, this line is offensive. Why should a woman be considered to reach a certain station of respect only after she becomes a mother? Any human being deserves respect regardless of their marital and child bearing status. A child is not a woman’s savior but the one who has to be nurtured. Patriarchal structures have to be broken. That’s the only way forward.

Sasha is a woman, who would be called promiscuous by many. She uses her sexuality to negotiate the gender power politics, unsuccessfully. Then she goes to the other extreme, and becomes a devout Muslim lecturing other women about the importance of wearing a hijab, etc. Is religion a way for women to grasp whatever little power is allowed to them?

Right now, that’s the way to go for anyone in Pakistan, man or woman. There are many verses in the Quran about such people who use religion to gain power. The Quran warns the true believers to stay away from such false pretenders. Unfortunately, the country is teeming with such people these days.

Not just religion but the trappings of religion, a hijab, a beard, a tasbeeh, a green turban, anyone sporting any of these things is automatically alleviated in our eyes because we have been brain washed into thinking that religious people are good people. Poor people are good people, disadvantaged people are good people…no. People are all kinds no matter what affliction they might have and what religion they follow. Be a good human being and you will be gaining paradise. Why is that so difficult to understand?

Why does everyone (Bhanggi, Sasha, Nida) embrace religion as a way to escape societal oppression?

I am so glad you picked on that. It was a way of unmasking the hypocrisy of the characters’ need to love. All of them only seek out God when they are absolutely alone. They don’t seek Him as much when they are surrounded with friends and family, when they are happy.

As a child I often heard a verse from my mother. It’s by Bahadur Shah Zafar:

Zafar aadmi usko na janiyega

Jissey taish mein yaad-e-khuda na rahi

Jissey taish main kauf-e-khuda na raha

So, I just wanted to underline that human need is always selfish. It’s not about God at all but the selfish needs of human beings.

People are quick to issue fatwas. Did you fear that this story, written by a woman, of ‘forbidden love’ that questions patriarchy, religion, politics, society, et al., might attract such a thing? Especially, because it is set in Pakistan?

I don’t think of the outside world at all when I’m writing. And every bearded fellow has a fatwa up his sleeve. My faith is far stronger than any fatwa, man or prejudice.

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First Published: Aug 02, 2017 18:30 IST