How did the Partition impact you and your family?
The Partition called into question a whole set of values, and the societal consensus among our elders that we could live together and have a normal relationship with people of another faith; a consensus that Hindus and Muslims and people of other religions had for a long time. Once you unlearn the idea on which you formulated society, many other ideas also fall apart. We are paying the price for that in Pakistan today. Its impact will be felt for decades to come.
Tell us something about your Urdu Project.
The Urdu Project is an online project. It is an effort to build basic resources like dictionaries and a thesaurus for proverbs, dictions and idioms in the Urdu language and linking them with classical texts like Dastaan-e-Amir Hamza or Tilism-e-Hoshruba or classical poetry. Parts of Urdu literature have become inaccessible because we cannot understand the language. If you link each word or phrase with a reference link, then it becomes easier to read the text.
Why do you write in English?
Publishing is not a big, flourishing industry when it comes to Urdu literature. If I wrote in Urdu, I wouldn’t be able to sell many books and write fulltime. Also, when I was reading literature very seriously I didn’t have access to Urdu writers. Most of what I read was in English or was translated into English. A certain structure started forming in my mind and sentences would automatically form in English. So, when I sat down to write, I wrote in English.
How has the war on terror affected Urdu literature in Pakistan?
It has not come up that much in Urdu writings and this is something I mentioned at the Lahore Literary Festival. The Urdu language writers and the English language writers are on different tracks. The former write about the concerns of the society and the latter on what has a niche market in the West. If some are interested in writing about the war, fine, but we must ask why it’s not prevalent in Urdu literature.