The new Pakistani woman is changing the face of the country and her status is undergoing a drastic makeover, says 24-year-old author Kanza Javed, who recently released her much acclaimed book, Ashes, Wine and Dust in the Indian capital New Delhi.
Set in Lahore and Washington DC, the book traces the three stages in the life of the protagonist, Mariam Ameen, and it paints a matriarchal society.
“The new Pakistani women bring new culture for us, and the position of women is changing for the better. Women are doing better than men in various fields like NGOs and other professions. It was also a woman who brought us our first Oscar,” Javed told IANS in an interview.
The author shot into the limelight after her book was nominated for the coveted Tibor Jones South Asia Prize. She has the distinction of being the youngest and the first Pakistani nominee for the award.
Javed made headlines last October for releasing her debut book over Skype in India during the Kumaon Literary festival after failing to get a visa. Now, after releasing her book in Delhi for the second time, she harboured no qualms and asserted that visa hiccups are normal, given the strain between the two countries.
“Why create a fuss about it?. It’s normal as there is tension between the countries. I released the book in Delhi now after releasing it over Skype at Kumaon lit fest; so I had two releases in India,” the author said.
The book, published by Tara India Research Press, explicates how Lahore has changed from a city of old-worldly charm to a modern and rapidly evolving one. Javed said that the book is her tribute to the city and its changing life and people.
“In the book, there are two Lahores I am familiar with. The first one where my parents and grandparents lived and the other, the new city, which is more cosmopolitan. They are making bridges, but it doesn’t connect with you any more. It’s not a cultural place any more. It’s a frightening place to many,” she added.
She drew inspiration for her strong women characters from her family, Javed confessed.
“My family is a matriarchal one. In my novel, there’s a daadi, who, even without a job, has a strong sense of identity. There is a maid who hits her husband and leaves him to stay with her mother,” she said, adding that her protagonist Mariam challenges the tradition and norms of a patriarchal society.
The author said that she touches upon the human lives after violence, as she deliberately avoids dwelling into the politics of violence.
“I don’t talk about politics. I talk about the lives of the people who are affected by violence. In my book, I look at the life of a woman whose husband was killed in a blast.
“You can’t separate a person from politics in Pakistan. In Pakistan, everybody is a politician.. Everybody talks about it all the time. It becomes dull,” Javed reasoned.
Javed is being touted as one of the promising young writers in Pakistan after the book received rave reviews. For her, the intensity of the book comes from her life experiences.
“I am often asked why it’s a tragic book. As a child, I was displaced from social scenes and I used to interact more with maids, tailors and nannies who had intense stories. Then, in the US, I encountered the frightening stories of South Asian immigrants. I am made up of all the stories,” she said.
The author, who started writing the novel at the age of 17, also shruged off the age factor. “It’s a preconceived notion that a teenager should indulge in shopping and dating only. I don’t think age has to do with anything. I spent my teenage years reading and writing books,” said Javed, who presents the idea of a home as a free-flowing concept in her book.
It’s the memories of Lahore that inspires her writing.
“When I was in the US, I was scared that Lahore will fade away from memory. I was scared of what I will write if I forget Lahore, if I don’t hear the rickshaws, if I don’t smell chai, I will forget them. Who am I without all this?” Javed asked.
The author, who has many friends and fans in India, believes that love will blur the differences between the two countries.
“I felt at home when I crossed the border. People ask me how they can come to Lahore. They don’t care about the politics at all,” says Javed, who is planning her next book on depression as it’s becoming a worrying trend.
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