A conversation with Fahad Shah at ZeroBridge Fine Dine, Srinagar - Kashmir
Photo by Syed Shahriyar
(Fahad Shah is anthology editor of 'Of Occupation and Resistance: Writings From Kashmir' released in 2013. He is the founder and editor of The Kashmir Walla – an internationally acclaimed magazine of politics, culture and literature. In early 2017, Shah also founded The Kashmir Institute – first regional think-tank in Kashmir, focusing on the region and its neighbouring countries, which he is heading as its director. Bring Him Back is his first documentary film as director, which was released at the University of Westminster - London, Humboldt-University of Berlin, Lund University, Sweden in 2015.)
Q1) What made you write two books and release them at once?
Yes, this is a unique event as I have released two books.
I had written around 40 opeds in the last twelve months about international politics. I thought compiling them along with my previous work would make an extensive commentary about global politics.
I have been blogging for more than eight years now about Kashmir, and foreign policy issues. I thought it was a right time for me to release a non-fiction book as well, besides my debut novel.
Q2) What was the motive behind writing this novel?
I have been interested in learning about the root causes of conflicts happening all over the world.
Power struggles and dictatorships are a common thing what we see today.
What happened during the 1990’s that included the Bosnian War, the Rwandan genocide, the Chechen War are of immense significance for the readers, and writers.
Many things about these wars have been lost and forgotten.
My main aim was to educate myself and present a unique story in fiction form for readers. As I portrayed a journalist as my main character, I had a chance to write about several conflict zones. It is because war correspondents often travel to several parts of the world for their assignments.
The emotional trauma that a war correspondent faces including being home sick, being sad, lonely and experiencing a cultural shock by living away for several years also formed my reason to go into long form writing.
This kind of plot is seen in Hollywood movies, but I wanted to present something original.
Q3) Tell us more about the protagonist?
The main character in the novel is an Italian British war correspondent working in central London for a news agency. The novel is a brief reflection of his twenty-five year working career for an agency, which has unrepentant goals.
He is a globetrotter, who switches time between London and Beirut. Basically, his family is a product of immigration to Britain from Italy.
I wanted to portray this main character as a family man who basically wants good relationships with people around.
Although, he is committed to certain ideologies and value system in his life. He wishes to write a memoir about his life.
I must tell you that the novel writing process finished like a dream.
Q4) Mention about the conflict zones you wrote about in the novel?
The novel starts from Bosnian War during 1992 and ends during the 2016 Kashmir protests.
The protagonist travels to around nine conflict ones.
Q5) What were the challenges you faced while writing the novel?
The early part of my novel writing was a very frustrating time for me because it covered both Chechen and Bosnian wars.
I had to synthesise and verify certain facts of history with accuracy.
I think first-hand accounts of war in Chechnya are largely missing. For a researcher, it can create problems. Journalism there had its own limitations.
I heard that Russian government had killed a female journalist who wanted to report certain truths about the Chechen war.
I then again encountered some problems writing about the Yemeni war and the Syrian war. In reality, foreign journalists were not allowed to enter these countries. There were barriers to reporting. Some journalists were even captured and killed. I had to reflect all this through my main character after taking note of these realities.
Sometimes, I had to read translated stories on Google about the human conditions of journalists.
Q6) Tell us about the Kashmir plot in your novel?
Well, my main character, Matteo Castello gets a chance to stay at the home of a Kashmiri saffron seller based in Pampore who goes by the name, Yaqub - post 2016 Kashmir protests.
Meeting initially in Spain in a town called La Mancha, they both discuss what Kashmir has actually gone through over the years in their casual conversation, especially during their travels in the city and countryside.
There is also a lot about Kashmiri cultural life.
Q7) How long did it take to write this novel?
It took me around three and a half years to write this novel. I could have spent nearly 1.5 to 2 years in solitary in the writing process. I managed to pace up in the last eight to ten months.
I am ready to face any criticism too.
Q8) What advice will you give to a young writer?
I will tell him to read voraciously. Restructure, rephrase, revise and make lyrical sentences just like a craftsman.
Q9) Does writing full time exhaust you?
No it doesn’t. Writing is a consolation for me. My parents and friends have encouraged me.
I have enjoyed writing non-fiction over the years. While on the other hand, I also believe that fiction can be evocative and meaningful to many readers.
Q10) Any more writing projects in the future?
Yes. I might write a novel on Kashmir and my second anthology of political essays.
Q11) Tell us about your writing schedule?
I write randomly. Sometimes during the day and sometimes during the night.
I mostly write on MS Word and often upload essays on my blog. In the recent past, I have made a habit to write at-least one essay per week.
Q12) Comment about the presence of Kashmiri writers at a global scale?
I think a lot needs to be done. Writers should contact right literary agents and reputable publishing houses for approvals.
When Curfewed Night and The Collaborator hit the stands, they both acquired a cult status amidst the youth in Kashmir, and reached western audiences at a large scale. But, there have been many Kashmiri writers around. We cannot say that an era of Kashmiri writing has started recently.
Q13) Tell us about the content of your anthology before we proceed to question & answer session with the audience?
You will find pieces on current problems in Latin America, developments in Europe, Africa, American foreign policy, the conflicts in the Arab world, South Asia and Southeast Asia. I believe that this anthology will give a good amount of stimulus to readers.