The 6th day at Sharjah International Book Fair, brought us closer to the Karachi based novelist, the winner of DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and the author of ‘Home Boy’…Mr. H.M.Naqvi.
1. So, when people ask, who is H.M.Naqvi, how would you define yourself?
Well, H.M.Naqvi is a writer! Fundamentally a human being, and a Pakistani and that’s how I would define myself.
My entire family resides in Karachi, so in that way Karachi is home. And even though I have spent time abroad; lived abroad ,worked abroad, I still always have the urge to return to Karachi. The things about Karachi that I really love, and that makes me want to go back to ‘home’ are the faint smell of the sea in the air that I breathe, then there is Nihari (a dish that I like to have every week), I like the traffic, the noise, the energy of the city. So, you know there are many things that make Karachi home for me.
3. In an interview you had said that the ‘first’ published book, (which was a bunch of papers stapled in between containing your early works of short stories written by you in your 4th grade.) Was discovered much later by you parents, so basically, what was your parents reaction when they discovered this book? Have you ever thought of publishing these short stories that you had written when you were a young boy?
The stapled short stories, I did share with them at that time, when I was in class 4. But it so happened that this book disappeared for 20-30 years, and just materialized last year. And my parents were excited, to hold my ‘first publication.’ It was a very different excitement because when I wrote it in class 4, my parents were like, it’s very cute and very nice. Now, they are excited because this is the first evidence that they have, that I will pursue this trajectory.
No, I don’t think anyone should read these stories *laughs*! They are just a collection of my debut efforts as a writer. They are funny and silly and …I mean they don’t have great literary merit. So I would like to store them as a childhood memory and nothing more than that.
4. Your parents wanted you to become anything but a writer. Then why opt to be one still?
At some point you reckon that life is short, and if you are not doing what you want to be doing, then you would not be making the best of your life. So, I think it’s important that, you do what you like to do. But I don’t think that’s the only criteria for a career, I also think you have to think of the people around you, and you have to think of very tangible, very real concerns like- putting food on the table. So one should ideally do, what one wants to do, but one also has to negotiate what life throws at you.
5. You have also been a journalist. Would you choose journalism as a career option, if you later thought that being an author was not a good idea?
Between novels, I wrote a couple of articles on Karachi.
I, aspire to collect my non-fiction work into a book someday maybe. I enjoy going out discovering things and writing about them and treating them either in fiction or in non fiction. I don’t think I will give up fiction for non-fiction. But then again, Never-say-Never.
6. How and who has inspired you to write? And was it easy becoming an author?
Storytelling is what you do everyday. People do different things to make sense. Hence, I write to feel better.
But, my soul inspiration has been my dad. God bless him. Back at home, we have this huge library, and as a young boy I always observed my father sitting at the corner of the library, crouched over a couple of papers, writing something intently. And just watching him write for hours intrigued me. So I think that’s how writing came to me-from my father.
Well as for the next part of your question, You can write like 10 novels and not get published. So, its a wrong notion, that being an author is an easy job. In fact its more difficult that you think it is.
7. Was it easy getting accepted in the society, when you first started off as a writer?
There were people who made fun of me, when they got to know I write. There were times when, I ignored my mates just to write, rather than go to buy an ice cream or watch a movie. But, the perception of others shouldn’t stop you from doing what you want to do.
8. Who is you favorite author?
Well, if you ask me that question, I would say, ones favorite author keeps on changing with time and age. When I was in my teens I used to absolutely enjoy Russian authors, but now times have changed. But as for my favorite book, I can say that I have read ‘Heart of the Matter‘ by Graham Greene at least nine times or more.
9. You had mentioned once, that your ideal woman is “attractive, sharp as a knife, and endowed with a sense of humor.” Could you elaborate.
*Laughs* You seemed to have done your homework! Well, one of the facets I like in a human, is humor. I feel if you don’t laugh about the difficult things in your life, things will remain difficult. So one should always have the courage to laugh, but that doesn’t mean you consider your life as a joke! Hence anyone, not particularly a woman, should be humorous.
* H.M.Naqvi’s debutante novel is called ‘Home Boy.’ This novel is about three Pakistani men living in New York and the difficulties they face stay in the States post 9/11. Rollicking, bittersweet, and sharply observed, Home Boy is at once an immigrant’s tale, a mystery, and a story of love and loss, as well as a unique meditation on Americana and notions of collective identity. It announces the debut of an original, electrifying voice in contemporary fiction.
10. Why name your book ‘Home Boy’?
There is a very good reason why I have named it ‘Home Boy’, and I can only tell you half the answer. Home boy when put together is obviously American slang, and one of the things that an immigrant does, when arriving in the States is to master the American slang. The second reason why I cant tell you, is because you have to read ‘Home Boy’. You have the read the book till the last page to understand, why Home boy is called ‘Home Boy.’
11. For doing the research to write your book you stayed with the NYU cab drivers for 3 days. Could you tell us you experience?
In those 3 days, I tried to inhabit the heads of those people we come across every single day, but not able to understand, how they live, what they eat, how they sleep, how long they work, what are the problems they encounter…these are things you don’t think about normally, you just get in the cab and go from one place to the other. Hence that was the imperative to inhabit their heads, get into their shoes and be one among them.
12. Do you feel somewhere down the line Chuck (the protagonist of the book ‘Home Boy’) is H.M.Naqvi?
In comparison to the other two characters Chuck is 14% biographical. But more or less all the three main characters in the book are facets of my persona. But one of the characters that I enjoy most is, ‘Old man Khan’, he is somebody I would like to have dinner with.
13. Which are the other publications or books that you are currently involved with?
I am currently working on a big comic novel set in Karachi and at some point I will collect my non-fiction into a book perhaps on Karachi.
14. Lastly, what is that one quote from ‘Home Boy’ that you love the most?
That’s a tough question! In a work of 250 pages, its difficult to distill the book into a single quote. I think if I have a gun to my head then I might simply say
“We fancied ourselves boulevardiers, raconteurs, renaissance men…”
It means that, the three young men believed that they were part of New York, that they were an integral part of the ethos of the city, and after things changed they realized that they were never really a part of the city.
Interview by Srijita Chattopadhyay
The writer is a final year undergrad media and communications student specializing in journalism at Manipal University, Dubai.