Monday, April 2, 2012

Aliya Anjum - An Arranged Marriage

It is our pleasure to have Aliya Anjum with us today to speak about her short story An Arranged Marriage.

How old are you?
Age is a state of mind, and my age can -without exaggeration- range between 8 - 80

Where do you currently live?
I live in the city of Karachi, Pakistan. It's a city by the sea, with a population of 25 million and growing. Its a city of paradoxes, where you can buy Prada and Gucci and also buy handmade fans made from straw and where you can ride a traditional camel or a quad at the beach. It hosts an 8,000 year old Hindu temple where the legendary Ram of Hindu Holy scriptures rested. It's also a city that never sleeps, you can see cars on the road at 3 am. It hosts an international book festival every year and it is home to people of the most diverse ethnic and religious groups in Pakistan, including Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Zoroastrians. Every time I go outside the country, when I am on a return flight home and the pilot announces we have entered Karachi airspace, my heart does a somersault.

Tell us a little bit about your life.
I grew up in Karachi and attended university here, after which I joined a French Bank. I worked in Banking for over two years and then headed off to the US for graduate school. After returning, I worked for the government for another two years. Since quitting from that job, I took a one year long hiatus from work and then turned into a full time author last year.

When did you first start writing?
I used to write snippets about life, and poetry from the age of seven onwards. Unfortunately none of that survives today. I have been writing for newspapers since the age of 17. I first wrote YA short story fiction in 2008. It won me a Commendation Certificate from the National Book Foundation (NBF). I have won a first prize from NBF for small children's short stories. These stories are however, unpublished todate.

What was your very first story about?
My first story is titled "The Farmhouse." It's a YA short story with a 14-year-old male protagonist who gets himself into trouble after being dared to show bravado. It's a horror tale and I got chills narrating the scenes, which was fun.

Have you written anything that you were too afraid to let anyone read?
I once wrote a novella, which showcased the dark side of human nature. I later thought that it was a bad idea to write about evil, so I deleted it.

Did you experience anything you’ve written yourself?
Plenty! All fiction has an element of truth to it. Sometimes, the experiences are my own and sometimes they are of friends and family. At other times they are observations. Pure fantasy is not believable, when it comes to adult fiction or even YA.

Who are several of your greatest literary inspirations?
Most writers who have endured the test of time are inspirational for me. Fine writing captures human hopes, emotions and desires. It is thus timeless.

What kind of education have you received, and how has that affected your writing?
I hold an undergrad in Business from Karachi, and an MS from the US, in Textile Marketing. Education is however, a continuing process and I owe my education more to books than to degrees. I am a very avid reader of non-fiction. It helps hone my worldview and I am able to see things from an informed perspective, which I hope carries over in my fiction. I may add that I have also penned three non-fiction titles relating to history. One of which won an NBF Prize.

How much research time customarily goes into your projects?
I write fiction about subjects that I have read about, which cuts research time, since I may already be familiar with the subject. It does take a few weeks to research about my specific subject. However, when I am writing non-fiction, research time can stretch anywhere from six months to two years.

Who is your favorite literary character?
Scheherazade. She is the epitome of feminine mystique, combining intellect with charm and witticism.

Who is your favorite character of your own creation?
The hero of my latest novel, which is a work in progress.

If you were ever to write an autobiography, what would its title be?
A wonderful life!

Tell us about your featured book.
My featured short story "An Arranged Marriage" is inspired from true events. It is based on the lives of women Physicians of Pakistani origin in the US. It covers diverse themes such as immigration, assimilation, the Pakistani diaspora, immigrant subcultures and last but not the least, arranged marriages.

It would take readers through 11 years of my protagonists life, beginning in Pakistan and ending in the US.

Why did you write that?
I know a lot of Physicians. Most immigrated to the US, they include family and friends as well as friend's husbands. Through them, I met other Physicians and I noticed a common theme, amongst some women Physicians. Thus this story was born.

Is there anything special you would like your potential readers to know?
Yes. Despite the fact that this story showcases an unfortunate turnout of events following an arranged marriage, it does not mean that there can never be a happy ending with such arrangements. Arranged marriages run the whole gamut from being blind marriages to serving only as introductions. Most of them lead to stable, successful and relatively happy marriages. They are practiced in Asia and Africa, by more than half of the world's population.

Where is the one place you’ve traveled where you’ve felt most like you fit in?
Nowhere! I am too eastern for the west and too western for the east.

What activity or hobby, besides writing, do you find most enjoyable?
Swimming and Travel.

What was your favorite childhood toy?
Barbie! I may add that during the 1980's, they were smuggled in Pakistan. They were only available at one or two stores in the country, which happened to be close to my house. My father bought me one and I was over the moon. I later did the customary thing of buying accessories including Ken (yes he is an accessory). My father must have shared Art Buchwald's sentiments when the latter lamented in his column that Barbie was overly ambitious to keep seeking new professions, which always meant new purchases.

What is your most valued personal possession in life? Who gave it to you?
My books, which I have collected over the years. They have taught me so much.

How do you treat people you’re not fond of?
I try and be the bigger/better person and make an attempt to be nice.

What do you see as your greatest achievement?
Being able to sell books that people are reading in three continents :)

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
My mother always says to me "we have to do the right thing, no matter what."

If you had to explain the concept of “love” to someone who’s never heard of it before, how would you?
Love comes in all forms. Love should not be reduced to a romantic notion, although romantic love is precious. To be loved by anyone, is a gift which we must learn to value.

What about “hate?”
Hate is a negative emotion, which does not exist in a healthy mind. Haters hate you because a) either you are a reflection of what they want to be, b) they are angry about life and act vindictive or c) they have been taught to hate.

You’ve decided to buy an exotic pet, what do you go for?
I love animals and I'd be happy to keep as many pets as possible. However, if by exotic pets you mean Iguanas and other reptiles, then I'd take a rain check.

What do you classify as an “Adventure?”
A trip to the Amazonian rain forests.

If you could learn one new thing instantly, what would it be?
Native level fluency in Italian.

Our special thanks to Aliya for taking the time to be with us. Please check out her book below.

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