We at Lalchowk had the pleasure to talk with one of the noted author, columnist and educationist from Pakistan: Anam Zakaria. Her first book, Footprints of Partition, received tremendous response from all quarters. Now her second book, Between The Great Divide, is out and she shares with us the insights of the book and a bit about herself. Also check out the video for special message for the youth of Kashmir and the importance of this book.
Tell us a little about yourself. Your childhood, education, work etc.?
I was born and brought up in Lahore and went to McGill University, Canada to pursue my higher studies. I have a background in International Development and recently received additional training in counselling and psychotherapy to facilitate my field work in conflict areas more ethically and sensitively. Currently, I wear a couple of different hats: oral historian, writer, cultural facilitator and educationist, development professional and a therapist.
What inspired you to become a writer?
My father's love for writing instilled the passion to read and write at an early age. I experimented with fiction during much of my childhood. It was while I was working at the Citizens Archive of Pakistan- a local NGO where I held my first job- and running their Oral History Program that I decided to document the narratives I was recording in the form of a book. The experiences I heard from Partition survivors pushed me to write The Footprints of Partition: Narratives of Four Generations of Pakistanis and Indians (HarperCollins 2015). Since then, I have been working as an independent researcher and writer, using the oral history approach to bring forth narratives often silenced in mainstream discourse.
What do you love most about the writing process?
I often write about issues that make me angry, that leave me aggrieved. Writing for me then becomes a means of communication, of expression, even of catharsis. Channelling my emotions in the written word and sharing the stories that I record allows me to establish a meaningful connection with others and that can be very nourishing.
Tell us about your latest book, Between the Great Divide.
Between the Great Divide took birth in 2014 when I travelled to Pakistan-administered Kashmir for tourism. The book is a culmination of four years of interviews, travel and secondary research on a region which is often ignored and silenced in the larger discussions on J&K. The book brings forth a fresh perspective on the conflict while giving a glimpse into the everyday lived experiences of Azad Kashmiris. From narratives of people living by the LoC and bearing the brunt of ceasefire violations to stories of refugees who remain divided from their families in Indian-administered Kashmir to experiences of former militants who picked up arms to fight the Indian state, to interviews with government and army officials, the book unearths diverse and varied perspectives from the region.
What did you find enjoyable or difficult while writing this book?
This was an incredibly difficult book to write because of the sheer violence that continues to rock the region, particularly due to frequent ceasefire violations. For so many people I spoke to, the trauma was ongoing, the pain palatable in each interview I recorded. Trying to do justice to these stories has been one of the toughest challenges I have encountered. At the same time, through this book I've come across some of the strongest people I have ever met. Their resilience and courage is such an inspiration for me and the journey I've taken with them has transformed me in so many ways.
What is your message to aspiring writers especially the young writers of Kashmir?
Writing is an incredibly intimate and isolating process but through the work that you produce, you are able to forge deep and meaningful relationships with your readers and the larger community. The process can be frightening but don't let that dissuade you from the stories you want to tell. When you find yourself lost or demotivated, go back to why you began writing in the first place. Often, we get so engrossed in the writing process that we tend to forget what urged us to write in the very beginning. Pause, recall, ground yourself and pick up the pen again.
Your favourite Books/Authors?
Khuswant Singh, Urvashi Butalia, George Orwell, Muhammad Hanif, Basharat Peer and Mirza Waheed.
Check out the video as well:
Buy Between the Great Divide here